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White Feminism Is Toxic — Here's Why

by Petiri Ira 2 years ago in feminism
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Why we should aim for intersectional feminism instead

Photo by Polina Kovaleva from Pexels

Society fails to admit and come to terms with the fact that white feminism is concealed in white supremacy. When we look at feminism, it usually has been heavily centred around the white women's experience. It fails to include and acknowledge the ordeals of Black, Indigenous and POC women. By excluding women of other races it leads to the erasure of their individual experiences. Furthermore, manifesting it's the restriction to whiteness and whiteness only and blatantly ignoring intersectionality.

White feminism is more prevalent than you may think, it takes shape in various areas of our everyday lives in society. It includes; race colourblindness, that BIPOC women have faced at some point in their lives, centring, white saviours and tone policing, just to name a few. We must assess and identify the presence of white feminism in our pursuit of intersectionality.

What is white feminism?

White feminism is the label given to feminist efforts and actions that uplift white women but that exclude or otherwise fail to address issues faced by minority groups, especially women of colour and LGBTQ women. ( Via Dictionary.com)

White feminism uniquely pertains to a mindset that does not take into account the ways BIPOC women experience sexism for example, and how it most importantly, differs from the way white women experience sexism.

Now, why is this problematic?

Well, a form of sexism towards women is misogyny. If you think of misogyny as the hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women. White women experience this, whereas, a Black woman, would encounter misogynoir simply due to the fact that she is black.

Secondly, if we look at police brutality as a feminist issue, police brutality does not affect white women the same way it would affect BIPOC women. This highlights the gap between whiteness and BIPOC in the realm of feminism. This goes to show how white feminism continuously ignores the role whiteness plays in societal issues and injustices.

The NWLC found that Black women make up 10 per cent of the low-wage workforce — jobs that typically pay less than $11 per hour, or about $22,880 annually — while they make up just 6.2 per cent of the overall workforce. Yet, another case of the harm of white feminism causes when it comes to the wage gap. Yes, feminism aims to close the wage gap between men and women. But, it does not recognise that women of colour will still be making less money than their white counterparts.

What does white feminism look like?

1. Tone policing

A conversational tactic that dismisses the ideas being communicated when they are perceived to be delivered in an angry, frustrated, sad, fearful or otherwise emotionally charged manner.(Via Dictionary.com)

Tone policing is when a person attempts to deny the validity and importance of a statement by attacking the tone in which it is said and presented, instead of the message itself. When BIPOC women let out their pain, frustration and outrage with the privileged system, they are told that they should suppress their emotions, in order to be respected and heard. We need to realise that when white feminists tone police, they are trying to invalidate the feelings of women of colour in an argument.

Here is what tone policing sounds like:

"You don’t need to get so angry."

This is a glaring example of what racial gaslighting looks like in the instance of tone policing. The adjective "angry'', alludes to the pejorative stereotypes and tropes that Black women are associated with by society. Meanwhile, undermining the person's experience due to their race.

Tone policing is a significant problem because actually being subject to injustices is already infuriating and tiring enough, so having someone suppresses and dismiss your experience is disrespectful and insensitive. Tone policing continues to oppress already marginalised communities, which prohibits society from moving in a progressive direction in combating white feminism. This is due to the fact that tone policing prevents you from acknowledging your mistakes, educating yourself and uplifting the voices of BIPOC people.

2. Racial colourblindness

Colourblindness is the racial ideology that posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity. (Via — Pyscologytoday)

Saying you don't see colour does not make you anti-racist.

Point. Blank. Period.

Because since race itself does not divide feminists — racism does, feminist colourblindness is essentially just ignoring the impacts of racism on BIPOC women. When white feminists say this, they are simply just obscuring racial issues that need to be addressed, since their race does not directly affect their livelihoods.

However, what some of may know or may not know is that by saying that they “don’t see colour” implies that they don’t see my struggle, or see my oppression and the battles I still have to face because of my colour. It prevents people from acknowledging social issues people of colour have to combat.

3. Centering

Centering is a very common occurrence of white feminism. When BIPOC speak out about their racial experiences white women get intimidated by discussing racism and colourism and then they feel the need to flip the tables and make it about themselves. The conversation eventually becomes about their feelings; that surround their fragility. They begin to explain why talking about race is detrimental and hard for them, instead of actually listening to the voices of the oppressed.

What centering sounds like:

When you begin to feel defensive about the conversation of race, demanding explanations, it is like a man walking into a women’s space saying: “Make me feel more comfortable in this moment, even though the point of this space is sorting out how I make you feel uncomfortable every day in multiple ways.” (Via- Harpers Bazaar)

4. White saviours

The term white saviour, sometimes combined with saviour complex to write white saviour complex, refers to a white person who provides help to non-white people in a self-serving manner.

White feminists hold on to the view that there is no way they could possibly be a part of the problem because of what they've done to help already. Similar to centering, they begin to get defensive and start to use expressions like "nice things I have done for Black people in the past'', as a defensive shield.

How do we move forward?

We can move forward by looking at the ideology that opposes white feminism; intersectional feminism.

Intersectional feminism:a movement recognizing that barriers to gender equality vary according to other aspects of a woman’s identity, including age, race, ethnicity, class, and religion, and striving to address a diverse spectrum of women’s issues. (Via — Dictionary.com)

Intersectional Feminism as a term, was first coined by American professor Kimberle Crenshaw in the year 1989. It is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. It means that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Patterns of oppression are not just interrelated but are influenced by those interrelations.

Make your feminism intersectional

“Use whatever power you have in your different roles to acknowledge the ways gender, race, class, ability, immigration status, and all of these different identities, impact where we are,” says Williams. If you’re a cisgender heterosexual female journalist, for example, use your privilege to empower and share the stories of queer and non-binary people. Or, if you’re a doctor of colour, consider how your role can make other patients of colour feel comfortable advocating for themselves.(Via —Health )

Ask yourself if your feminism is inclusive of everyone.

Ask yourself if your feminism is reinforcing your privilege at the expense of marginalised communities.

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About the author

Petiri Ira

I am a Race, Society and Culture writer. I write opinion pieces and personal essays on the Black experience in our society. My articles provide readers with actionable takeaways they can take to aim for change and progression.

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