One of the issues most often discussed by feminists is the wage gap. Women, we hear, only make but 78 cents to the man’s dollar. But what is usually not mentioned is that only white women make 78 cents for every dollar men earn. Native American women make 65%, black women make 64%, and Hispanic women make just 54%.
That blatant disregard for the problems women of color suffer is a prime example of white feminism.
So, what really is white feminism?
In short, white feminism is any type of feminism that ignores the concerns and issues of women of color. And, let’s be clear: white feminism isn’t a new thing. Women of color have been historically ignored by mainstream feminism.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the foremost feminists of the early 20th century, fought for the right for white women to vote while perpetuating racism and ignoring black women. “What will we and our daughters suffer if these degraded black men are allowed to have the rights that would make them even worse than our Saxon fathers?” she asked, asserting that not even black men, let alone black women, should have the right to vote.
This systematic racism has persevered to modern times, as white women like Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, and Taylor Swift are praised for calling themselves “feminist,” but black women like Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj are not.
Why does this happen? White privilege.
White people have systematic privileges because of their race. For example, their behaviors are not seen as a reflection of their entire race. They’re usually given leniency for their actions and portrayed positively in the media even when they commit horrible crimes. When Brock Turner, a white man, was convicted of the rape of a student at Stanford University, he was given a lenient sentence of just six months because the judge feared a harsher sentence would have a “severe impact” on him. Also, he was repeatedly referred to as a “Stanford swimmer” and not a convicted rapist by many news outlets.
While white women like myself don’t necessarily have the same privileges as white men, they simply don’t have to go through the same struggles that women of color do. These struggles aren’t limited to just the wage gap; they expand to even more grim issues like racism, police brutality, and mass incarceration. White feminism is not inclusive feminism, and it is absolutely not supportive of women of color.
As Britney Cooper, an Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, said in a piece for Salon about why the future of feminism is not up to white women:
“Our feminism looks like an end to police repression of minority communities, access to quality public schools that do not expel our children for minor infractions, and an end to the prison industrial complex, which locks up far too many of our men and women, fracturing families and creating further economic burdens when our loved ones are released. We need comprehensive healthcare and access to abortion clinics, but we also need a robust mental health care system, that can address long centuries of racist, sexist, sexual and emotional trauma. We need equal pay, yes. But we also need good jobs, rather than being relegated to an endless cycle of low-wage work.”
The most significant problem white feminists have is that they don’t like to admit that they have intrinsic, systematic privileges because of their race. All white women must admit to their white privilege, listen to the voices and opinions of feminists of color (instead of solely white feminists), and acknowledge that women of color face many problems that white women don’t.
Feminism must be inclusive of the issues and concerns of women of color. Without this inclusion, feminism isn’t really feminism. It is fake and unhelpful, and it does not do what it’s supposed to do.
White feminism does not promote equality; it perpetuates racism.
Cover Image via ShutterStock