White Feminism 101: Is It Working?
by Megan Huynh
When the term “white feminism” is heard, celebrities like Taylor Swift, Lena Dunham, and Amy Schumer come to mind. All of these women claim to espouse feminism, some even making the message of girl power part of their brand, but fail to acknowledge issues pertaining to race and class. So what exactly is white feminism? White feminism is feminism that is primarily centered around the issues and struggles that affect white women and does not recognize intersectionality, or the notion that issues such as race, sexuality, disability, and others are all intertwined and cannot be discussed as separate issues.
Let’s look at some examples of white feminism. White feminism is white, upper class women obtaining suffrage in 1920, while women of color could not vote until decades later. White feminism is fighting the pay gap, arguing against women gaining 77 cents to a man’s dollar, while failing to acknowledge that our black and Latina sisters are earning 64 and 54 cents, respectively. White feminism is supporting Miley Cyrus for embracing her sexuality, while slut shaming Nicki Minaj for doing the same. White feminism is assuming every female is equally oppressed, when in actuality, minorities, such as women of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community, face hate crimes on a much greater scale than the average middle-class, cis white woman. White feminism continues to ignore the voices of trans women and queer women, while solely focusing on, of course, white women. White feminism is wearing a t-shirt that advocates for equal rights while not recognizing that that very same shirt was made by a woman in a third world country, barely making enough money to sustain themselves and their family.
One classic pop culture example of white feminism in action was the Summer of 2015 Twitter feud between Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. After getting snubbed for a VMA nomination for her video “Anaconda,” Minaj took to Twitter to voice her frustration, also highlighting the problematic lack of diversity common in awards shows and the discrimination she faced as a black female artist. Swift then took personal offense at this comment, shifting the conversation from racism and double standards in the industry to her own personal message of “girls supporting girls” and “female empowerment” and suggesting that “one of the men” took Minaj’s spot. This is a quintessential white feminist move, drawing away focus from issues of things like race to make the situation solely about gender.
Currently, white feminism seeks to silence and erase the voices of women of color and other oppressed groups, which ultimately distracts from issues faced by minorities and is detrimental to the idea of feminism as a whole. When we strive for equality between the sexes, that should mean true equality, no matter race, sexuality, gender identity, class, or anything else. The alternate to white feminism, however, is intersectional feminism. It is impossible for one’s experiences related to gender be separated from their experiences based on race or class. Of course, feminism should also seek to include those that are not women as well, including men and non-binary people.
So what if you find yourself to actually be a white feminist? How should you make your feminism more intersectional? Shift your perspective of feminism from your position or a position of privilege to one of others as well. If you make a mistake and say something discriminatory, do not act defensive and recognize your error. Include the opinions and thoughts of people of other oppressed groups in your conversations about feminism. And most importantly, remember to think about how certain issues affect people not only of different genders but of different races, ethnicities, sexuality, class, and ability.