A look at white feminism and portrayal of WOC in feminism.
Should we start using the word Feminisms Instead Feminism? As a middle-eastern woman I struggle to understand why people are against feminism, which is usually caused by misunderstanding the meaning and cause of the movement, which is of course fight for equality between genders. However this movement has had a history of exclusion, which is still relevant.
Coming from a country in the middle-east such as Iran, where I was born and raised, gave me a different vision of why equality was needed. Iran is a country which highly discriminates against anyone who is not a Muslim cisgender man (meaning a person who identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth). Women are viewed as a second class citizens and denied their human rights such as; ownership over their children, the right to divorce, the right to travel alone, to be a witness in court. I remember as a child watching a TV interview where a woman supported this rule by saying: “women shouldn’t witness in court because they are highly emotional.”
This made no sense to me and probably that’s when I became a feminist.
Iran is very religious and all rules are made according to the Shia Law, which has created very major issues of inequality for the people since Islam was announced the main religion after the revolution in late 70’s.
However, we have been fighting for equality for a long time. Only recently I found out about the first women’s right movement which started in 1910. These women fought for rights to vote, divorce and custody rights, education rights and reduced polygamy (in Islamic countries men are allowed to re-marry without their wives’ acknowledgement).
Feminism is sometimes viewed as a western method of rebalance, which excludes its importance for non-western women. The dark side of inequality which feminism is fighting and should be fighting for is people’s lives put physically in danger because of gender inequality, which women of colour whore are erased from history have been fighting for centuries.
Having lived in the UK as an ethnical minority has evolved my feminism, recently with all the talk about white feminism I came into the realisation that not all feminism benefits all people.
We all need a form of feminism that works for us as individuals and for our community, and some of our identities may change throughout time which affects our needs for the fight of equality, however it’s important not to forget other people’s problems if they seem irrelevant to us based on difference in gender, race and class which is exactly what white feminism does.
For example, when I realised I was queer, my need for feminism changed, Conversations concerning heteronormative feminism was not relevant to me anymore. This is also similar to how it feels being a woman of colour in a white feminist environment which seems to be concerned about diversity and equality of genders but doesn’t always seem to represent us. However, my queerness could be hidden (not that it should be) but the colour of my skin and my ethnicity cannot and should not be ignored.
This also shines light on the importance of safe spaces for people of colour and queer folk, a place where our voice is heard and valued provided by our people.
When feminism is called a white woman’s agenda it excludes the fight WOC have fought for equality. Feminism is for everybody but in the mainstream media it’s just seen as the agenda of successful white women. This dismisses the reasons for feminism. White feminists have the privilege of preferred ethnicity which allows their views to matter more than Women of colour. This issue is becoming clear when Emma Watson was attacked for posting Alan Rickman’s quote about feminism on her social media. This raised two issues, feminism was called Emma’s agenda and a man’s support of feminism was ignored. Read More.
In some political movements people who need the movement the most are excluded from them because the movement is not Intersectional enough. Intersectionality is a theory coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 Feminism can sometimes excludes WOC and LGBTQ folk. Which makes me conclude that women who fight for equality without acknowledgement of oppressed folk, do not want equality but their fight is a fight for further privilege. Read More.
Kimberlé Crenshaw sharing her realisation of the lack of intersection:
White feminism simply ignores the issues people of colour and non-cis folk face. An example of this is the fight for equal pay by white female celebrities. aside from how capitalist the industry of movie, some of these celebrities fail to acknowledge how the fight for equal payment of a few millions, is excluding the fight of women of colour for equality with other white-women and men.
This is not an issue of women of colour’s silence, because we are not silence. We are just not heard, we are constantly talked over by people more privileged than us and ignored by mainstream media. When a woman of colour expresses an idea she is not heard, and a white woman can repeat her and she becomes an idol.
An example of this is women of colour erased from the history of suffragettes.
When the movie suffragettes came out we were hoping to learn more about the accurate history of the movement, even though it “…was a great movie in terms of showing how hard working those women were and the beauty and power of a woman as both an activist and a mother, so delightfully touching and it’s always great to see women strongly portrayed on screen…”
The first thing I learned about the suffragettes was that: “they’re racist” Which might be an over exaggerated term to use. But yes the screen was full of white faces.” The portrayal of this movement has taught us that no women of colour were involved, and only white women have been praised for their courage during those times. Looking at the picture above the only woman who is/might be recognise is Emmeline Pankhurst the only white woman in the picture.
Germane Greer has been an influential feminist figure for years, and a big inspiration to many other feminist figures such as Caitlin Moran. However, her feminism is very exclusively white and cisgender. She doesn’t believe in self defining women but only women who were physically born female, and the media attention on her views opened room for a lot of debate
“… the notion of blessed womanhood that is accepted by most transsexuals is not one that I agree with, I think it’s profoundly wrong.” Germane Greer
The problem with Greer’s feminism is that it only works for women who have privileges of class, race and gender, who are able to make changes for themselves because they are only affected by one aspect of oppression.
An example of this was illustrated in TV-show Transparent (Series 2, Episode 9) , where the main character Maura was attacked by feminists in a women only festival and had to leave due to not being a cisgender woman.
“Justice is what love feels like in public.”- Lavern Cox
Hillary’s white lies
It is so unfortunate when a woman nominated for leadership is letting down other women by not being inclusive enough. The U.S.A. elections are taking place very soon and Hillary Clinton seems to be doing everything in her power to make people vote for her. She may have changed her political views slightly since the 90’s. Her policies have always excluded LGBTQ rights and foreign policies. She believes in interfering in foreign country’s politics to keep America safe. None of her policies shout “feminist”, however she identifies as a proud feminist. Her definition of feminism is:
“same rights politically culturally socially economically” between men and women, but not mentioning the oppression women of colour face by white women and men. A great example of white feminism.
Most mainstream feminist figures seem to be letting down women of colour and queer folk. We rely on our own social media ran by ourselves for comfort and freedom. But how do we raise effective awareness of our need for intersectionality in feminisms? How do we make our feminism as well known and important as white feminism?