Where do I start from?
The term “White Feminism” is one I regularly see touted on twitter, especially by Black feminists. I never really paid it much attention until the video to Rihanna’s BBHMM came out. In anticipation of the criticism the video would receive, people started to defend it as a preemptive move, calling out those would be critics. I noticed that a lot of the defensive tweets had one thing in common: they all assumed that the criticism would come from White women, white feminists to be exact.
As we all (should) know, Feminism strives to achieve equality for men and women. The goal of feminism is to make sure that women are treated as humans and are not deprived of rights and opportunities simply on the basis of gender. Feminism is for all women, but of course not all women have the same wants and needs. While the overarching goal remains the same, women are diverse, so feminism is interpreted and applied differently across nationality, cultures, race, religion and even social class and educational level among others. An Afghan woman and a French women could both be feminists, but focus on vastly different issues. A Black woman may face challenges that a White woman may be oblivious to. These differences have brought about various types of feminism.
The feminist movement as we know it is dominated by White women. For the longest time they were the face of the feminist movement and to a large extent they still are. Sub categories of feminism have emerged; Black feminism, Muslim feminism, to name a few. These sub categories have created their own brand of feminism by tailoring the movement to meet the specific needs of its women. Forced marriages, genital mutilation, enforced illiteracy are not things all women have to deal with. Women have to deal with issues ranging from blurred nipples to being punished for one’s rape. The truth is some women have it better than most and some women are in hell.
White feminism is not yet a sub category of feminism, it is the entire movement. The problems of a White Western woman are valid, but confusion arises when these problems are generalised to all women. This is where the outrage lies.
To fully understand what a person needs, one has to have lived in the person’s skin. It is not enough to look in from outside and decide to don a cape and rescue people from a supposed problem. This is not exclusive to White feminists alone. Some non Muslim feminists look upon Muslim women with pity, and embark on a mission to free them from their headscarves. Meanwhile the Muslim women have not asked to be saved and actually want to cover their hair. The non Muslim feminists have good intentions but may inadvertently cause offence because they projected their own wants unto all women. In short, this is what feminists all over the world are accusing White feminists of doing. White feminists are accused of not speaking out about the challenges minority women face. In a strange twist, they are also accused of speaking for minority women, whose issues they don’t understand and so shut up about (See Muslim women and headscarves).
From what I gather, feminists of colour do not want White feminists to speak for women of colour and then get offended when white feminism ignores issues that other women are facing. You say white feminists cannot understand what we go through, then you complain that they are not speaking on issues that we go through. When something happens to a woman of colour, a number of Feminists shout “where are the White feminists speaking up about this?” and when the white feminist tries to speak up about Black issues, she is shut down. Emma Watson is somehow reduced as a feminist because she is a White feminist. A White woman complains about wage inequality and she is hounded by some feminists of colour who are offended she did not specifically address the inequalities that women of colour face. “Yes women earn less than men but Black women earn even less than White women! Typical White feminist only focusing on White women!” We can introduce our specific issues without berating the White feminist for her statement which is just as valid and reasonable.
I am tempted to say what does it matter if a White feminist speaks up on issues women of colour face? Isn’t the whole point of having our own feminism that we get to speak out for ourselves? Are White feminists not to speak on matters that affect them or should they qualify every statement with “But women of colour have it worse”? If a White feminist spoke out about violence against women, the response from some people would be to pounce on her saying “Well Black women are more likely to be attacked than White women.” Pray tell, what is wrong with the White feminist’s statement? Nothing. Violence against women is a big deal, but because she did not qualify her statement with race, it is considered moot.
Black women are a minority within a minority, so it is expected that our troubles will have an extra layer when compared to the troubles of White women. Despite this I maintain that this does not negate what the White feminist is saying. That a White woman did not include race in her argument about sexism does not mean her argument should be dismissed. It will be great if White feminists were vocal about issues affecting women of colour, but this is not something we should hold our breaths for. The inclusion of race into discussions of sexism is something we have to do ourselves as women of colour. Yes it would be nice if a White feminist used her platform to highlight some issues facing women of colour, but let’s face it she would probably say one wrong word and be ripped to shreds by the very people she was trying to support.
An African American woman may think White women have no real problems, but there is a woman out there looking at African American women thinking “What the hell are you complaining about? You women have it good.” Imagine Native American women attacking Black women for not speaking out about the issues they (Native American women) face, or is it just White feminists that have the responsibility to simultaneously speak out about issues affecting women of colour and to butt out of discussions about women of colour?
White women are privileged because of their race, but they are still women and are still marginalised because of that. It is similar to how a black man is privileged because of his gender but still disadvantaged by his race. It is mind boggling to me that a non white feminist could tell white feminists to shut up because “their problems are nowhere near as serious as ours.” I will admit that I sometimes roll my eyes at the relatively silly #FirstWorldProblems #WhitePeopleProblems. #FreeTheNipple seems so insignificant compared to what women are going through in the world. However, people are entitled to fight for what they believe in. Hopefully one day the biggest issue women have to endure will be a pixelated nipple.
On the #BeingFemaleinNigeria hashtag, a Bengali woman suggested that Nigerian women did not have it as bad as Bengali women. Some Nigerian women were not pleased by this and their displeasure was justified. As a Nigerian woman, I know that as bad as things are, I have it better than a lot of women in the world and so I was not offended by her statement. Still it is not nice to insinuate that the issues people have to deal with daily are silly, because you have it worse.
The BBHMM video opened my eyes to a lot and I did not like what I saw at all. Before the so called White feminists even saw the video, they had been insulted a thousand times by Black feminists who predicted that the White feminists would have issues with it. I did not even see any reactions by the “White Feminists”, all I saw were people in a frenzy screaming about what the reaction of the White feminists would be. So what if a person, feminist or not, did not like the video? Are people not entitled to their opinions anymore? Do we all have to “Yasss!” everything? Do we really think only White feminists would dislike the video? Do we really think the only reason a white feminist would dislike the video is because Rihanna is a Black woman?
My goodness, people brought up the most irrelevant things: “White feminists did not criticise X for Y, but will complain about Rihanna’s video.” Yet if the records are checked, one would see that X was criticised for Y, but who cares about the facts? “White feminists love Eminem but will complain about the Rihanna video.” Huh? I bet there were a lot of black women who didn’t like the video but had to keep their thoughts to themselves to avoid the torrent of abuse that was flowing at white feminists. Just off the tweets I saw (and continue to see), I feel that if certain Black feminists saw a White feminist in trouble, rather than lend a hand, they would launch into a tirade about white feminism and white privilege.
Every silly thing is now referred to as “White feminism”. A woman says something silly and she is descended upon with cries of White feminist. “White feminism” has become an insult. It is madness.
We all need to be understanding of each other; Black feminists, White feminists, Muslim Feminists, Atheist feminists, gay feminists, male feminists, I support women rights but I am not a feminist feminists, everybody. We need to understand that women all over the world have different experiences and just because we want something does not mean all other women want the same. We need to understand that our problems being worse does not invalidate the problems of others. In the same vein, we need to be understanding of people with good intentions. White feminism should not become a slur, a pejorative term ready to be flung at will. White feminists should not be attacked or ridiculed for no reason. Rather than insulting all white feminists, why not directly (and politely) address the ones you see doing something “wrong”? I wish for this madness to stop. It is ridiculous and quite unnecessary.
There should be unity among all the brands of feminism. We as women cannot afford to turn on each other. Bottomline is that on average, women are still second class citizens in most parts of the world. Dissension within the community will only hurt us. As feminists, we need to be sympathetic to the plights of other women and help raise awareness when possible. Don’t ignore the problems of other women because they are not your own. It is no longer enough to just speak for ourselves; we need to lend our voices to those women who cannot speak for themselves. But before donning that cape and becoming SuperFem, it is important to understand the issues that you are raising awareness for. Don’t end up campaigning against something that the women in question actually want or need.
I long for the day when we are not at each other’s throats, a time when we are not creating further divisions.We don’t all have to hold hands and plait each others hair, but we do have to be respectful of one another.
In summary, chill the fuck out. Okay? Thank you.