I wrote an article on ‘white feminism’ and the internet decided it hated me
A lot of the comments started with ‘but I’m white and a feminist so does that mean -‘
When I wrote an article a few weeks ago on ‘why white feminism doesn’t represent me’, I didn’t expect a backlash. And when it popped up again on my Facebook feed this week I was just happy to see people were still sharing it. I got a lot of support from friends and family and strangers who could all relate to my experiences.
Then came the angry trolls, the upset white feminists, the people who didn’t understand, and decided to blame that on me. So this is a follow up to that piece to try and dissect some of the backlash I received, in order to maybe help you to understand my perspective a little bit. Try and keep an open mind.
The most recurring criticism at the piece was simply the title, ‘white feminism’. I included a google definition in the last piece but here it is again:
Let’s get one thing straight: white feminism exists. It’s no more made up than the real need for women of colour to be represented. Honestly, I wish I had made up white feminism. I wish it was a fictional thing that me and millions of girls of colour didn’t have to deal with. Really. But I didn’t.
More and more, the angry online reaction only proved how necessary it was for me to write the piece in the first place. The level of ignorance was staggering. It’s pretty simple – just because you have had the privilege to never be excluded from the dominant narrative of feminism, doesn’t mean others have as well. Your self awareness is seriously lacking if you can’t fathom the idea that the mainstream feminist movement fails to recognise intersections of race, religion, class and so on. As it does, appallingly, just ask any girl who doesn’t fit into ‘white, middle class, able bodied’.
Intersectionality was a phrase coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 to deal with the concept of addressing the multi layered facets that certain groups of people have to live with. Trust me, this debate is something I did not ‘literally’ make up. It’s really shocking how unaware some people are of the struggles of others, even after 21+ years of dealing with it, the ignorance and arrogance still shocks me.
The textbook definition of Intersectionality is: “The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.”
Some of the comments I felt were well-meaning, if you squinted a little at them, some of the girls, and guys who commented wanted to dismiss white feminism all together – which is easier said than done, I can’t just dismiss it when it is in every feminist space, in every aspect of society and as it dominates feminist discourse.
As a black Muslim woman, I have to deal with racism, sexism and Islamophobia, yet two out of three of those flourish in most feminist spaces. It’s the very reason why women of colour seek to forge out their own safe spaces, in which the white perspective has to take a back seat to the discussion and issues for once. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, it is not my intention, but facing uncomfortable truths is the starting point of improving feminist discourse, you can’t just blindly say nothing is wrong and attack those who point out the issues.
What surprised me even more than some people’s ignorance was how offended they got. Some seemed to feel very personally attacked by this piece, because they are white and don’t wish to be associated with ‘white feminism’.
Again, just because you maybe haven’t had to face white feminism, doesn’t automatically make it fictional – that’s arrogance on a whole new level. I was also faced with a lot of ‘but I’m white and a feminist, does that mean…’
Here’s an extract from Cate young’s ‘what I mean when I say White feminism’: “‘White feminism’ does not mean every white woman, everywhere, who happens to identify as feminist. It also doesn’t mean that every “white feminist” identifies as white. I see ‘white feminism’ as a specific set of single-issue, non-intersectional, superficial feminist practices. It is the feminism we understand as mainstream; the feminism obsessed with body hair, and high heels and makeup, and changing your married name. It is the feminism you probably first learned. ‘White feminism’ is the feminism that doesn’t understand western privilege, or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn’t consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality. ”
I’d recommend you go and read the full post if you really want to understand and educate yourself. This is not about you, a white feminist, this is not saying that all white feminists are somehow evil. It is saying that mainstream feminism caters to white women exclusively, so if the title ‘white feminism’ offends you, you should really try to evaluate why. It is called white feminism, because it is white women who reap the benefits of it, I’m not accusing you specifically. So please stop sending me hate online, because that just makes you part of the problem.
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