I recently watched a TikTok video (where else?!) that stated ‘…white women want to be white men; black men want to be white men but black women...? What about them?’
It struck a chord. Not because I’m a black woman, but because I am a white woman. The so-called ‘feminist’ slogans of ‘#GirlBoss’, ‘She-E-O’ and ‘momtrepreneur’ appeared in the public lexicon over the past 10 years, intended as rallying cries for a generation of young (white) women. These phrases were said (90% of the time by men) to empower women, to let women believe they could have it all and to offer them a seat at the table. But, upon reflection, these terms seem cringeworthy, passé and just plain meme fodder. The gendered qualifier instantly undermines women’s achievements and assumes male dominance, yet again.
Aside from the fact that these cutesy phrases now do the exact opposite of what they were intended to do, they ignore women of colour. These alleged ‘empowerment’ slogans found across t-shirts, mugs and wall art propaganda are typically associated with White Feminism - the clue’s in the name as to who benefits from this movement – and it disregards those who fall out of that narrative. Put simply, White Feminism is having access to what cis white men have and do (there’s that famous pedestal again) and actively plays into what the Suffragettes had in mind when fighting for equality. It is a narrow-minded sexism-only view of women, and there’s no room for intersectionality.
Of course, it’s not just about feminist slogans. White Feminism is often considered in the same breath as ambition. Where gender equality in the workplace is frequently front and centre, this already isolates many. What about those not in ‘white-collar’ jobs? What about those without access to basic resources like a constant supply of heating, electricity and the internet? What about those on zero-hour contracts, or those who don’t even have a job? If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that these disparities firmly exist and are rampant.
White Feminism doesn’t want to rock the boat. It’s palatable and unchallenging. Rather, it’s the opportunity to play at being a man. It partners with the power the big boys in the boardroom have, continuing to support capitalism and replicating toxic corporate ideologies. Yes, a 2019 report by the UK Charted Institute of Personnel and Development may have found that FTSE 100 CEOs were more likely to be called Steve or Stephen than being a woman, but this is evidence to suggest that White Feminism is even more tied up in self-optimisation, productivity and wealth rather than advocating for redistribution of power. Koa Beck, the author of the book White Feminism, interprets this type of feminism as a way for women ‘to aspire to privilege, not equal rights.’
Instead, we need to be aiming for multi-gendered, collective thinking, one where all women’s needs, and issues, are addressed. There needs to be a coalition of thought and action to tackle the inherent systems in which marginalised people and races are placed. Approach it with an intersectional lens; inequalities are not created equal.
For those that don’t identify as middle-class, straight, cis-gendered and white, the current feminism framework doesn’t work for you. We white women need to set aside our white tears and avoid centring ourselves. This isn’t about us. It requires a rethink. A reset. It needs to be inclusive, not individualistic. It’s not about doing yoga at sunrise or that green juice for breakfast. You don’t need a better morning routine; you need support that challenges the existing structures. It’s about standing in solidarity, challenging power structures and speaking up and out about the root causes.
‘Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss’ may be the 2021 parody version of ‘live, laugh, love’ and a direct callout of White Feminism, but a version of feminism that doesn’t uplift all women and marginalised people is no version of feminism at all.
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