Dear Feminist Community,
For the past few weeks, I watched closely as tweets using the now-viral hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen dominated my news feed. Originally started by Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia), it called feminism out for traditionally not including women of color, not acknowledging black feminist thinkers and being blatantly racist.
After reflecting on what this conversation meant for young feminists, and why I started The New Feminism, I decided this topic was the perfect conclusion to the series. When I originally pitched this column, I wanted a space to vent about the juxtaposition of a generation that believed it was post-feminist and the truth that inequality was rampant and harassment unrelenting. However, what I originally thought would be a plea to my fellow young urban women to reclaim the title of feminist and acknowledge that there was work to do became more of a personal learning experience. I began to reevaluate how I felt about things that had been so socialized into my behavior, question my own privilege and dissolve some of the naive idealism that comes with being a young feminist. Yet for the final column, I want to inspire some of the blind optimism that belongs to young people fighting for social change. I want young feminists to believe that the issue brought to life by #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen can be solved by creating a generation of leaders dedicated to diversity, intersectionality and alliances.
For those of you who missed the action, the hashtag originated after Hugo Schwyzer, a prominent male feminist and professor with a history of putting down women of color, had a Twitter meltdown in which he exposed himself as a fraud. Kendall later wrote a piece for The Guardian explaining her motivation for creating the Twitter campaign and the honest conversation about the tendency for white mainstream feminists to believe gender should be prioritized over race she hopes would follow.
As a young feminist, I was disheartened by the fact that prominent feminists I viewed as role models — both white and women of color — seemed to be at war over the state of feminism. I’d always taken it at face value when feminists touted the relation of all issues surrounding oppression. As someone who was taught to be a deep believer of intersectionality — that issues of oppression heavily cross lines of class, race, gender and sexuality — I understand that I have privilege. I know that there are experiences I will never understand, hurdles that because of the color of my skin or my heterosexuality, I may not be able to name when I see it happening. However, I want to understand and I want feminism to be an inclusive space that fights for all equality with equal vigor.
As tweets and editorials poured in from both sides of the debacle, I made an effort to read and share pieces predominately written by women of color in order to understand the lens through which they viewed feminism. One particularly powerful piece, written by Lauren Walker for XO Jane, talks about the path to reconciling feminist beliefs with the realization that the movement was racist, just as the Civil Rights Movement had been misogynistic.
Most blogs that I read covered the issue at heart: feminism in many ways marginalizes people of color by not acknowledging their oppression or their victories. A common aspect of these pieces covering the clash was how feminist leaders of the past and current digital feminist figures often refuse to understand that for women of color, gender and race cannot be mutually exclusive titles (e.g. most notably, Gloria Steinem’s op-ed in the New York Times pitting race against gender). Conversations like #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen should strengthen feminism, not divide it. Yet, what very few of these blogs covered was how young feminists can move forward and become better crusaders for equality.
Some bloggers seem to sense that many young women want to be an ally, but perhaps due to their privilege, may not always know how. Mia McKenzie wrote a great piece on her website Black Girl Dangerous about simple ways white feminists can curb the types of behaviors that they think make them better allies but are ultimately not helpful. Some of McKenzie’s advice includes not touting acts of solidarity, not ignoring diversity and not just challenging oppression in personal situations.
As feminism changes and the faces that represent the struggle for equality multiply, we need more notable writers providing social commentary on issues that affect these communities to invest in the future. I recently went to a rally for Women’s Equality Day hosted by Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD) in the Boston Common. Representatives from organizations spoke in solidarity with women, but about issues that affected different communities including WORD, MataHari: Eye of the Day, Live4BO (Better Opportunities Inc.), We Are FUSE, Hollaback Boston and Cambridge Women’s Center. We chanted against ending racist policing and creating a fair minimum wage, we sang in unison calling for protection of domestic workers, and men came to the podium with words of support that acknowledged their privilege, but recognized our struggle. This experience was the way working in the feminist movement should always be and could be if we took the valid issues brought up by all the other –isms that are so pervasive in our culture.
The women on both sides of this debate should focus on teaching young feminists who crave the intersectionality and diversity that the movement touts to organize in a more inclusive way. I’ve had the pleasure of many feminist mentors, but I would love if leaders fighting for the cause helped guide young feminists like me to be an ally against racism, poverty, homophobia, immigration policy and the other political issues which prevent progress for all marginalized groups. We should feel united by the fact that we are all women who unfortunately face sexism every day, not feel divided that many of us remain oppressed in many other (equally important) ways.
I want to understand my privilege, as a heterosexual white female, not be blamed for the actions of feminists of former generations. I want these voices to talk to me the way I speak to male allies — not with condescension or accusation, but rather, the genuine assumption that they want to help, but may not know how to best do so. I want to hear stories that are different from my own because I truly believe that gender equality is meaningless if other groups remain oppressed by our culture. I want to stand in the Boston Common and feel the unison I felt at that WORD protest on Women’s Equality Day all of the time.
My request to the feminist community at-large is simple. Don’t let these trends continue. Keep having these conversations and share your wisdom with young feminists who may be just optimistic enough to change the status quo within the movement.