One of the most persistent criticisms lobbed at feminism — both in its current form and its previous incarnations — is a lack of acknowledgment and understanding for the different axes along which women and men are oppressed. In everything from the Slutwalk to the commentary of prominent feminists, we find fairly universal complaints of a general lack of intersectionality. The observation has been rightfully made, time and time again, that when talking about the issues we face as “women,” the distinction must be made that the experience of any two women is going to be vastly different. Though there are some things we face universally, the other axes of privilege — race, class, education, and ability, for starters — are going to radically change what kind of experience a given woman has in life.
Speaking strictly in an American context, it is undeniable that a good majority of the feminists who are getting airplay (on television, in radio, on prominent websites, in academia) fit a certain number of criteria. They are, generally speaking: white, middle-to-upper-middle class, English as a first language, college educated, and from economically privileged areas. I fit into most of these categories, of course, with the notable exception of my lack of a college degree. But for all intents and purposes, when I’m navigating society on a daily basis, I come across as your standard-issue white girl. The distinction of education level plays a role, but not at first glance. And while the obvious barrier in feminism’s homogeny is preventing a more diverse and nuanced dialogue when it comes to describing the “female experience,” the problem with seeing things through the “white, educated, middle class” spectrum manifests in other, less obvious ways.
Take, for example, the prominent feminist circles you’ll find on various social media. Everywhere from Tumblr to Twitter to Facebook groups, there are women getting together and talking about what it means to be both a woman and a feminist. And in many of these circles, there is a heavy focus on “male privilege,” and what that means in an operational sense. There are near-endless blogs dedicated to pointing out everything from the microaggressions to the sweeping legislation which subjugate women. And as the (righteous) anger against some of the institutional disadvantages women face brews, it manifests in a number of ways. “Misandry” has become a cute term to express one’s disgust for the patriarchy. “Kill all men” is another. They are small slogans and concepts which aim to take back a sense of control, of autonomy. The expression of hatred towards men — one regarded as benign because of the lack of societal power behind it — has become a kind of social currency in many more radical feminist circles. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a 16-year-old white girl’s Tumblr with a picture of her holding a heart-shaped card emblazoned with “I Love Misandry” and surrounded by sparkles. It’s cute, and it’s harmless.
But the idea of leveraging a universal hatred against men, or allowing ourselves to feel as though there is a clear divide in terms of gendered power, and that it falls distinctly on the men vs. women line, fuels a slippery slope of profound privilege denying. Because to pretend as though the 22-year-old white female blogger talking about her hatred of men from the comfort of her prepaid dorm at an Ivy League school does not hold many tangible privileges over, say, the undocumented male worker who is cleaning the bathroom stalls of her building at night, is ludicrous. There are countless privileges she has over him, and countless points of access she has in our society that he will never see.
As young, white, middle-class women, we move through society with a certain amount of implicit trust. We’ll laugh when we see Lindsay Fünke on Arrested Development comment on her ability to shoplift with impunity because, hey, she’s a white woman — but the truth that underscores that joke is very, very real. Figures of authority in our society will give us more of a benefit of a doubt than they would a young black man, for example. They assume the best of us. And yes, there will always be exceptions to this. And yes, it can be infantilizing. But when it comes to standing before a judge, or a bigoted police officer, my guess is that most people would rather be condescended to and allowed to go home, than treated like a “man” and be beaten or thrown into jail. Just this last week, Forest Whitaker was frisked by a store employee because who accused him of stealing, while more than one young white starlet has been openly caught stealing pricey items and met with a slap on the wrist.
Even rape culture, one of feminism’s most important crusades, is often blind to its own inability to consider other axes of privilege. The rape culture that exists within our prison system — thousands of young (mostly poor, mostly PoC) men and women being raped and sexually assaulted on a daily basis with little to no recourse — is often met with a cultural response of “If they didn’t want to get raped, they shouldn’t have gone to jail.” The victimless, drug-related crimes which turn into extensive sentences and felony records which prevent future employment are regularly the start of a lifetime of sexual assault, and yet we so often see rape framed in feminist spaces within an extremely narrow context. These are people who are victimized largely because of their limited access to resources or escape and their marginalized position in society — who fit every criteria of being within a “culture” of sexual assault — and yet their stories often go untold in the discourse.
The truth is simply that the dichotomy we construct with the “misandry 4 lyfe” taglines and the “all men are this way or that way” framework is as dangerous as it is disingenuous. It allows enormous amounts of young women to believe that, in their support of what they perceive to be a wholly progressive and benign cause, they are exempt from upholding the status quo which subjugates so many others. It oversimplifies incredibly complex social issues. And it erases the very intersections of privilege and oppressions which define our lives and make the need to fight for equality so essential. If we are going to consider ourselves feminists — activists of any kind, really — it behooves us to make that word mean as much as possible, and be as honest as it can be. Even if it means consulting the skeletons in our own closets.