White feminism cropped up a lot in 2015 and, honestly, we need to break it down. First things first – white feminism is feminism that ignores the plight of people who aren’t white, cis or straight. White feminism is unwilling to discuss race or trans-misogyny because of the belief that all women experience sexism the same way. Usually the experiences of white straight women dominate this narrative.
Although being a feminist who is white does not necessarily make you a white feminist, most white feminists are white because they don’t experience racism on a daily basis . Privilege plays a big role in what is called white feminism because it affects the way in which you experience oppression, if at all. No one is saying your life can’t be hard if you’re white or straight or cis etc. However, odds are your hardships won’t exist because you are white, straight or cis. Privilege doesn’t make you an enemy of the oppressed, it simply means you benefit directly or indirectly from the system or society… but if you disregard your privileges and refuse to acknowledge the experiences of oppressed social groups, then we’ve got issues.
Taylor swift was criticised for being a white feminist and ignoring Nikki Minaj’s claim that she didn’t win video of the year because her video didn’t “celebrate very slim bodies”. Swift perhaps misinterpreted that the tweet was about her and retaliated saying she had done nothing but love and support Minaj throughout her career. Simultaneously she downplayed the role that racism plays within patriarchy and saying ‘maybe one of the men took your slot’. Minaj’s attempts to discuss how she experiences racism and sexism is downplayed by the reluctance of white feminists to discuss race and intersectionality and instead favour the idea that all women are oppressed as one unified social group.
if you disregard your privileges and refuse to acknowledge the experiences of oppressed social groups, then we’ve got issues
I am in no way saying that white women do not experience sexism, only that they experience it differently. Similarly, cis women experience sexism differently to trans women. Gender pay gap figures are a good example of this – when it is reported that men earn a dollar whilst women earn 78 cents, the crucial word left out is ‘white’. Black and Hispanic men earn far less than white men, earning 75.1 cents and 67.2 cents respectively. Black and Hispanic women fare far worse with black women earning 64 cents and Hispanic women earning 54 cents, almost half the pay of a white man. It’s obvious from this that intersectionality plays a role in sexism, so it’s high time we talked about it.
Police brutality, for example, should be a feminist issue because the way police treat women of colour is abhorrent – all feminists should be taking issue with this. Had Sandra Bland been a white woman, where would she be now? Would she still be alive? Would she even have been stopped by police in the first place? Sadly, many white feminists see this as a non-issue because it’s ‘just about race’, but really it’s more complex than that. White feminism silences the voices of women of colour by propagating the stereotype of the angry black woman, and asserting that their experiences of racism and misogyny aren’t valid, reducing their opinions and lived experience to ‘pulling the race card’ or just having a bad attitude.
However, even issues that are crucially feminist issues, like beauty standards, still continue to ignore intersectionality and are largely ignored by white feminists. For example, the belief that trans women who can and choose to transition need to conform to typical beauty standards lingers for society to feel their gender identity is legitimate. Caitlin Jenner was immediately and overtly sexualised on the cover of vanity fair, because her body was now a societal fetish. Meanwhile, sexualised pictures of black women are seen as obscene. Another example is cornrows being seen as cool and fashionable on Kylie Jenner or Justin Bieber, and dirty and ugly on Zendaya on the red carpet.
We need to start talking about how intersectionality plays a role in feminism because, realistically, if your brand of feminism isn’t inclusive, who is it really helping? You may find yourself asking what you can do. After all, if privilege isn’t your fault then what can you do to remedy the problem?
First of all, check your privilege and simply acknowledge the benefits you may get from the system because of this. Second of all, read and educate yourself, listen to the lived experiences of women of colour, trans-women, lesbian and bi women without silencing them or talking over them. Don’t explain your own experience if it derails a more important conversation about intersectionality and realise that, sometimes, it’s simply not about you.