I’m a white feminist, and let me tell you something: white feminism* is pretty bullshit. It’s exclusive, oppressive, and serves to further marginalize the people who are most impacted by misogyny. Unfortunately, white feminism is also the western status quo of feminism, meaning that white feminists have the biggest platforms, have increased access to resources and media, and are generally considered to be The Voice of Feminism. In theory, someone truly interested in equality would use these assets to amplify the voices of women of colour. In practice, white supremacy is a real thing and white feminists often seem to forget that their white privilege makes it easy as hell to trample over women of colour as they work to dismantle the patriarchy.
So, in honour of International Women’s Day, here is a non-exhaustive list of Shit White Feminists Need to Stop Doing:
1. Believing Their Experiences of Marginalization Are Universal
White feminists like to pretend that they get it. They get it because they’ve been there. They’ve experienced sexism. They’ve experienced misogyny. They’ve been passed over for promotions, whistled at on the street, and had to listen to boring dudes at parties who require approximately ten years of your time in order to explain how fascinating they actually are. These white women have been down in the feminist trenches for years, and like your world-weary Grandpa, they’ve seen it all. They understand the oppression of all women, ok?
Except not. Intersecting forces of oppression mean that women who are queer, racialized, disabled or trans will experience misogyny in very different (and frequently more deadly) ways than white women do. Saying that just because you’re a woman you totally understand all different ways that women are marginalized is not only wildly inaccurate, it’s also just plain ignorant. Just because you don’t have male privilege doesn’t mean you aren’t the proud owner of a whole host of other types of privilege. And whether you like it or not, those various forms of privilege influence how people treat you.
White women don’t own womanhood, and they don’t get to explain it to women of colour. End of story.
2. Crying About How We’re All On The Same Team
Also known as: “Why are you being so mean to me?”
White feminists tend to have this fantasy that we’re going to tackle this giant, slavering beast called The Patriarchy, and then once that’s done everything will be magical and all of the world’s problems will be solved. They’ll vaguely explain that destroying The Patriarchy will also end racism, transphobia, homophobia and basically everything other societal ill, but they don’t seem to have any clear idea of how exactly that will happen. It just will! Because science.
These feminists will choose specific causes to back — often those that most benefit straight, white, cis-gender women — and will balk if anyone questions why they’re ignoring other types of marginalization that have a greater impact on, say, Black women or trans women. But we’re all on the same team, they’ll tweet frantically. I thought you were on my side. We’re all women, right? The subtext is: you should help me now with the things that directly hurt me, and then maybe one day I’ll help you.
They never seem to wonder why they get to be the ones who delineate the borders between “sides,” or why they get to constantly call the shots about who’s on what team.
3. Talking About Hijabs (Or Burqas, Or Sex-Selective Abortion, Or Anything, Really)
Literally I just want to see all the white feminists take a back seat when it comes to hijabs. It’s amazing that these women will talk up the idea of pro-choice when it comes to pregnancy, but flip out if a woman chooses to cover her hair.
Look, I get it. You think those women are being oppressed, even when they very kindly and patiently tell you they aren’t. You know better than them, right? Because you’ve thrown off the shackles of…something? You think their culture or religion is forcing them into something they don’t really want, and if they believe differently, well, that’s just their internalized misogyny talking.
White women: you literally aren’t more enlightened than everyone else. Stop talking. Go to bed.
Also, explain to me exactly how telling a woman that she shouldn’t wear a specific article of clothing is “empowerment.” It seems to me that limiting women’s choices is the opposite of feminism.
4. Thinking That All Sex Workers Are All Miserable Wretches Who Hate Their Lives
This one isn’t really white women-specific, but I’m going to include it because I’ve seen a lot of white feminists pull this shit and frankly it’s garbage.
Like, this is literally what you’re saying: “I believe women have agency and can make decisions about their lives except for when it has to do with sex work, at which point I will assume that either someone is exploiting them or else they are self-hating gender traitors only interested in the male gaze.”
So just to clarify, you think that women can make choices except when it’s a choice you disagree with, at which point you’re pretty sure she’s being coerced. You also think that sex workers need to be “rescued,” even if they’re happy with what they do. You would rather see women further marginalized by anti-prostitution laws than find ways to keep sex workers safe.
Again, explain to me how this is a pro-woman stance?
5. Arguing That All Other Forms Of Oppression Are Over So We Need to Focus On Women
I’M LOOKING AT YOU, ARQUETTE.
Look, I know that her Oscar speech has been critiqued and analyzed to death, so I won’t dwell on this too much, but — come the fuck on. First of all, saying that we need “all the gay people and people of colour that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now” kind of insinuates that none of those gay people or people of colour are women, no? Second of all, literally read a book or something because racism and homophobia and transphobia are far from over. Third of all, you are a white woman who has benefitted from enormous privilege her entire life. You don’t get to tell other marginalized groups what to do.
I know that her remarks were well intentioned. I get that. But that’s a huge part of the problem — white feminists toss this kind of shit off the cuff, then get huffy when they’re called out, and then we’re right back to number two on this list. Just own your privilege for a hot second and stop bleating about how mean everyone else is being when they point out how you’ve rightfully fucked up.
White feminists: this is a call for you to get your shit together. The point of equality isn’t to claw your way to the top so that you can treat other people just as badly as white dudes have treated you — we need to elevate each other, amplify each other’s voices, and maybe let someone else tell us if we’re allowed to be on their team. Because, as per Flavia Dzodan, if your feminism is not intersectional, then I’m sorry but it’s complete bullshit.
* by “white feminism” I mean a certain demographic of white women who are straight, cis and able-bodied and view their brand of “feminism” as being better and more “real” than that of anyone else’s.
Image: New York Public Library