Written by Winona Young, Staff Writer
Canadian comedian Nicole Arbour recently published a “women’s edit” of Childish Gambino’s politically charged song, This is America. Arbour received backlash for her neglect of the song’s original racially charged message. She was also criticized for the fact that the women’s issues she addressed were only focused on upper middle class women’s experiences, being a classic example of a white feminist in action.
This begs the question: are the efforts of white feminists like Nicole Arbour, Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, and others like them beneficial to the feminist movement overall?
To me, feminism without intersectionality isn’t feminism. By only labelling the plights of upper middle class white women as “feminist issues,” we risk isolating a whole other diverse community of women that don’t fit that mold. But before I go on, let’s talk definitions.
White feminism is feminism that only addresses the issues and only validates the identities of predominantly upper middle class cisgendered, heterosexual Caucasian women.
Intersectionality is when an individual’s experience of the world is shaped by their interconnected or overlapping identities such as race, gender, class, and sexuality. Therefore, intersectional feminism would mean feminism that addresses a wide range of issues and identities that apply to all womankind.
By having white feminists address issues that are only relevant to themselves and labelling it as “feminism,” it reinforces the notion that those are the only issues women face, and therefore, that these white women are the baseline idea of what a “woman” is. To say that upper-middle class cisgender (when one’s sex matches their gender) and heterosexual women are the only kind of women is, at best, a bad habit on behalf of the community. At worst, it’s a blatantly homophobic, racist, ableist, and overall prejudiced declaration of what a woman is and isn’t. The quest for equality that white feminists fight for is not a fight for all women, but only a fight for themselves.
When other women’s identities are ignored, they suffer as a result. Firstly, non-white women such as Indigenous women are isolated from the community. Secondly, women who are in the LGBTQ+ community, such as transgender, neurodivergent, disabled women, etc. don’t feel like they belong.
With that said, white feminists do raise valid points. Arbour for instance brought up issues like the need for equal pay, the rampancy of date rape drugs, women’s inavailability to breastfeed in public, etc. However, there are so many other issues that must be included at the forefront of the movement that is feminism.
One could argue that such labels of race, sexual identity, etc.“don’t matter” and that, in the end, we are all women. But to ignore labels is to ignore how such identities have shaped a woman’s existence. If such identities and the issues that they facilitate are not addressed, women can experience feminism that can feel very isolating and betraying — feminism that doesn’t champion their plights.
Journalist Vicky Mochama acknowledged this lack of support between communities of women in an article she wrote for the Toronto Star in 2017, titled, “White women, where were you?”. She discussed the betrayal that women of colour (namely black and Indigenous women) felt when their white counterparts had not offered them the same support that they offered other white victims of sexual assault This illustrates another occurance of the lack of support that white feminists have for their fellow PoC women.
For feminists who are white: just because that identity is part of you, doesn’t mean that you’re a White Feminist™. To be a better intersectional feminist, and therefore, a better ally to your fellow women, be sure to focus on issues that are outside of your identity. If you are a straight, cisgendered woman, be sure to listen to queer women and trans women. If you’re a white woman, be sure to listen to non-white women when they talk about their experiences with racism. It is important to listen to their stories and support their voices and perspectives.
Modern feminists, especially university students like us, must strive for a feminist movement that is intersectional to show solidarity with our diverse sisters. White feminists serve as a reminder that feminism is not only about women who look like ourselves, but for women who are not like us, and experience the world differently than us. At the end of the day, intersectional feminism that welcomes all types of women is simply feminism.
Author’s Note: The writer is a cisgendered, heterosexual Pacific Islander woman who was not raised in North America. The writer would like readers to be aware of their identity so that they take note of whatever possible biases may be present in this article.