White Feminism and Intersectionality

Perhaps this is just the case in the corners of Tumblr and the blogosphere that I frequent, but there seems to have been a recent rise in the discussion and criticism of "white feminism." From discussions of whether people dismiss Beyonce as a feminist due to her race to last year's hashtag trend "#solidarityisforwhitewomen," discussion has been growing about mainstream feminism's racist, cis-gender, homophobic side, with "feminism" becoming a dirty word for some people who otherwise believe in its fundamental goals. Overall the conversation makes me quite sad, and motivates me to become part of the movement that will transform feminism into an inclusionary and intersectional ideology. But it's also got me thinking about the sort of feminism discussed and promoted on this blog, and whether it lives up to those ideals.

I am a white feminist, in the literal sense. I am a British white woman who grew up in an area that is 96% white. My childhood exposure to racial diversity was pretty much limited to watching Sister Sister and arguing over who got to play Pocahontas in the playground after the movie's release. But despite this, I strive to avoid being a White Feminist (TM) -- a feminist who focusses entirely on straight cis white women and disregards everybody else. Feminism to me isn't simply about equality but about equity - the idea that we don't all start on a level playing field and so different groups and individuals need different considerations, at least until we figure out how to level that playing field out. And regardless of feminism's history, this means that it cannot succeed, cannot even truly exist, without considering the differing struggles and challenges and restrictions faced by all women, including women of color and trans-women.

But I'm still learning. I have no personal experience with non-white-straight-cis feminist issues, and so while I strive to have empathy and to highlight problems when I encounter them, I strongly believe that women who do have personal experience have much more important things to say. I would much rather read and learn from them and point people in their direction than try to speak with authority on things that I have no authority on. Worse, perhaps, is that despite my attempts to understand these issues, some examples of racism in the media still go over my head. I didn't move to the US until I was 18 years old, and even then, I moved to the rich, surburban, highly privileged town and college of Princeton, New Jersey. Well known racist stereotypes in America were meaningless to me, because the same stereotypes didn't exist in my home country. To me, a minstrel was a medieval bard. I'd never heard of a minstrel show, knew little American history, grew up on unedited Tom and Jerry with no sense of what a Mammy character was meant to be, and was left frowning in confusion the first time I learned that African American people are stereotyped as eating watermelon and fried chicken. And although I've since learned more, I'm still learning, and I know that I'm likely to miss some nuanced issues (or even obvious issues) in media representation as a result of my cultural ignorance as well as my inbuilt privilege.

This means that this blog aims to be one of intersectional feminism, but that issues of race and sexuality are rarely the sole focus of posts. The recent disagreements over Frozen, where many well-meaning people criticized its representation of the Sami people and then actual Sami bloggers criticized them for their misinformation, are the most recent of many clear examples that even if you mean well, you shouldn't talk too assertively about things that you have no personal experience with, and you definitely shouldn't talk over those who do have experience. It also means that I might occasionally praise a show or book for a feminist approach and diverse cast, while missing subtle (or even non-subtle) intersectional issues, particularly to do with race. When that happens, I hope people will correct me in the comments. I don't believe that anyone has an obligation to teach the privileged about their mistakes, but these issues do matter to me, and I want to include them in this blog -- I'm just not always the most well-informed person to do so.