It has recently come to my attention that not all feminism is created equal. In the past, seeing a “feminist” or “girl power” sticker on a laptop or button on a backpack was something that really excited me and often a really good indicator of if that person was someone I wanted to get to know. But behind that proudly displayed “girls rule!” sticker often lies a concept commonly known as “white feminism.”
White feminism is feminism that puts all the focus on the struggles of white women and minimizes the concern for other women. As explained in USA Today by Alia E. Dastagir, “A white woman is penalized by her gender but has the advantage of race. A black woman is disadvantaged by her gender and her race. A Latina lesbian experiences discrimination because of her ethnicity, her gender and her sexual orientation.”
White feminism is a concern for women’s rights but with an added “terms and conditions” in which the issues deemed most pressing and worthy of attention are those that impact white women; it casts issues that women of color and the LGBTQ+ community face to the side.
In recent years, many high-profile women who identify as feminists have received backlash for practicing white feminism, such as Emma Watson, whose 2014 U.N. speech presented some ideas about feminism that many found far from the truth. Watson asked, “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation? Men — I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation.” The problem with this statement is that not even all women feel invited or welcomed within the feminist community and that this community is not just one united, inclusive unit. Watson has since made statements acknowledging her privilege.
Another notable example is Tarana Burke, the creator of the #MeToo movement that has gained a great deal of attention recently with many big-name celebrities making statements about it. Burke, a black woman from Harlem and sexual assault survivor, created this movement to bring attention and help to women of color who had experienced sexual assault. Unfortunately, she has hardly received any credit for starting this movement, and instead the #MeToo movement has been adopted by a group more palatable for a white feminist audience, such as Alyssa Milano, who has since credited Burke in a tweet for founding the movement in 2006 that Milano referenced in her 2017 tweet that gained a great deal of national attention. While she tags Burke’s website, Milano, a white woman, has become the face of #MeToo, her website and social media all reflecting this. When thinking about the #MeToo movement, I am often also guilty of instantly thinking about the most public and popular cases such as those against Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein and not of the cases Burke originally wanted to bring attention to with her movement. Burke became an organizer for social change as a teenager when the Daily News wrote a story about her and other protestors advocating for justice for the Central Park Five, five boys who were wrongfully convicted of assault, sodomy and rape, according to previous Maneater reporting.
Almost every time I have attended a meeting on campus pertaining to women’s issues so far, the majority of the attendees are white women, so naturally many of the issues we discuss are also focused on this. Additionally, I’ve noticed a sort of “first-world feminism” in which women complain about issues such as dress coding in high schools. While issues like this are a good example of common sexist behavior, they should not take the place of putting attention toward much more serious violations of women’s rights, especially ones that occur in other countries, such as acid attacks. Since we aren’t seeing international issues firsthand, it is easy to not make them a priority. This type of outlook is harmful since it excludes women who need the support of others the most, and by not giving all these other women the same attention and praise for their struggles as we do for white women, our feminism is no longer one that cares for the rights of all women.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Try acknowledging your privilege in certain situations or educating others at gatherings about the issues women of the international, LGBTQ+, black, Hispanic, indigenous and many more communities face. These actions can help open the eyes of others to how an individual’s struggle might be much smaller compared to the issues these women face, or even just comparable. Turning to all-inclusive feminism lets people find the things that connect them to women — the problems we all face and the victories we have all achieved so far — and opens the door to brainstorming for more equality. As far as learning more about this on campus, MU has wonderful organizations such as the Black Culture Center, the Women’s Center, the LGBTQ Resource Center and Circle of Sisterhood that all have resources focusing on women’s issues and people excited to discuss these issues with others.
Edited by Claire Colby | email@example.com