The Problem with White Feminism

By Evelyn Gonzalez ‘18
Feminist Columnist

While all feminists are important to the cause, not all feminisms are created equal. Even within positive and empowering spaces specifically designed to create equality, there seems to be a hierarchy and a prioritization of some women’s issues over others. Currently, our society tends to overemphasize the experiences and issues of white, middle-class women without realizing that their realities are not universal. In order to really engage with feminism, we as a society need to broaden our view of women’s issues in terms of intersectionality in order to properly address the plights of all women.

White, middle-class feminism can take many forms, but the main idea behind this type of feminism is that by putting an emphasis on both racial and class distinctions, what this term is really getting at is the interlocking systems of power that this group holds and the ways in which it negatively affects those who do not fall within these categories. Those individuals that have race and class privileges need to acknowledge that they are often in positions that rely on domination and subjugation, which tends to render the voices of other groups mute. The issue is that white, middle-class women are not and simply cannot reflect the interests and necessities of a diverse group of women, although historically it has often been made out that way. Often times this type of feminism is alienating and deters women of color from joining the feminist movement because they are often considered sellouts by the members of their own communities.

This term also illustrates that in terms of policies and basic rights, only some of these issues are being addressed and heard. It is not that one issue carries more weight than others, but it is important to realize that often, different groups prioritize different things simply because they have to. Some of the privileges, and I dare say luxuries, afforded to middle-class white women who are fighting for certain rights tend to focus or prioritize those issues that directly affect them. White middle-class feminism is: addressing the wage gap but failing to speak about how it is even more disportionately spread when discussing women of color, trying to stipulate what is oppressive within other cultures without challenging their own, starting body positive campaigns whose main focus is white, able-bodied individuals, campaigning for access to birth control while many minority women cannot achieve legal status and therefore have been disproportionately overlooked within the healthcare systems, and failing to recognize or even outright ignoring those women of color who have made amazing contributions to the feminist movement.

Feminists need to avoid creating the very same oppressive structures within themselves that they are trying to combat. One way to do this is by creating safe and intersectional spaces where all women feel as though they are being heard. Feminism is never going to be successful if we allow it to continue to mimic only the ideals of current dominant groups. The term “intersectionality,” as coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, “suggests that — and seeks to examine how — various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, species and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systemic injustice and social inequality.

Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society, such as racism, sexism, biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, and belief-based bigotry, do not act independently of one another. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the ‘intersection’ of multiple forms of discrimination”.

By looking at equal pay, for example, we can see how intersectionality can help problematize the ways in which it has been looked at in society. Like I mentioned, the idea that women make 77 cents fewer than men only takes into account how white women’s earnings measure up without mentioning that Asian, black and Hispanic women make even less than that amount. White middle-class feminism often ignores issues of race, class and other important identities to look at how certain issues affect women differently. Intersectionality is necessary because it takes all identities and issues into account without the threat of erasure.