The topic of intersectional feminism has been in the news a lot lately, especially with the controversy surrounding the Women’s March earlier this year. Intersectional feminism directly contrasts the idea of “white feminism,” a label that’s also been thrown around a lot recently.
The term “white feminism” refers to any brand of feminism that only focuses its efforts on the struggles of straight, white women. The privileges of white women can make women of other races feel less welcomed by the feminist movement. Feminism should be focused on equality for all women, and that means realizing that women of different races, sexualities and backgrounds have different struggles.
As a white woman, this was a topic I wasn’t sure I could write about. I can’t put a voice to the people whose experiences I will never fully understand. However, learning about the struggles of those who differ from myself has been so eye-opening for me, and I would encourage my fellow white ladies to do the same. Unfortunately, too many of us don’t realize that white women are making feminism something that feels exclusive to others.
I have begun taking a journey every day to try to understand where other groups of women come from. White women do have privilege — own up to it. Then, find out how you can make a difference. We can’t just be focused on gaining the rights that affect our own lives — we need to help all of our sisters fight.
Feminism and race
White feminists say a lot of things that they don’t realize are racist. I’ve even heard some go as far as to claim that there isn’t a race problem in feminism, that they “don’t see color,” or don’t know why race has to be brought into the equation. While I never personally agreed with any of those claims, I definitely once believed that feminism was a stronger and more inclusive fight than it really is. In reality, the movement still needs so much improvement.
When discussing the pay gap, we can’t just keep throwing out the same statistic that references white women. Hispanic and black women make significantly less than white women, as well as men. We also can’t suggest all women just go to the police when, say, they’re sexually assaulted, because not everyone has had the same experiences with cops in the past.
Systematic racism in the justice system is a real thing. If we all get on board with movements like the Black Lives Matter movement, which has had a strong voice in the past few years where police corruption is concerned, we can at least show our support through sheer numbers.
Women in the LGBT community are fighting for a whole other set of rights as well. They’re also a group that seems to be stereotyped no matter what they do. There’s the old joke about lesbians being “butch,” while at the same time, men and the porn industry sexualize lesbianism constantly. If two women are together, they’re asked who the man is in the relationship, as if there has to be one. Bisexual women also often face the assumption that they’re “faking” their sexuality.
These women are battling stereotypes constantly. In addition to fighting for equal rights as members of the LGBT community, they also have an extra fight for the pay gap. When we take into account that the pay gap between men and women is indeed a real thing, we realize that in a household with no man, earnings are going to be presumably less than those in hetero relationships.
The “trendy” form of feminism these days seems to only involve young women. Millennial feminists tend to be loud about their fight, especially in the online world, which can be a great thing.
However, some of the biggest feminist issues should be fought for older women. No one talks about their sexual health, and I’ve heard my own “feminist” colleagues throw around the stereotype of the “lonely cat lady” far too many times as a joke. Additionally, with the stereotypical image of “beauty” displayed in our media, and the assumption in place that males don’t find older women attractive, it has been suggested that women start to become “invisible” as they get older.
Society tends to forget about the elderly. Roughly one in 10 Americans older than 60 have been a victim of elder abuse, and that risk is higher for women. We need to remember that feminism isn’t just an issue for our generation. In fact, many of these women have been fighting for feminism longer than we’ve been alive.
Arguably, they had a much harder fight than we do, as we get to enjoy many of the fruits of their labors when we take advantage of the modern-day rights that women now have. The stories that older feminist warriors have to offer are amazing — we can and should listen to them and procure advice for the future of our fight.
I think this was the one that woke me up the most. For starters, we discovered that there was someone that wanted to be an addition to our local feminist meet up — however, the location we met in wasn’t handicap accessible. We hadn’t even thought about it. But it makes you wonder how often this is taking place everywhere.
Some of mainstream feminism’s main fights also become much more convoluted when you take women with disabilities into consideration. It’s often brought up that women should be able to abort children that are found to have disabilities. But try saying that to the face of someone who lives with a disability herself. Why would she want to fight for someone to abort a fetus that has the same condition as her?
It has also been suggested that forced sterilization is acceptable when it concerns people with disabilities. That’s simply not right. Forced sterilization is never okay. People with disabilities shouldn’t be excluded because of their disability or seen as an exception because of it. These are things that mainstream feminism needs to understand.
Is this a definite guide to intersectional feminism? Hell no. I’ll never be able to speak to the issues of many of my sisters.
However, if you’re interested in improving your understanding of intersectionality, seeking knowledge from your friends and neighbors that fall into some of the above demographics is a great way to start. This guide shows what I’ve picked up from my journey, and I truly believe that this is a journey that all women should be taking. Mainstream feminism needs to wake up and realize that intersectional feminism is the only kind of feminism for a diverse and beautiful modern world. If you’re not on board yet, it’s time to get there.
Guestpost by Kate Harveston, Political Journalist & Blogger. Kate writes at onlyslightlybiased.com and tweets @kateharveston.