White Feminism: A Feminism Not for You or Me

Feminism is one of the most revolutionary and successful movements in centuries. It has been the hallmark of progress and equity in each wave that hit us around the world. But, a remnant of the past called white feminism threatens the very essence of gender equality and equity no matter how well intentioned. At the end of the day, white feminism without Intersectionality is white supremacy.

Feminism has a rich history in the United States from women who helped in the American Revolutionary war to the first woman candidate of a major political party to get close to the White House. Feminism has many faces, definitions and goals. However, one of my favorite definitions of feminism was stated by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua: “Feminism is the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as white economically privileged heterosexual women. Anything less than this is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement.” This quote drew me to feminism and its many moments in history because of how inclusive and perceptive it was for women of all mixed identities.

Later, I came across Kimberle Crenshaw’s work as a legal and feminist scholar, especially when reading “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” in which she argued that in the legal system, women of color were ignored as the protected classes of race and gender did not have explicit mention in legislation and thus this demographic would be excluded the rights of both class identities. Furthermore, intersectionality, as coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, is not just taking the sum of all class identities of a person to understand the additive oppression one accumulates with each additional marginalized class identity, but rather the whole sum of their experience since their multiple oppressions are more complicated than simple addition.

To the layman, this is a lot of feminist theory for one person’s attention span. But two important points stand out: (1) feminism is about achieving a world of gender equity and (2) older waves of feminism and oppressive power structures have collectively ignored intersectional identities of women in the discourse of fair treatment under the law and societal norms.

And that brings us to the problem we see far too often from the workplace to the classroom: we are ignoring multiple intersectional classes of women even if it was never our original intention.

In Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” we are guided to a problem of old and new in feminism: “Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance…This is a diversion of energies and tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.”

At Lawrence, in numerous social justice circles leading all the way back to student government, the same burden of education, responsibility and professionalism is expected on individuals of numerous intersectional class identities on a correlative scale. This means that usually the most non-dominant face in academia and student circles is expected to justify and explain their own existence no matter how many microaggressions they need to filter through just to retain their mental health.

On this campus, we see white feminism plaguing feminism’s real goals. Just so we are clear, white feminism isn’t just practiced by white women, but it does benefit them over every other individual that identifies as woman. From organizations that practice civic engagement to service learning, “white women feminism” is the dominant practice of feminism.

We wonder why in our predominantly white Conservatory, Greek life, science organizations, etc., we don’t see more individuals of marginalized intersectional identities in the same numbers. However, since the beginning of the first feminist movements of the United States, we have asserted white feminism to be the truest form of feminism. This is a problem because it is the response many white people give to #BlackLivesMatter when they say #AllLivesMatter.

First, all lives cannot matter, when black lives are not treated like they matter, let’s get that straightened out. Secondly, #BlackLivesMatter is not saying other lives do not matter, but rather that right now in this moment, if not in many in the past, black lives are not valued to matter in the first place in relation to the white counterpart. In feminism, we have a toxic brand called white feminism that serves straight, cisgender, heterosexual, upper middle class, white women and the reason this brand survives decade after decade is because of how closely it keeps aligning with white supremacy.

This is not a value judgment that white individuals are bad. This is not a value judgment that white women are bad. This is an analysis to explain that white supremacy and white feminism benefit White folk as the common denominator and are not ideologies that can serve the remainder of the US population, let alone the world.

White feminism is when beauty standards in a society demonize black and brown hairstyles, let alone normalizing skin bleaching in developing nations because lighter skin has been conditioned into being the same as beautiful. White feminism is when white and other light skinned women use respectability politics to put down women of color as being “ratchet, emotional, aggressive, and uncooperative.” White feminism is when white liberals tell the world that Muslim women are oppressed because certain articles of clothing are forced on women of color across the world without considering that there exists a diaspora of Islam and its practices from nation to nation. White feminism is the importation of neoliberal economic policies where western nations believe they are doing developing nations a favor by offering huge loans for infrastructure projects when the recipient nation does not have the capital to pay the debts back. White feminism has become white supremacy because it is not intersectional, inclusive or decolonized. White feminism of the 1880s to 1960s to 2017 has given white women the richest opportunity to advance and rise in American society at the expense of other women and marginalized identities.

The cruelest irony of Affirmative Action is that white women are its greatest beneficiaries in percentage. In a 1995 report conducted by the California Senate Government Organization Committee, it was found noted that white women held the most of managerial jobs compared to African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans after the installation of the first two decades of affirmative action in the private sector. It is unfortunate though that (1) Latinx was not the term used for that community, (2) Native Americans in numerous studies that always come out are invisible and barely considered, and (3) we are generalizing the black and brown communities into whole segments without further respect to complex, intersectional identities such as multiracial trans women of color.

I am speaking from a straight male perspective, I will concede that. But, in respect to the class identities of race, socioeconomic class, ability, education status, documentation status, religion, age, nationality etc., White feminism has been a dying dinosaur that has hoarded certain privileges from other demographics that include women, such as trans women of color.

When we talk about feminism in this country, we immediately picture a White woman or consciously place White women when making that point in visual media. But we need to understand that White women don’t speak for all women, nor should they ever. White liberals often argue that the POC communities need to vote in larger numbers to secure Democratic and leftist-leaning political parties. The exit polling conducted by CNN for the 2016 election spits at that assumption: of those who had voted, 54% of women had voted for Hillary, 52% of white women voted for Trump, 94% of black women voted for Hillary and 69% of Latinx women voted for Hillary.

Even when it comes to the vote, marginalized women identities gave the Democratic Party huge returns in relation to how much white women have in the 2016 election. So, the question isn’t that white women are the saviors of feminism but a stark reminder that white men and women need to answer for not just the current presidency, but also toxic norms and practices that plague marginalized intersectional identities daily.

On this campus, we have a white feminism problem just as we do on a national scale. If white women get offended by the fact rather than a willingness to respect the intersectional oppression of women of color and other women-identifying populations, then that’s a clear sign of white feminism’s alignment with white supremacy.