What's a White Feminist (and am I one)??? // Holly Brown

What is White Feminism?

Lately, the internet has been exploding with conversation about White Feminism—but what is it? White Feminism is a non-intersectional brand of feminism, which generally limits itself to the experiences and oppression of white, middle class, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied women. Basically, White Feminism works against some gender-based oppression, but turns a blind eye to many issues that are primarily salient to women who inhabit other oppressed identities.

There are examples of White Feminism in action all over the place. Patricia Arquette’s comments about the wage gap that ignored the impacts of race and sexual orientation received a lot of attention earlier in the year. So did Hillary Clinton’s statement, “all lives matter,” during a recent speech in a black church near Ferguson, Missouri. It’s also frequently seen in cultural appropriating behaviors among some white feminists.

Sometimes White Feminism is more evident in what is not said, such as the substantial amount of silence in feminist circles regarding the death of Sandra Bland and countless other women of color who have died in police custody. The same can be said for the lack of feminist conversation focusing on violence against transgender women of color.

I’m white and a feminist. Does that make me a White Feminist?

Maybe, but it’s not guaranteed. White individuals who are also feminists can avoid being White Feminists by taking an intersectional approach to feminism that includes discussion of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, health, and other social locations. There are plenty of white feminists who generally do an okay job of keeping their feminism intersectional. However, there are substantial amounts of societal privilege that come with being white, and there are many things that I as a white person don’t have to think about on a daily basis because I don’t experience race-based oppression. With those givens, it’s that much easier for white feminists to overlook intersectional issues. Though not all white feminist individuals are White Feminists, most White Feminists are white.

I’m a person of color and a feminist. So I’m good, right?

Maybe, but it’s not guaranteed. The term White Feminist is most commonly used when referring to non-intersectional, white feminists, but people have multiple identities, and experiencing oppression in one area of life doesn’t mean you’re not blind to your privilege in other areas. Feminists of color, queer feminists, low-income feminists, feminists with disabilities, and feminists with any combination of these and other oppressed identities likely still have privilege in some area of life. And where privilege exists, usually there are blind spots. Part of intersectional feminism is keeping us all accountable to being inclusive.

What is Intersectional Feminism?

Simply put, intersectional feminism is a form of feminism that takes other oppressed social locations into account. It acknowledges that not all women have the same experiences (and that not all individuals experiencing gender-based oppression are women!). Intersectional feminism doesn’t limit its advocacy to people who are only oppressed in terms of their gender—it considers how sexism impacts individuals differently depending on all the social locations they inhabit.

How can I be an Intersectional Feminist?

At its core, being an intersectional feminist is all about working to be an ally as well as a feminist. It’s acknowledging that individuals may experience sexism differently based on their other social locations. It’s acknowledging that your privilege may leave you with some blind spots, working to educate yourself to reduce those blind spots, and promoting a more inclusive version of feminism. Need some inspiration on how to make your feminism more intersectional? Start by looking here, here, here, and here for some ideas.

But wait—isn’t talking about White Feminism divisive?

No, no, no, a thousand times no. Feminism will never be all it can be until we hold each other accountable to take intersectional perspectives. As #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen has pointed out, glossing over White Feminism in order to avoid being ‘divisive’ really only maintains the status quo for feminists who already benefit from the most societal privilege and power. Calling attention to instances of White Feminism is a way to educate relatively privileged feminists, while empowering feminists who have oppressed identities other than their gender. When privileged feminists are open to being checked and working on their growth areas, we make progress toward a more meaningful version of feminism that benefits everyone and builds genuine solidarity.

How can I call people in, instead of calling people out?

Calling attention to moments of White Feminism doesn’t have to be hostile. Almost everyone inhabits some privileged social locations, so chances are we all have blind spots and will all make mistakes at times. The more privileged identities we have, the truer this is. Consequently, we (especially feminists with many privileged identities, myself included) need to recognize our own vulnerability to blind spots, and keep that in mind when we notice a slip from someone else. Intersectional feminism isn’t a competition where the morally superior winner is the one who makes the least public mistakes. And just because I notice a slip from my peer today doesn’t mean I won’t make one myself tomorrow. That’s why it’s important to lovingly point out blind spots to our feminist peers, and to listen when we’re called out ourselves. 

So, what now?

This post barely scratches the surface of White Feminism as an issue, but I hope you’ll take the conversation from here. Please, take it up in the comments, in classes, in research, with your colleagues, and especially in feminist spaces. We’re all going to slip up from time to time, and that’s okay as long as we acknowledge our mistakes and learn from them. White Feminism needs to be addressed wherever it rears its ugly head, because it undermines the core values of feminism and prevents our movement from meaningfully affecting all but a narrow, privileged range of women. So please, go forth, and remember the inspired words of Flavia Dzodan: “my feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit!”

Related links:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your post, and opening the discussion about this. There is definitely need to highlight ways in which we build solidarity with each other, and in celebrating the intersectionality of our identities. This was extremely clear at the last Association for Women in Psychology conference when Angela Davis spoke; the range of feminist perspectives were apparent after she spoke, and as relevant as it is, there is still much work that needs to be done to bridge the gap in our own solidarity as feminists. Thank you for this piece.