If you haven’t spent much time with the Batty Mamzelle essay “This is what I mean when I say ‘White Feminist’”, you should. If it hasn’t entered the canon of intersectional third wave feminist texts, it’ll be inducted any day now. It is brilliant.
As a feminist who is white, I do not want to be a White Feminist, which Cate defines as follows:
“White feminism” does not mean every white woman, everywhere, who happens to identify as feminist. It also doesn’t mean that every “white feminist” identifies as white. I see “white feminism” as a specific set of single-issue, non-intersectional, superficial feminist practices. It is the feminism we understand as mainstream; the feminism obsessed with body hair, and high heels and makeup, and changing your married name. It is the feminism you probably first learned. “White feminism” is the feminism that doesn’t understand western privilege, or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn’t consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality.
For visual learners, she included this amazing Venn diagram, and I’ve added my notes with yellow arrows:
I know I have flirted the line with White Feminism. I was in White Feminism territory when I posted on Facebook about blackface. I was in White Feminism territory when I failed to consider how a movement like SlutWalk may not work for women of color whose experience with hypersexualization (see #FastTailedGirls) is different than mine. And I know that, when my White Feminism tendencies come out (and if you grew up with White Feminism, were taught White Feminism, and read White Feminism, it can be hella hard to retrain yourself), I am epically embarrassed to be called out. When you are working hard to be the best ally you can be and you take a misstep (even a well-meaning one), it’s hard not to go straight for a defensive crouch. But you don’t know me. I’m not like that. I’m on your side.
But that’s a selfish, unhelpful response. It’s not about you (me). As Cate writes “It can be very off-putting to feel attacked for a transgression that you know yourself not to be guilty of. But in the context of social justice and movement building, if you’re feeling attacked, it probably means you’re having your privilege challenged, not that you are a bad person.” All you can do is apologize, step back, analyze, and learn from it.
In a related story this week, Jeff Yang wrote for the Wall Street Journal about the selection of Ashley Wagner for the Olympic Team (4th place in the Nationals) over Mirai Nagasu (3rd). As he points out in his follow-up piece, we will likely never know for sure whether race, specifically, played a role in the selection, but it’s not unreasonable to ask the question:
My WSJ piece is focused on the idea of the “golden girl” — a term first applied to one of Olympic skating’s early superstars, Sonja Henie, and which has survived since then through the years as an appellation for a particular type of skater: Blonde, ivory-skinned, willowy, slender. The term “golden girl” is akin to the term “great white hope”: It is a racialized archetype that infuriates people when you actually call it out as a racialized archetype.
Remember guys, if you’re feeling defensive, you’re probably just having your privilege challenged.
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