As a feminist I always assumed that my beliefs about, and criticisms of, society were the result of a movement committed to women’s rights. Being from Christchurch—the most painfully white city in New Zealand—I had a limited understanding of how the struggles that me and my white, female peers dealt with were not necessarily the same as the struggles of women of colour (WOC). Over the past year I have learnt more about feminism than the other 18 years combined, and this has caused my understanding of feminism to be tested, proved inherently white, and finally, evolved into the state it is now.
White feminists talk about wage equality between the genders, but don’t acknowledge that women of colour are paid significantly less than white women. White feminists talk about challenging domestic abuse, but don’t acknowledge that Māori women are seven times more likely to be hospitalised by assault. White feminists talk about sexual abuse in New Zealand, but forget to acknowledge that Māori women suffer about twice as much sexual abuse than European women living in New Zealand. White feminists talk about the effects of the patriarchy on children, but they forget to say 42 per cent of Māori households are considered high-risk situations by the government. By omitting these women’s stories when we talk about feminism, we are effectively silencing them.
Now is about the time when we start to get defensive about our feminism. Here is a list of the main arguments we use to defend our white feminism and why they are redundant:
- Feminism is for all women, we shouldn’t have to expressly include WOC. Yes, we do. Historically, feminism is a movement for white women to gain equality and many of the ideals cater specifically to the Western world. This isn’t to say that feminism doesn’t have roots in all cultures. It just means that as white women, we have a responsibility to understand that people of colour are oppressed in different ways as well as for being women.
- If white feminism is helping feminism become mainstream then it can’t be a bad thing. While it is important that feminism is being talked about in mainstream society, we have to be careful it isn’t pushing minorities to the fringes. Sometimes the platforms we use to talk about feminism (e.g. Hollywood feminists like Miley Cyrus and Amy Poehler) are framing how people perceive feminism, while simultaneously pushing others out of the frame.
- I am too busy dealing with my own oppression. It’s really important to remember that the patriarchy is pretty much shit for everyone in some way or another. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have privilege as white women. WOC are oppressed in loads of ways that white women just don’t have to experience. This is where intersectionality comes in and it is something we often forget to think about. It’s the same idea that straight, cis women have privilege over LGBTQ women or trans women. It’s not a competition for whose oppression is worse—it’s about using our personal, unique privilege to give other women a hand.
- There is always going to be someone worse off than me. Upsettingly, this is one that I have heard a lot. The thing is, this is true. Growing up as a white women in New Zealand, there are probably billions of people worse off than you. This doesn’t negate your experiences or your journey, and it definitely doesn’t negate your feminism. It just means you need to remember to look backwards sometimes and decide where you can use your privilege to help.
Feminism shouldn’t be about walking on eggshells, or having to say “and of course this applies to all the coloured ladies out there too” at the end of every feisty speech or, in my case, a weekly feminist column. We should be able to express ourselves in a way that celebrates our strength and challenges our personal, everyday patriarchal obstacles. However we also have a responsibility. As white women in a Western country, we are fundamentally privileged. Being a feminist with privilege doesn’t make you a bad feminist or mean that you need to feel guilty, but it does mean that you have to educate yourself and learn how to empathise. You need to learn how to find strength in others’ stories, whether or not they relate specifically to your own experiences and circumstance.
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By day Brittany is an under-grad journo student but by night she is an angsty feminist keyboard warrior with a weakness for hyperboles and generalised statements.