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The term ‘White Feminism’ has been used quite frequently. In the world of celebrities, figures such as Emma Watson and Lena Dunham have been called white feminisnts. The term was also used in the so called ‘beef’ between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj.
You may ask ‘what’s white feminism’ or blink and ask ‘isn’t it a slur of some sort?’. Let’s start with a disclaimer: The term white feminist is not a pejorative and it does not refer to every single white woman/ girl who identifies as a feminist. The lovely writers from the Huffington post, Zeba Blay and Emma Gray , have given a clear and concise description of white feminism: ‘feminism that ignores intersectionality’. Later on in the video Ms Blay and Ms Gray go on to say that white feminism is called white feminism because straight white women do not face problems such as racism or homophobia.
But this is a little problematic. As said before, the term ‘white feminist’ does not fit every single white woman/girl; white lesbian feminists, white working class feminists and white transgender feminists may also feel excluded from the mainstream feminist movement.
The lack of intersectionality and ‘white feminism’ are flaws within contemporary feminism. The problem intersectional feminists (including myself) have with this is that quite often the most prominent and recognised feminists tend to be white, middle class, straight and cis-gendered. They are seen as representatives of feminism and therefore representative of all feminists of different races, classes and sexualities; which gives them the power to speak for all these women. These ‘white feminists’ will only talk and fight against the problems that are unique to them. They will also downplay the other inequalities and injustices different types of women face. I’ve noticed that nowadays there is a ‘one size fits all’ feminism that we must all ascribe to in order to be considered a feminist.
‘White feminism’ does not understand that both patriarchy and misogyny can manifest itself in different ways. Misogyny can racialized. Misogyny can be homophobic. Misogyny can be transphobic. For instance, as a black female Eurocentric beauty ideals are forced upon me. Women of colour are forced to believe that those with lighter skin, straighter hair and smaller noses are ‘beautiful’ and that this the ideal to strive towards. This is reinforced by the media. I know that patriarchy has constructed an ideal that all women feel they have to strive for, but ‘white feminists’ will only concentrate on how the beauty ideal affects them.
There is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not live single issue lives
This can be alienating for those who do not fit the ‘white feminist’ mold. They feel that they cannot identify as a feminist because it will not try to address the other inequalities they face. This has led to the formation of different types of feminisms. It has also led to infighting between different types of feminisms. ‘United we stand, Divided we fall’; feminism is weak if there are different factions. The quest for equality will be lost if mainstream feminism does not also address racism, homophobia and transphobia. We are stronger when united.
You may have heard or seen white feminism being used to describe Lena Dunham or Taylor Swift. Lena Dunham’s hit HBO show ‘Girls’ (watch it- it’s funny) has been praised for its hilarious but realistic depiction of a group female twentysomethings living in New York City. But Dunham has been criticised for the lack of diversity in her show, which is shocking as it is set in a very diverse area of NYC. Dunham did respond to the criticism in season 2 by casting Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) as her black republican boyfriend Sandy, but his character was flat and they were only together for two episodes . So far, Girls isn’t very diverse. However, despite this Dunham has created an online feminist newsletter which features feminists from different walks of life. She’s learning!
In regards to Taylor Swift, she was quick to shut down Nicki Minaj when Nicki Minaj spoke out against the racial bias in the MTV VMA awards. Taylor thought that Nicki was trying to bring other female nominees down and stressed the need for female solidarity. Taylor completely missed the point; she could not understand how race also shapes Nicki’s experience as a woman. But Taylor did realise her mistake and she apologised to Nicki. So, all seemed to be well in the land of female pop icons (well, apart from the Miley/Nicki beef).
Now, you may say ‘I can’t speak for other women’ but what you can do is try to understand the struggles other women face. You must also be willing to fight alongside them. White feminists can use their privilege to give other feminists the platform to speak out and fight.As a straight black female I know I can’t speak for transgender feminists, feminists from other races, lesbian feminists and feminists from different religions, but I’m willing to learn and understand the struggles they face. I’m willing to fight alongside them because patriarchy oppresses everyone but in different ways.What’s the point of feminism if it doesn’t involve all women?
I mention pop culture frequently because it is fed to the masses. Quite often, both young girls and women will have their first encounter with feminism through pop culture. Academic feminism also has its problems concerning intersectionality. But that’s another opinion piece for another day!