Dealing with my White Girl Feminism
By: Missy DeVelvis
I am white. I am educated, relatively well-spoken, and middle class. I am a feminist, but in many, many ways I adhere to what is called “white feminism.”
What is white feminism? In this amazing blog post, BattyMamzelle blogger Cate Young describes it as “a specific set of single-issue, non-intersectional, superficial feminist practices….the feminism obsessed with body hair, and high heels and makeup, and changing your married name. It is the feminism you probably first learned.”
I don’t believe Cate is saying that talking about these topics is necessarily a bad thing. They are introductory conversations about feminism and equality and standards that most Western women struggle against.
But what this feminism doesn’t understand, according to Young, is “western privilege, or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn’t consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality.” White feminism is the feminism that believes we must liberate all women who wear hijabs and burqas, and that cultures where women follow traditional gender roles are intrinsically wrong.
I am overwhelmingly aware of my white feminism and am trying to do whatever I can to be more inclusive, but sometimes, the best way to do that is to butt out.
There’s a reason I write about women in history (usually, unfortunately, white women due to my research focus) and pop culture. These are feminist topics that apply to me, and they are things that I know about and feel comfortable writing about. I feel like I’m the wrong person to write about the struggles African-American women face, for example, because I am not qualified to make any statements as this is not my struggle. I am an impostor on this front.
In last semester’s Native American Women Writers class with the amazing Dr. Romero (seriously, take her classes), I learned the hard lesson of how my feminism holds up to other cultures. I couldn’t help but feel angry reading about these native women in roles I felt “subjugated” them, and I expressed my frustrations in class. Dr. Romero patiently taught me that this was a culture I did not completely understand, and many women actively embraced these roles that my modern White Feminism railed against. Later we would read books by native women struggling against these roles to different degrees, battling modernity and culture, trying to make the two peacefully coexist. This was their own struggle, not mine. I have no say in which parts of their culture these women should embrace.
So what can we do, as feminists who are white, to be open to all kinds of feminism without making statements we aren’t qualified to make?
The first thing I try to do is listen. I hear their trials and I try my absolute best not to make it about me. As humans, we like to empathize; we like to make connections to our own lives and experiences in order to better understand others. I will never completely understand what women who differ from me are going through, whether it be race, sexuality, or religion, but I can hear them out and see how I can help, if help is even wanted.
How do I show these women that I support them without speaking out on something I am not qualified to discuss? I try to share their stories, share their words without making them my own. Social media is a huge part of modern feminism, so instead of making posts yourself, try sharing the tweets, posts, blogs of feminist writers of different ethnicities and sexualities than your own. Let their voices be heard, spread their words, without feeling the need to contribute your two cents.
If there are fundraisers, donate! Attend if you are welcome! Ask how you can help and what you can do, and if the answer is nothing don’t be self-righteous and offended. Again, be willing to listen. This feels counter-productive in a society where we feel the need to spread the word and let our voices be heard. Sometimes, it needs to be the voices of those that are oppressed, not just their White Knight champions.
Finally, expand your readership of feminist authors. Check the races and social status of your current authors. Are they predominantly white women? Can you add diversity to your reading? This is the same with public figures. Do you applaud Lena Dunham and Tina Fey, only to doubt Nicki Minaj and Beyonce’s statuses as role model women?
We all have flaws. My feminism is flawed, but I have to be open and able to change and adapt. I hope my friends will hold me accountable when I’m focusing too much on a feminism that only helps people like myself. Most importantly, I have to be willing to shut up and let others speak instead.