White Feminism 101: White Women, We Have a Problem
White women, we have a problem. She’s staring us in the face as we gaze into the bathroom mirror. 53% of white women who voted cast their ballots for Donald Trump according to exit polls, meaning a majority of us wanted a pseudo-fascist, racist, misogynist rapist to be President. And the rest of us aren’t off the hook.
I have heard many women say in the days following the election that they cannot imagine why any woman would vote for Trump, given his overtly misogynist and violent behavior towards women. While I share their disgust at the fact that so many white women voters threw their lot in with Trump, I can imagine why the phenomenon occurred. The answer is relatively simple: the construction of white women’s social existence is dependent on the patriarchy. Zoe Samudzi eloquently states on the blog Black Girl Dangerous,
“Because white womanhood as a social position was constructed by white men through white patriarchy, white women frequently look to white men for validation and affirmation. Many of these women are either willing to subsume their own interests for that of whiteness because of their internalizations of patriarchy or they earnestly believe that the flourishment of whiteness is necessarily also the flourishment of white women.”
In simple terms, many white women believe that their relative position of power, though subordinate to that of white men, is worth preserving through the protection of their whiteness first and foremost. That said, I am not addressing the women who voted for Trump, because, to be frank, I don’t think any of them will even find their way to this blog, let alone click on a post titled “White Feminism 101.” I’m addressing the Progressive White Woman, because those are the women filling my social media feeds and my daily life. White Feminists aren’t all that different from the white women who support Trump, and the two groups are both steeped in unacknowledged privilege and racism. I’m a recovering White Feminist, and it’s high time white women do the work within our own communities to eradicate that festering excuse for liberation.
Progressive White Women also tend to be white feminists, and are regrettably sometimes White Feminists too. A white feminist is someone who self-identifies as a feminist and happens to be white; whereas a White Feminist predicates her feminism on the deliberate or accidental (spoiler alert: intent doesn’t matter!) exclusion of intersectional identities from the feminist movement, most notably women of color. One can be a white feminist without being a White Feminist, and girl, we gotta get to work on that.
The following example will clarify what I mean by white feminists and White Feminists. In the wake of the election results, scores of Facebook events around counter-inauguration protests have circulated through our newsfeeds, among them the “Million Woman March.” The title of the event was modeled on the Million Man March, a political demonstration led by Black men in DC in 1995.* The Facebook event did not appear to organized by women of color and did not so much as mention the Million Man March, which made the title an appropriation of Black politics and history. When women of color pointed out this problem – because, yet again, white women were not doing the work to check racism – the event organizers changed the name to the “Women’s March on Washington.” Sound familiar? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the historic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at the culmination of the March on Washington, also known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom or the Great March on Washington.** When faced with criticism for their failure to be intersectional, event organizers simply appropriated a different moment in Black history and made no apparent substantive changes to the event itself in order to transition leadership wholly to activists of color. Furthermore, I saw at least several white self-proclaimed “nasty women” comment that they did not believe the appropriation was intentional and that the title was therefore not a problem. For those who believe that intent matters, please read this piece on Everyday Feminism. Intent does not matter; impact does.
In the above example, a white feminist (i.e. a feminist who happens to be white) recognizes that white women’s liberation is inextricable from that of women of color and, knowing that women of color have showed up for white women again and again, is not okay with the way this event is organized. She says something and demands the event be changed so that it is inclusive and empowering to all women, not just her. If the organizers refuse, she leaves and finds a different event that is not racist bullshit. The White Feminist, on the other hand, recognizes neither her own racism nor the feminist movement’s repeated exclusion of women of color. She says nothing, or commits a microaggression in the comments section by suggesting that the event’s leadership and title aren’t important. If you’re white, be a white feminist. Feminism is a valuable movement and at its best works towards the liberation of not only (all) women but also other marginalized groups. Do not be a White Feminist. White Feminism is no better than a total lack of feminism, no better than voting for Trump to preserve your own relative position of power over non-white women.
I used to be a White Feminist, and I still have to guard against it creeping into my thoughts every day. I wasn’t intentionally excluding women of color from my feminism, but because whiteness is our society’s default mode and I didn’t make a proactive effort toward intersectionality, I ended up at exactly the same spot I would have if my exclusion had been deliberate. It took a lot of reflection, serious discomfort, and reading the work of women of color for me to understand why and how to leave my White Feminism behind. That is the lesson here, Progressive White Women. You must put in the work. You must listen to women of color. You must believe them. You must get extremely uncomfortable. You must talk to White Feminists and other Progressive White Women and teach them. You must refuse to accept our freedom at the expense of people of color. And you must do this again and again, forever.
SUGGESTED READING BY WOMEN OF COLOR
Donald’s Trump Card: White Women by Zoe Samudzi, Black Girl Dangerous
7 Things Women of Color Want White Feminists to Know by Gina M. Florio, Bustle
White Feminists: Please Stop Using the Race Card by Ijeoma Oluo, Ravishly
White Feminists Gotta Go: Amy Schumer’s White Woman Foolishness by Samantha Master, The Root