Culturally inclusive feminism exists outside of the mainstream

by Hunter Harris / Beacon Staff • November 6, 2014

I’m waiting for white feminism to text me back. If it were a cute boy at a party, this is approximately the stage we would be in: We’ve flirted at a crowded party and gone through the motions of the awkward collegiate dance of intimacy. In the similarly youthful immaturity of my relationship with white feminism, a quick text—arguably the lowest method of acknowledgment through modern communication outside of direct messages on Twitter—is the most basic level of acknowledgment I desire.

Only white feminism isn’t that cute boy. “White feminism,” the apparent center of today’s American mainstream feminism, acknowledges neither the benefits of racial privilege nor the prejudices and inequalities that intimately affect the lives of communities of minority women in the United States and abroad. I use “white feminist” deliberately: not only is it the buzzword for this ideology in critical theory and on Tumblr, but it is a feminism solely concerned with whiteness, no matter the race, ethnicity, sex, or gender of its subscribers. It sidesteps intersectionality—the study of intersections between different systems of oppression—in its focus on the priorities of, and injustices against, white women. 

Importantly, “white feminism” could just as easily be described as “whitewashed feminism,” and is in no way synonymous with “white women that are feminists,” of which I know many who advocate for the interests of women of other nationalities, races, and sexual identities. Ignorant of other feminisms—of which there are many, including cultural, eco, and libertarian—I once subscribed to white feminism, my high school head buried in books defending characterizations of Betty Friedan’s “problem that has no name,” until I realized that this feminism—this whitewashed feminism—neither described nor defended me.

But enough with the jargon and complexity of academia. It was this arm of feminism that criticized Beyoncé for titling her 2013 world tour “The Mrs. Carter Show” and claims to be interested in dialogue about gender that is “progressive” but excludes trans women. It’s this brand of feminism that makes headlines condemning sharing nude photos that surfaced of Jennifer Lawrence, while turning a blind eye to the leaked nudes of plus-sized R&B artist Jill Scott. In summer 2013, the trending hashtag “solidarityisforwhitewomen” offered countless commentaries on this exclusionary tendency in 140 characters and less: “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when convos about gender pay gap ignore that white women earn higher wages than black, Latino and Native men,” read one tweet retweeted over 800 times.

With the democratization of the internet, and the plethora of experiences and narratives that social networks and online platforms make available to dispersed readers and communities, the tired tropes of feminisms that only extend their representation to women of certain racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic statuses should be long out of date. As college students who are likely making our first meaningful forays into the exclusive structure of the pre-existing feminist canon, the onus is upon us to recognize the lack of diversity within the ever-expanding feminist community.

It’s not necessary to advocate for a feminism that singularly speaks to and addresses prejudices against women of color—only a feminism that acknowledges the diversity of the female experience and works to improve conditions for all women. All too often, the “sisterhood” that eminent women’s rights advocates like Friedan and Gloria Steinem described hasn’t involved the women and ideologies that existed outside of their neighborhoods and communities. As important as it is to push young girls to follow the Sheryl Sandberg doctrine of “leaning in,” it’s even more critical to be aware of the millions of women for whom this action is not as simple as following the advice of a book or a TED Talk.

I’m waiting for a feminism to text me back, to acknowledge my different hair type, different skin color, and different injustices and aggressions that my experiences of womanhood are soaked in. A critical feminist viewpoint that is comprehensive of racial, class, and political power structures can finally be disseminated online, in the media, and by the untold numbers of women waiting to be acknowledged and defended by an expanded mainstream ideology.