Illustration by Sara Haas.
“White Feminism” is probably a term you’ve read somewhere on the Internet if you’re on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, or any other site where social problems are frequently discussed. You probably have an idea of what it means, but maybe you’re still unsure of whether or not your beliefs fall under those of a white feminist.
White feminism is a term that is typically used to describe the belief system of white, heterosexual, cisgender feminists. Their fight for equality revolves around issues such as equal pay, rape culture, and crushing the patriarchy.
Don’t get me wrong—these are all issues that seriously need to change. However, white feminists don’t recognize the greater degree of misogyny faced by women of color, LGBTQ+ women, women with disabilities, or women facing class oppression.
The media provides us with examples of white feminism all the time. Some more recent illustrations include Meryl Streep’s claim that “we’re all Africans, really,” Madeline Albright’s statement that women who don’t support Hillary Clinton are going to hell, and the annoying punchline, “All Lives Matter,” used widely by white elitists.
White feminism also involves how white, cisgender women inadvertently contribute to harmful stereotypes and oppression. This includes claims such as being “colorblind”—claiming to not see race—or calling people with disabilities “inspirational” only because they have a disability. The intention is good, but there is still a huge breach in understanding.
A white feminist cannot know the struggle of a woman of color who is a member of the LGBTQ community. She cannot understand encounters with racial profiling and police brutality. She cannot directly relate to people with disabilities who face discrimination in ableist language everyday.
There is nothing wrong with a woman’s inability to relate to the unique combinations of oppression faced by other women. However, there is something wrong with not paying attention to these injustices faced by other women.
This is the problem that so many women have with white feminism. It erases the experiences of women who are not white, heterosexual, cisgender women. White feminism tightly constricts the boundaries of what it means to be a “woman” instead of being inclusive of all women.
As someone just beginning to learn about feminism, it’s easy to fall into the trendy internet world of white feminism. But the injustices experienced by many women are in no way pretty or trendy. If any change is to be made for women, there needs to be a focus on intersectionality.
Intersectional feminism recognizes everyone that white feminism leaves out. It emphasizes learning from and listening to different groups of women. It may seem like a daunting term because its constituents are so diverse, but the beauty of intersectionality is that you always have room to grow and learn from your mistakes.
There are so many great sources for intersectional news. Everyday Feminism is an intersectional news source whose articles are immensely helpful and so easy to read during a quick study break or five minutes of free time.
White feminism is an annoying little wasp that needs to be squashed. Feminism is not representing the true fight for equality when it is only viewed through a white, cisgender woman’s experiences. Rather than allowing one group to speak for women as a whole, we need to step aside and let other women—women of color, LGBTQ+ women, women with disabilities, single mothers—speak for themselves.