What 'white feminism' is and why calling it out isn't the end of the world
"My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullsh*t." — Terri Lee Flavia Dzodan
Feminism benefits everyone. "White feminism," not so much.
What is "white feminism"?
There are a lot of long answers from feminists more qualified to break it down than me (like this one involving pizza), but the short version is that it shies away from acknowledging different people experience different oppressions based on what and how many marginalized groups they belong to.
Why does that matter? If you've experienced one kind of oppression, isn't it like all others?
Actually, no. And it's not a competition about who has experienced more or worse oppressions — it's just the ability to acknowledge that growing up as a white, affluent, straight girl is going to come with a different set of crappy experiences than growing up as, for example, a low-income white girl or a middle-class, black, queer girl.
It's a charged topic, to be sure. Here's where the communication meltdowns usually go wrong.
1. People who have "white feminist" tendencies pointed out to them don't often say: "Hey, thanks for pointing out my blind spot. I'll do some reading about this and try to do better." Instead, it's usually more along the lines of: "It's really hurtful that you don't acknowledge my place in this struggle with you, and you should be nicer to me. We're on the same side."
2. Intersectional feminists (feminists who experience other types of societal ick, like racism or homophobia) are often exhausted with having to coach such things both internally with feminists and externally with non-feminists, so sometimes they don't really have the patience to "be nice about it." That burden shouldn't be on them when a supposed ally is falling down on the job of being a complete ally. It's kind of maddening for people of multiple oppressed groups to be expected to repeatedly choke back their emotions about their plight to deliver guidance to a set of people who can't choke back their own emotion for a hot second to realize they're not being picked on when they're asked to do better.
3. The whole time this is going on, feminism's critics are misunderstanding this crucial moment in feminism's advancement, hoping it's a fatal crack in the movement.
Well, it's not. Sorry to disappoint you, misogynists.
What it is is a painful and messy but necessary process that's moving feminism on to its next level — which is being a tool to wrest back agency for everybody.
So, this whole "white feminism" thing is not an easy conversation to have. Luckily, the brilliant cartoonist Alli Kirkham from Everyday Feminism figured out how to show some important parallels in an easy way.
Like how some feminists totally get how to explain their own struggle but forget how that feels when they're being told they're playing the role of oppressor.
And how the same silencing techniques that are hurtful to them are hurtful to others, too.
What can a feminist do when they have "white feminist" tendencies pointed out to them?
Here's a simple plan of action you can bookmark and share with friends.
It's not complicated. Pause, breathe, recognize it's not an attack but a request to do better, and say:
"Hey, thanks for pointing out my blind spot. I'll do some reading about this and try to do better."
And then actually do it. We're gonna get there, fabulous feminists. Together!