What is White Feminism?

white feminism

Feminism fights the battle for how women should be perceived as equal to men. It revolves around women fighting for their rights to have the same opportunities as men.

However, what we often forget to mention is that this fight often neglects a significant proportion of women—specifically, those who do not fit the conventional slim, white, blond stereotype.

Why would a movement that is fighting for women forget more than half of the female population? That’s what we call white feminism.

The Origins of White Feminism: Marginalized Women

Florence Given, the author of ‘Women Don’t Owe You Pretty,‘ describes the fact that historically, there has been very little representation of marginalized identities in mainstream media. Even when it was represented, it was often in stereotypical and harmful portrayals, portraying these identities as inferior compared to whiteness, thinness, and heterosexuality.

Today, with social media, the discourse varies a little bit, and we can see more and more marginalized women taking a stand and voicing their concerns, their need for representation, and for relatability. However, the combat of marginalized women is way more complicated than that of your traditional white girl.

First of all, as Florence states clearly in her book, “Race, sexuality, and desirability all affect the way you are perceived in the world.” Today, when you want to make a statement to fight for feminism, the bolder the statement, the more people pay attention to what you have to say. Being in a society that judges you for how you look without even trying to convey a message makes it difficult for marginalized women to send strong messages.

If I had to give an example, I would give the most popular one: shaving. Shaving is considered a form of protest, viewed as a male-originated construct spread in our society as a need for women to get rid of their natural body hair. Feminists tend to stop shaving as a way to make a statement.

However, “because different women experience different levels of expectations from society to perform their femininity, marginalized women such as trans, fat women, and women of color don’t always have the privilege of ‘rejecting beauty standards’ such as growing out their armpit hair” (Given, 2020). The need to fit in already makes it difficult for them to voice their beliefs, which can result in self-rejecting themselves from feminism. Is it their fault? No. Society by nature doesn’t let marginalized women take the mic.

The Definition of White Feminism

So, technically, what is white feminism?

As defined by Porismita Borah and co in their journal article, white feminism is defined as any feminism that comes from a white perspective and universalizes it. Now, does that mean that anything coming from a white woman talking about feminism falls into this definition? The answer is no. The key to this definition is about universalization.

In simple terms, it just means that if I come to say that, as a white woman, feminism for me is to be able to wear skirts in the street, this should not be universalized as the idea that feminism is about having the ability to wear skirts in the streets. And this can apply to so many other examples.

When someone defines feminism, they need to include in their definition not only what matters to them but also what matters to all. We can say “For me, feminism is..”, but the claim “Feminism is…” without personalization automatically excludes so many other women.

Another component mentioned in other journal articles like by Sam E. Morton and co is about the notion of intersectionality. Well, intersectionality simply means that we have to acknowledge that everyone has their own unique experiences of any form of discrimination and oppression and that we need to consider everything that can be considered a factor of marginalization such as race, gender, body type, sexual orientation…

And the one thing that white feminism tends to forget is the concept of intersectionality. Even more, it is about the universality of the experiences and ideas that do not take into consideration other societal and cultural aspects.

Let me explain myself. The notion of intersectionality is about recognizing the different cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs, education, sexual orientation, body differences, and many other things that shape an individual. Once you recognize them, there is a need to recognize that women will face different forms of discrimination because of who they are or what they believe in. And by making a statement that feminism is about this, or if you are a feminist, you should do this, doesn’t include the fact that women who disagree are not less feminists, and women who cannot voice their opinions as suggested do not make them feel less feminist either.

One book I read changed my life ‘It’s not about the burqa,’ where feminism is explored through the eyes of Muslim women. In this book, Muslim women wearing hijabs share their experiences of the fact that because they are wearing the hijab, women are associated with being anti-feminists. Without even speaking one word, women tend to believe that they do not support the feminist cause just because of their scarf.

Well, this is a mix of everything we talked about—universalization of the white women’s discourse that feminists should uncover, ‘lack of intersectionality’ where there is a failure to acknowledge the religious and cultural beliefs of these Muslim women. The self-marginalization that this woman was putting herself into because of the lack of reliability she was facing, thus making it hard for her to share her voice.

Conclusion: Embracing Inclusivity in Feminism

I think the conclusion of this article should be about the need for us as women to realize that the combat is not against men, but especially that it’s not against other women. We are not here to say that this is feminism, or this is how we should express our voices as feminists, or this is how we should believe. Feminism should be inclusive; feminism should be only about fighting the same goal: fighting for equal opportunities for all women. We should all be feminists.

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