Saturday, August 15, 2015

Singular White Feminist

When a blanket of senseless media sources revealed to the world that Emma Watson recently had an “awkward” moment when she offered to pay on a date, it inspired me to examine the futility behind the interview. What a wealthy white Hollywood actress and her equally-privileged date decide to do with the food bill on a date is hardly the kind of feminist comparison the people down here need to hear about in 2014. Call me a rebel, but I’d like to hear something that’s actually - bloody - “awkward”.

I’m a fan of Emma Watson and I believe her 2014 UN speech brought awareness to gender equality and she absolutely means well in her feminist work. Her speech, however, lacked any mention of intersectional feminism (
cite Kimberlé Crenshaw) and the hashtag itself #HeforShe suggests a male-centric (not to mention binary-gender) feminism.

But she has learnt a lot since then and is still learning and oh god, aren't we all...

But let’s not kid ourselves, people listened to her, and the media covered the story not only because it was “game-changing” but because she’s famous, and pretty, and has a pleasing-sounding accent, and she’s straight, cisgender and white. And that’s the catch 22 of the her advantage: We listened to her because of all those factors, and she knew she’d be heard. This gives both the audience (mostly other whites) and the speaker the advantage -- a cycle that leaves everybody else out. But I’ll spare the speech on Critical Race Theory and how white supremacy gets internalized.

Emma Watson failed to acknowledge her white privilege just like so many other “feminist heroes” in Hollywood ever do. Because it’s irrelevant, they say. It shouldn’t matter. We’re all in this together.

People call this White Feminism.

Wait...isn’t that a little harsh? Isn’t that, like, racist?

I didn’t make it up, but I will explain it: White feminism works on the assumption that all women are equally oppressed. It’s putting the concerns of Western white women before any other group, often leaving issues concerning women of colour out of the conversation completely. And it’s saviour based -- Let me help you. Let me take over. Let me change you.

So yes, I’m pulling the race card -- Because so many voices of colour don’t feel heard. They don’t feel represented. It’s actually a really shitty thing that still happens in our society.

Equality does not equal sameness. Feminism is not the same for everyone. White experiences are not universal. We’re not all in “this” together because “this” is experienced differently by everyone. Women’s rights are a complicated issue.

If a white feminist such as myself says “yeah me too” when speaking to a woman of colour about her issues of feminism, I’ve got my blinders on. I do not experience misogyny the way a Muslim woman does.

I’m pretty, petite, eloquently-spoken, heterosexual in lifestyle, white, working class, Canadian, single, able-bodied, with the freedom to experiment sexually and spiritually, and people listen to me. – That's called privilege. And it’s not lost on me. 
When I say something to the police, they listen to me. Then they believe me.

I don’t need to apologize for being white. Nor am I saying that all white people are privileged. Calling out white feminism is not attacking the white woman, it’s pointing out that white privilege prevents us from seeing the views of other feminist issues outside of our own bubble. This has been absolutely true for me.

Take gender pay equality for example; white women earn on average less than men however black women get paid less than white women, Hispanic women even less still. No, they don’t blame it all on me but you can see why they’re not rushing to be part of my feminist sisterhood.

It means that sure, I may not want my white western daughter wearing a burqa because I feel it symbolizes oppression (not to mention culturally inappropriate) it's acknowledging that the burqa means something different to an Afghani woman. The symbols for our little girls are not the same. Believing that they are is practicing a theory of feminism that isn’t intersectional.

We are not perfect feminists. We have so much to learn. And if the term White Feminism bothers you a bit, chances are it’s because you’re white. It certainly did me when I first heard it but like most lessons in life, I’ve learned this the uncomfortable way. Be careful not to shut out the people who challenge you, who make you feel uncomfortable. Keep them around -- they are there to teach you something. Take your blinders off.

This means that as a white feminist I have to educate myself on the issues of feminism outside my community (mostly white), and my Facebook friends list (mostly white), and outside the feminist role models I’ve been exposed to and have grown up admiring (mostly white).

It means that I don’t need to follow people like Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham on Twitter because most of what they preach will appear in a news source, my Facebook feed, or on a late night talk show. What mainstream media and what Tina Fey won’t tell me is how it feels to live with issues like poverty, the over-policing and under-protection of black women, female sterilization, domestic abuse, rape culture, transgender violence, and men being victims of the patriarchy.

Sadly in most cases, activists don’t really understand these other sides. They don’t want to look at how they are part of what keeps other people pushed down. So we have a lot to learn from each other.

Time to move on from idolizing the rich ladies of Hollywood to listening to voices that come from an intersect community:

The 20 year old Saudi who expresses her empowerment when she wears her hijab.
The 58 year old white male with depression who is sick of having to put on a macho front.
The 25 year old openly gay American football player.
The 25 year old black girl who is angry as fuck about the violence that happens in her community.
The 36 year old Muslim woman who challenges white feminism.
The 21 year old queer Korean who practices feminist makeupping.
The 76 year old Mexican Catholic grandmother who worries marriage is a dying institution.
The teenage lesbian woman of colour who is fighting obesity.
The white single mom from Detroit who lives in poverty.
Sex workers
Buddhist feminists, Jewish feminists, teenage feminists, male feminists, black feminists.

No, I'm not obsessed with labels, their identities are relevant.

Follow them directly on social media. If you really want to know what feminism sounds like, if you want to hear the thoughts and opinions of feminists listen to them first-hand instead of via mainstream news sources who rarely voice the minority or fringe views and often mis-quote or change up the context. Read the tweets that make you uncomfortable. Ask yourself why it makes you uncomfortable. You will begin to get an idea just how diverse the landscape of feminism is. Some follow me back because they too want to be part of an intersectional feminist community, but most don't because they're probably sick as shit of white feminists.

And please don’t suggest I get off my working-single-mum-of-two butt and do some charity work in a foreign country; that’s your privilege showing.

Just as much as it probably frustrates you to see a room full of 12 white men making policy for a nation, I’m sure for much of the global female population it frustrates them to see the same 12 white American female celebrities as the token voices for feminism. (Amy, Amy, Tina, Lena, Anne, Hermione, Zoe, Hilary, Lorde, Taylor, Patricia, and .....).

Gasp! But these women are awesome!
Sure, but they hardly represent diversity and hardly ever acknowledge their privilege.

I’m a huge supporter of celebrities using their platform to advocate. It’s effective. They have power. Caitlyn Jenner (who actually acknowledges her privilege) is speaking up on the suicide rate of transgender youth, Amandla Stenberg speaks up about cultural appropriation, Michael J Fox, stem-cell research. I don’t believe Hollywood actors/ pop stars should shut up and stick to their art. No way. But as an audience, listen to them, allow them to enlighten you and keep moving. Educate yourself further.

I support Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham who are demanding respect in their industry, demanding equal pay and demanding their scripts to be picked up. They’re kicking butt in their industry and they're killing it. But if you look around at the rest of the world, those women, those girls...they are drowning.

Lastly, when a black woman declares “Black women are beautiful!” hi-jacking it by claiming “We are all beautiful” is an insult to her feminism. When an Aboriginal student declares she feels it’s racism that prevents her from winning awards, don’t gasp and say she’s targeting white women. Shut up, listen, and open your eyes to what she’s pointing out. If you see it too, support her.

There’s a reason I don’t chime in on matters of the hijab, black misogyny, inner-city poverty, aboriginal oppression and policy for sex trade workers. As white feminists, we don’t have to chime in on these issues. We can shut up and listen. This goes for male privilege too.

So you want me to listen to what other people say but say nothing?
Well, that doesn’t seem very feminist.
Yes, actually it does.
Well, don’t I have an opinion too?
Yes, you do. Just make sure you check your privilege first and know that you don’t always have to make every issue about you.
Geez, sounds like there’s a lot of “rules” to follow.
Yeah, well, no one said living with a bunch of other people on the same planet was going to be easy.

(Recommended Internet reading: Google "Here's why it's not racist to talk about white privilege" ) 

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