“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
Except it’s not really that simple. And what type of woman is this quote really talking about? It’s great that we live in a society where we are finally able to talk about gender issues openly and freely, but take a look at who is being given the platform to have those discussions, and you’ll see that white women are still the primary spokespeople for feminist theories (many of which women of colour actually created).
There are many problems with white feminism, some of which I am probably not even aware of myself, but here are a few things that I have seen as common themes in white, mainstream feminism.
1. It ignores the concept of intersectionality.
Mainstream feminism marginalizes women of colour. It fails to recognize that gender inequality and racial inequality are intersectional. And race isn’t the only thing that white feminism is missing. Feminism should be about all women, not just one type of woman. How can we talk about sexism without addressing racism, homophobia, transphobia etc.? White feminism washes away all these other factors and makes the assumption that sexism is the only thing standing in the way of gender equality, but it’s not.
2. Feminism cannot be “colour-blind.”
So many times you will hear white feminists say that they don’t “see race” or that they view everyone the same and race isn’t a factor. But this is bullshit. The only reason you can say this is because you have the privilege of not having to deal with racism as a daily issue. Beyond that, saying that you don’t see race, or just see all women as “one” ignores the very real lived experiences of the women around you. Accept it or not, race affects the way people treat you, and it can’t be separated from your feminism.
3. It fails to acknowledge privilege
As a white woman, you have white privilege. This fact cannot be disputed with “yes but I’m a woman so I’m also oppressed” or “yes but my family is poor.” That might be true, but neither of those things changes the fact that you have white privilege.
Stop playing the oppression-olympics.
Being oppressed as a woman does not give you the right to ignore the oppression of others. It’s a privilege to be able to disengage yourself from conversations about race. As a white woman, I know that I have the privilege of being able to decide when I want to talk about or think about race. Women of colour do not have that option.
4. Our struggles are different.
There is a lot of racism in the history of feminism. In the United States, it is taught that women were granted the right to vote in 1920, but the truth is that the women’s suffrage movement was about white women, and black women didn’t have the right to vote until 1965. To this day, our struggles are not the same, and pretending that they are is a problem.
The struggle of a white woman is not the same as that of a woman of colour. We often see white celebrities talking about equal pay or paid maternity leave, but where is their outrage about race-related policy brutality?
Race isn’t the only thing that makes our struggles different.
As a straight woman, you have always been allowed to marry whomever you choose, whereas same-sex marriage wasn’t legalised until 2015. Just last year, over twenty transgender women were murdered (many of whom were women of colour), which is the largest number on record, but why is this narrative never heard?
Countering racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia etc. should be central to the feminist struggle. We, as feminists, need to take serious concrete steps towards intersectionality. If we truly believe in equality for all women, then we need to start acting like it.