Feminism is having a moment, at least in terms of media coverage and discussions, which is great! But there have been many valid criticisms of white feminists and their place in contemporary feminism.
Earlier this year, Huffington Post explained what we mean by white feminism and you can see the video here.
If you’re unable to watch the video, this is what you need to know. Intersectional feminism is a phrase coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989: ‘The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability and ethnicity.‘
Related: 12 Signs You’re a Modern Feminist
So what do white feminists need to understand for their feminism to be truly intersectional? We’ve rounded up the four pressing issues:
Representation is not just for show
Aph Ko, creator of the comedic web series Black Feminist Blogger, told Mic, ‘White feminists use theories and perspectives from women of colour (and even imagery) to seem as though they’re being diverse,’ but effectively ‘only really care about their own experiences as well as propping up their own voices.’
So the question is, what does the representation of more women mean? When we say we are being representative, are black, coloured and Indian women just figureheads or does that representation represent real transformation and a real place for their voices? You can’t just ‘forget’ about intersectionality.
Sometimes you need to sacrifice your platform
In and out of pop culture, white and straight women speak on all feminism and intersectional issues. Emma Watson’s He for She campaign and Angelina Jolie speaking at the recent AU Summit in Jo’burg were criticised as yet another instance in which white feminism was allowed to speak for everyone. So what should we do? If you occupy a place of privilege, and are asked to speak on matters pertaining to women without your privilege, give up that platform, and allow marginalised women to speak for themselves.
And it’s more than just about platform. It’s about credit for work done. ‘This favouritism is not just inequitable, but further obscures the fact that many feminist theories (like intersectionality itself) were in fact created by women of colour,’ Ko says. ‘When white women are given a platform to promote these theories, they are essentially co-opting the work of women of colour to promote their own voices.’
Don’t hold black women to different feminist standards
‘There’s a clear disdain for women of colour using feminism to navigate their political and social lives,’ Ko said. While white celebrities are often lauded for identifying as feminist, ‘black women like Beyoncé are attacked for using the label’, she said.
Black women are often held to higher standards than white women and, often, as seen with the response to Beyonce’s use of boxer Ronda Rousey’s ‘Do Nothing Bitch’ speech at her Made In America performance recently, held accountable for other women’s behaviour. This again comes back to intersectionality, which requires that we understand that women can have different perspectives, so the next time black women share their experiences, we don’t reduce them to just black women being ‘angry’, which is often used to silence – like when Amandla Stenberg called Kylie Jenner out on her cultural appropriation.
The term ‘white feminist’ itself is not enough
It’s not enough to call it out. ‘I don’t think we can make white mainstream feminism inclusive because it’s not designed to be inclusive,’ Ko concluded. ‘Our exclusion as women of colour isn’t accidental. Diversity can’t help white feminism. [White feminists] just need to move over.’
Feminists need to work towards waling their talk and truly being intersectional, and working together to make things better for all women.