It is an unquestionably bleak time for minority women in America. Between glaring displays of xenophobia and sexism, and an administration complicit in fanning the flames of discrimination, it’s obvious the odds are stacked against us. We look to the sky in our desperation, crying amongst ourselves, If only there were someone who would ignore the nuances of the problems we face and instead use their privilege to fix things that don’t need fixing! Then suddenly, as if by magic, something flashes across the sky. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, no, we clamor. It’s white feminism!
White feminism is essentially feminism that hasn’t got a clue. It fails to address how gender interacts with other aspects of one’s identity — such as race, class, religion, sexuality, able-bodiedness, and gender identity — and how those multifaceted identities translate into different experiences that need to be addressed. Instead, it chooses to operate under the belief that all women and gender minorities suffer the same way and in equal measure. In this way, all narratives under white feminism read the same: the plight of the otherwise non-marginalized white woman is the default. White feminism’s proposed solutions to the problems created by the patriarchy are all generated through a lens of privilege that fails to account for any view that is not its own.
Now, there’s a distinct difference between “white feminists” and feminists who are white; the latter group will use their place of privilege not to speak over minority women, but to amplify their voices. The problem with white feminists is not the fact that they’re white, but that their white privilege blinds them to the realities marginalized women face. Feminism advocates for equality for all women and gender minorities, which can’t be achieved if only otherwise non-marginalized white women’s problems are being solved and all others are considered insignificant.
Intersectional feminism, on the other hand, does pay to mind the intricate complexities that come with having with a multifaceted identity. Intersectional theory, developed in the 1980s by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, asserts that the aforementioned factors — class, religion, sexuality, able-bodiedness, gender identity, and more — play into how women interact with the world around them. Intersectional feminism acknowledges that dealing with the patriarchy is like dealing with parasites: they come in many variations, all of which require different treatments and approaches. To approach all problems created by the patriarchy in the same manner is ignorant and in no way solves anything.
Adherents of white feminism like to believe that they’re God’s gift to brown women — after all, how else are those hapless souls supposed to achieve the Western enlightenment? In their eyes, they’re champions for women’s rights. However, what they fail to address is that in their ignorance-driven crusade against what they qualify as misogyny, they not only undermine minority women’s ability to fight for themselves, but bulldoze past the points that these women are trying to make in the first place. A prime example of this is the treatment of Muslim women in the West. Not only must they deal with the burdens placed on them by the patriarchy, but Islamophobia as well. But never fear, white feminism is here to save the day!…By attempting to strip Muslim women of one of their last vestiges of autonomy by fighting the hijab and niqab. Countless self-proclaimed feminist organizations have declared war on the articles of clothing, branding them as a sign of oppression and subservience to men and claiming that their fight is one that will no doubt liberate Muslim women from the shackles of their religion. They proudly declare that they’re fighting for women’s rights, never once stopping to consider that just as no woman should be forced to cover herself, no woman should be forced to uncover herself. This failure to understand other women’s cultural identities and how that plays into their own choices causes white feminists to completely erase marginalized voices in the belief that they’re not “adhering to feminism properly.”
In my own experience as a Muslim woman, I’ve had countless encounters with white feminists telling me all about how my religious background was oppressing me. You don’t have to keep wearing that, you know, they’d always be sure to mention, not even attempting to mask the infantilizing pity in their gaze. And even at my insistence that I wore my hijab of my own volition, they’d still shake their heads in dismay, muttering amongst themselves about how I was too brainwashed to know what freedom means. This blatant erasure epitomizes the problem with white feminism; the people who were allegedly so concerned with my wellbeing found it easy to brush my voice aside on the matters that affected me, and it’s that very willingness to completely ignore any viewpoint that doesn’t fit into their tightly defined parameters that makes white feminism so infuriating.
Being a white woman doesn’t prevent one from being a good feminist. Insisting on viewing the world through only the lens of a white woman and speaking over minority women and their needs in this society, however, does. Solidarity between all women is paramount, and white feminists need to learn to step back from their own view of the world and try to hear out the other side. Marginalized women don’t really need heroes; they just need allies who are willing to listen and use their place of privilege to help.