2015 Update: I wrote this post before I understood what the term “white feminism” really means, and this post reflects a common misinterpretation of that term, which is that it refers to all white women who identify as feminist. In truth, it references a myopic and exclusionary type of feminism that ignores the needs of women of color, low-income women, trans and gender nonconforming people, women with disabilities, and many others. The opposite of “white feminism” is intersectional feminism, which recognizes the ways in which people’s identities intersect, and seeks to address the needs of everyone who is oppressed by patriarchal structures, sexism, and misogyny, not just middle and upper class cisgender white women. For a more updated snapshot of my views on feminism, please see this post.
I’m leaving this post up and searchable, because I learned that I was wrong to be hurt and offended by the phrase “white feminism needs to die,” and I think there are others out there too who need to get over their defensiveness at the term, and think about how to make their feminism inclusive.
Time for some honesty here.
I am white. I am female. I am bisexual. I come from a lower middle class family and I have a bachelor’s degree. I’m considered attractive almost universally. I am completely aware of any white/thin/cis/whatever privilege I have. That is, I try to be aware of it. I realize that people are worse off than I am. I realize that I am a lucky person. I won a genetic lottery. But I don’t have to feel bad about it.
Okay, let me explain a little bit of what prompted this. I made myself a Tumblr a few months ago, and overall I really enjoyed it. I follow a lot of really excellent blogs on feminism and sex education and books and stuff. A lot of the feminism and sex ed blogs talk a lot about transgender people and people of color. At first I was excited to see that content. Since I am not trans or of color, I was glad to get more exposure to all kinds of different experiences. Like I said, even though I try to be aware of my privilege, I’m sure that I’m not innocent of accidentally offending someone with my ignorance.
A lot of the content of my Tumblr dashboard was exactly what I hoped, and I loved it. But every now and then there were posts and comments that made me twitch. The issue is this: every now and then, bloggers (and people in general) lash out against their binary opposite label. Transgender people get pissed at cissexual people for “not understanding.” People of color get pissed at white people for “not understanding.” Feminists get mad at men for “not understanding.” Feminists of color get pissed at white feminists, on and on and on.
It got so frustrating to read so much hate that I abandoned it. I felt attacked just for being who I was, by people who are often attacked just for being who they are. What kind of sense does that make? And I never felt able to respond. The responses to others who saw a problem with the vitriol were so frightening and hurtful. It was a conversation that left no room for me even to say, “I’m here and I’m interested in you!” Because I’m white and I’m cis and fuck me, they don’t want my pity or my condescension, I have no right to comment on their experiences.
It made my soul hurt, and there was nothing I could do, so I left Tumblr.
Recently I started browsing through again, and I’ve found the same kinds of things. Like this gem, captioned with “Because I am fed up with white feminists trying to “save” Muslim women. Just quit.”:
Okay. I get how frustrating it is to feel like someone’s not listening to you. I might be white, I might be cis, but I’m still a woman and I’m still bisexual, so I do still get into situations where someone is trying to shut down my contribution to the conversation. It fucking sucks. I am 100% in agreement with everything in that image, so that last line really knocked the wind out of me.
The way I see it, resorting to a hateful attack on whoever’s not listening is a form of giving up. It’s giving in. It’s throwing a tantrum. I don’t care who’s speaking or to whom the attack is directed. It is NOT productive.
It’s the way of the Men’s Rights Activists, the ones I will never take seriously as long as their arguments and tirades include words like cunt, bitch, mangina, feminazi, and the like. I am disgusted by the things that some MRAs post (check out Man Boobz for examples), but I would never say something so hateful as “Men’s Rights Activism needs to die!”
The hate the MRAs have for women makes it impossible to have real discussions with them about the problems with gender roles in our society, about things that negatively affect both men and women. The above image does the same thing for white feminists and feminists of color. Yes, feminism in the west has been an overwhelmingly white movement. During the first and second waves, white women were virtually the only ones with the means and connections to protest and network and lobby for legislation.
Well, times have changed. I can’t speak for every white feminist, of course. I don’t pretend to. But I can say for myself and infer for others that we don’t want to “save” women of color so much as make them part of the movement. So you know what?
BE AN AGENT.
TELL ME YOUR HISTORY.
Tell me, tell your neighbors, your leaders. Tell everyone. Tell us over and over and over again. Tell us with poetry. Tell us with art. Tell us with dance, with music, however you can. But please, please, please–don’t tell us with hate. All is does is pull us farther apart.
If you’re a person who feels like your voice isn’t being heard, please feel free to leave comments or email me your stories (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’m very interested in learning more about…just about everything, really.