By Heather Pearson
Feminism shouldn’t be about equality. That’s right – you read that correctly. And yes, I’m a feminist – an unapologetically passionate one at that. So hear me out. What is the definition of ‘feminism’? I know that most of my feminist friends, without skipping a beat, will immediately proclaim that feminism is “equality between the sexes.” Which is not a lie, of course – that’s the end goal. But when we say ‘equality’ – what are we really thinking about? For me, and hopefully, for most people – equality is the concept of people living equally in society. There isn’t much else to say about that.
Striving for equality is striving for a system where everyone, regardless of sex, gender, sexuality, race, ability, class, and otherwise is integrated without discrimination (now wouldn’t that be a grand reality!). However, our society has a problem. With equality, yes, that much seems obvious – but our feminism that seeks this equality has a problem. Buzzword time – White Feminism. Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Jennifer Lawrence, Taylor Swift – these are some classic offenders. You’ve probably heard this term, and these names, floating around the Internet the past year or so, and for good reason. So what is white feminism? And why shouldn’t we strive for equality? White feminism is ‘colour blind.’ White feminism doesn’t or refuses to understand differences in racial privilege. It excludes race as an important factor during our navigation of women’s issues. It presumes the experiences of white women are a catch-all for every woman. And it is wrong.
White feminists (and by this, I mean women who practice ‘white feminism’) centre their feminism around equality. Intersectional feminists centre their feminism around justice. There is a very clear distinction between these two. And it is the latter I urge you to follow. Whilst white feminists instigate policies to integrate into the existing societal system, it is intersectional feminists who recognise the fundamental flaws within the system, rejects them completely, and seeks its complete transformation. This is what our feminism needs to do – without this, it is only a few people getting saved. White feminists’ equality is striving for equal pay. Intersectional feminists’ justice is realising that whilst white women may only earn 79¢ to a man’s dollar – black women only earn 60¢, and Hispanic women earn 55¢ – and it accurately upholds the interests of women of colour above white women because, well, we need it. White feminists’ equality is celebrating women’s suffrage. Intersectional feminists’ justice is realising that history has been whitewashed – our ‘feminist heroes’ like Susan B. Anthony had no qualms in stepping over the rights of people of colour in order to further their goals. Women of colour didn’t actually get their right to vote until decades later.
White feminists’ equality is using an extremely privileged spokesperson, the epitome of Eurocentric beauty, as a pretty, packaged invitation for men to join the feminist movement. Intersectional feminists’ justice is realising that yes, men benefit from and should support feminism – but it refrains from using the common, pleading tropes such as ‘men can’t express their emotions!’. This is because we are too busy focusing our attention on the women whose very identity leads to their emotions being stifled. Take, for example, the angry black woman stereotype, that demonises black women’s emotions as hysterical and irrational, and the submissive, docile expectations thrust onto Asian women – to name a few. White feminists’ equality is writing a cutesy, catchy banner and traipsing around a police-protected area at the women’s march a few weeks ago. Intersectional feminists’ justice is shouting till your voice is hoarse at a black lives matter rally, voicing your objections at an anti-wall ban protest, and supporting your marginalised sisters at every opportunity – not just at the one that benefits you the most.
So no, my feminism isn’t about this equality. And yours shouldn’t be either. When I think of an equal society – my mind goes to those who suffer injustices from their sex, race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, and all of the intersections with one another – and what I can do, as a person with a reasonable amount of privilege, to combat these injustices and uphold the voices of people who need it. White feminists, sometimes it is just best to take a step back. Just because you don’t have male privilege, doesn’t mean you can proudly ignore all your other privileges and speak over the experiences of women with different marginalisation.
And before you say ‘we’re all in this together’ – we aren’t really, unfortunately. White women will never know what it’s like to be discriminated against for the colour of their skin, just like a heterosexual person will never know what it’s like to be discriminated against who they love. We are in this fight together, but don’t lump our experiences as one – we are different, and we need different things for equality – for justice. If you call yourself a feminist, then please join us, help us, support us – but please don’t ignore us. So the next time someone asks you why you’re a feminist – before you talk about equality, maybe think about justice first.
Photograph: Laura Forest via Flickr and Creative Commons