For those who choose not to identify as a feminist or as an ally, the common misconception is that everybody who brands themselves as either of those believes in fighting for the same things: wrong.
At school, I had been provided with what was seemingly a thorough teaching on the history of the feminist movement. I learnt—extensively—about leading icons: Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett and of their many attainments. As I prepared to sit my exam, I relished at the thought of all women having gained the right to vote by 1920. Outside of education, I was disheartened to learn that the only women who actually had the right to vote by this year were predominantly white. I learnt that the struggle of the vote did not end with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment—in some places, African American women were unable to freely exercise their right to vote up until the 1960s, over forty years later.
In theory, this coined the term ‘white feminism’: this branch of the movement fails to give feminists of colour a platform to discuss how gender inequality relates to racial inequality. It means—on basis level—that the privilege a white woman holds because of her race is held at a higher level; that her feminism is more important because of the colour of her skin.
Other feminists aren’t denying that white feminist issues aren’t important: there’s no shying away from the fact that the gender wage gap and sexualisation of the female body are issues that should concern every woman. But exclusively, white feminism focuses only on this. The way a black woman experiences sexism and inequality is completely different to the way a white woman experiences inequality: while white women are making 79 cents on a white man’s dollar in the US, black women are only making 64 cents.
The problem lies where white feminism denies to recognise issues of breast ironing in Africa, and police brutality against black women in the west. Many of the celebrities who publicly brand themselves as feminists hold—fundamentally—these white feminist values. Not only this, but the majority of feminist influences we see blazoned across the media actually are white. Emma Watson, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lawrence are some but to name a few, and though these women are all inspirational in their own right, they fail to recognise and speak out on the struggles outside of white feminism. Though many black women speak out and use their voices to express their struggle, they are seldom heard.
When the presidential election came around, once feminist icon Susan B. Anthony was being praised as an inspiration, with women from all over America coming to place the ‘I Voted’ sticker on her grave whilst revelling in their proudness—this is the same woman, mind you, who claimed herself to be a white supremacist whilst she was alive.
When it was time for the results, a white feminist ideal shone through when 53% of white women voted for Trump—this is a distburingly fitting example of white privilege has clearly taken priority over gender. But white women were quick to be applauded for speaking out on the results, even though we were the ones that led Trump to victory. And white women have always been applauded for speaking up on gender and race issues, from #BlackLivesMatter to #SayHerName: when black women do the same they’re labelled angry, or told that they’re over reacting.
Each women experiences her own form of oppression, but until we work together to demolish white feminist ideals and start helping all the women around us advance in their oppression too, we cannot truly label our feminism intersectional and inclusive. To only acknowledge feminism from one side, is truly opposing the meaning of feminism altogether.