Feminism | Posted by Reilly W on 02/17/2016
How I Am Trying To Overcome A White Feminist Mindset
As a straight, upper middle class, private school educated, white teenage girl, my first understanding of feminism was undeniably “white feminism.” This type of feminism is one that fails to address issues that don’t primarily apply to the most socioeconomically privileged people in the movement. I only focused on issues of inequality that directly and obviously effected me, bought into ideas about “saving” other women — like the all too common refrain that “Muslim women are oppressed by hijabs and need Western women’s help to liberate themselves!”— and considered Lena Dunham, Emma Watson and Tina Fey my primary feminist role models.
I’m hardly the first to perpetuate this mentality, either. White women have dominated feminism for years. They have done so not because they are any more capable or driven, but because they failed to both check their own privilege and actively include marginalized groups, like low-income women, women of color, trans women, disabled women, etc. Rather than acknowledge this reality, though, many white feminists choose to defend themselves. But these individuals would do themselves, as well as the movement at large, a service by admitting this wrongdoing rather than perpetuating it for the sake of their own egos.
I personally had a really hard time recognizing this and trying to move beyond it. The first time somebody suggested I was a White Feminist, I felt personally attacked. It took me time to realize that what I was feeling wasn’t unwarranted victimization, but rather the feeling of having my privilege taken away.
In order to truly break out of my little White Feminist sandbox, I turned to my friend Bela — one of my dearest friends and feminist sounding boards. When I told her that I wanted to understand how I could use my voice to better support and understand marginalized women in the movement, Bela said something that completely changed my perspective. She told me that the first step was realizing I didn’t always have to have my voice represented at all. I then realized that while plenty of women feel totally silenced in this movement, I had never even questioned whether or not I could or should use my voice. I always assumed I would, never understanding what the effect of doing so could be on others’ voices.
Bela’s suggestion made me realize that sometimes my biggest contribution to the feminist movement can be found in restraint rather than action. For example, rather than talk about transgender women and the rights they deserve, cisgender feminists should allow and empower transgender women to speak for themselves. Feminists must recognize that they don’t always need personal recognition for their work and that making others visible and reiterating the power of solidarity are the most important achievements of all. Feminists don’t always, and shouldn’t only, fight for issues that directly effect them, but for any issue that perpetuates inequality.
Feminists should also take it upon themselves to research and understand the issues that marginalized women face rather than exercise the privilege of assuming those groups will explain these things to them. We live in an era where it’s incredibly easy to research these issues, to read other women’s work and even reach out and discuss the content they’re creating with them directly, and we must make sure to do this.
So, from one recovering white feminist to (hopefully) many others: Listen to others without expecting a pat on the back for doing so. Feminism doesn’t come in a rule book and there is no formula to breaking free from white feminism, but those perpetuating these attitudes must find a way to discard them — in the form of personal accountability, engagement and, above all, the intent to elevate the movement at large.