By Richelle Dewar
By definition, white feminism is a form of feminism that focuses on the struggles of white women, while failing to address distinct forms of oppression faced by ethnic minority women and women lacking other privileges (i.e. high status, economic wealth etc.). To be simply put, it exists in direct opposition to intersectional feminism.
Intersectionality is such a crucial part of feminism, it allows us to understand how an individuals different social and political identity, create different experiences of discrimination and privilege. With intersectional feminism we are able to include the experiences of BIWOC, queer women, disabled women and working class women. If we are to disregard intersectionality, we are ignoring the fact that the patriarchy is multifaceted. To tackle the systems of power which perpetuate inequality and discrimination against women, we need to completely understand them. We need to start by recognising how different overlapping identities of women, impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.
To quote Roxanne Gay “feminism has, historically, been far more invested in improving the lives of heterosexual white women to the detriment of all others”. Take for example the suffragette movement, in which racism was so clearly embedded, that black feminist activists were advised to march separately. The work of black activist, Ida B. Wells is just one example of how much harder women of colour have had to fight for the same rights as white women.
We cannot continue to dismiss the voices of black women, indigenous women, Asian women, or any women of colour. A black woman may experience misogyny but she will undoubtedly experience misogyny in a different way to a white woman. Another example is the gender pay gap, yes there is a gender pay gap where white women are paid $0.79 to every $1 a white man is paid, but there is also a racial pay gap where black women are paid $0.62 to every $1 a white man is paid ($0.55 for Latina women).
The gender pay gap also highlights the issues white feminism creates for working-class women. Working-class women are undoubtedly impacted far greater by the gender pay gap than women with generational wealth (which tend to be white women). Feminists working to break the glass ceiling, have been a lot more successful with providing opportunities for women in high-paid jobs and good educational backgrounds, than for working class women.
Intersectional feminism also means recognising that violence against women is also not just about gender. 44% of lesbian women experience domestic violence, compared to 35% of heterosexual women. Women and girls with disabilities are also 2 to 4 times more likely to experience domestic violence than women without disabilities. White feminism ignores all of these indifferences. White feminism at its core is exclusionary and it needs to be eradicated. If feminism fails to include women of colour, queer women, disabled women and working class women then you are holding up the pillars of white supremacy.
For further research and understanding, I recommend watching this TED Talk by Kimberlé Crenshaw to learn more about intersectionality. ‘White Feminism’, a book by Koa Beck is also an interesting and educational read relating to the concepts discussed in this article.