The Stoned Chrysalis

For the Woke and Waking

Modern White Feminism and Intersectionality

Aimee Vincent

*Trigger warning for trans readers, a bigoted bullshit quote is included as an example of pure fuckery*

 

 Intersectionality is a term coined by American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe cross over factors that impact the lives of women such as race, class, physical ability, education, culture or socioeconomics and the ways in which these affect their experience. In the book "Intersectionality's Definitional Dilemmas”  author Collins says “The term intersectionality references the critical insight that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, and age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but as reciprocally constructing phenomena that in turn shape complex social inequalities.” I would argue that true feminism must be intersectional and truly inclusive, it must take into account these varying factors which impact the female experience and aim to dismantle systems and social norms which marginalise some women. While no single person can represent all women, feminism itself and the people within the movement must make room for all groups and voices, particularly those of marginalised groups who have been largely ignored and oppressed throughout history.

 

It is folly to assume that female experiences are universal because a group share the same anatomic gender, this assumption is in itself most obviously exclusionary to the trans female experience, the history of trans exclusion by many well known white feminists is still felt today, in Janice Raymond's 1979 book The Transsexual Empire: The Making Of The She-Male, Janice said “Rape...is a masculinist violation of bodily integrity. All transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the female form to an artefact, appropriating this body for themselves… Rape, although it is usually done by force, can also be accomplished by deception," sentiments such as these cannot be forgotten and the trauma of such still permeate the experience of many trans women who continue to feel excluded from the feminist movement, and why wouldn't they? History matters and inequality, racism and bigotry have been rife in many facets of the feminist movement. While we cannot expect an able bodied, hetero, cis-white-woman to f u l l y understand the needs of women outside her demographic I argue that we must expect them to make an effort to understand historical marginalisation, make room for marginalised voices and acknowledge that a bigoted history has created a society with intersections within femaleness create entirely different lived experiences for different groups and individuals - We must educate ourelves and each other on issues faced by marginalised groups, we need to hold each other accountable within this context and begin to evaluate how history has impacted our current society. Without understanding marginalisation we will continue to uphold oppressive systems and social norms.

Most would agree that feminism must advocate for full inclusion, but how can we do this if we are too afraid to confront our history and thus acknowledge the levels of privilege that impact modern society? We can’t.

 

Feminism has been a movement most publicly facilitated by white, middle class cis gendered, hetero women moving within systems related to them, as Gloria Steinhem says in her book Revolution from within “I was right about tactics within the medias continuing image of feminism: “whitemiddleclass” did become like one key on the typewriter of many journalists (though polls showed that black women were almost twice as likely to support feminist changes as white women were” this issue is still relevant today, while many women of colour advocate for the rights of women they are often not represented in much of the popular discourse. White feminism, which tends to paint us all with the same brush of FEMALE does not include the various aspects of a person which impact their life. As Lia Incognita say in her article “Does feminism speak for all women” “My friend Uma Kali Shakti was once asked if she was speaking as a black woman, and she said “well I’ve tried speaking as a green pear and it didn’t work” For a person to suggest being black is a trait separate to being a woman or something that can be removed denies women of colour their identity and suggests that to be black is somehow a separate experience to being female. Lets take a moment to imagine a white woman being asked prior to speaking at a lecture if she was speaking as a white woman... It wouldn't happen. White women have the privilege of their race not being a "trait" which society deems additional or removable - they generally do not have to think about or prioritise race within the context of their own lives. This compounded with other facets of naivity and priviliege can be described by the term "colour blindness" which, in my opinion, is a polite way of erasing a persons identity and imposing white perspective.

Taking the above into account, we must recognise that it is not the role of marginalised people to educate the privileged, I argue that the baseline level of accountability attached to feminism must be of self education, reflection and humility.

Can feminism, which claims to be for the advocacy of women's rights only acknowledge the rights of some women while ignoring the intersecting factors of oppression that exist and impact others? When we frame the question in this way it becomes impossible to deny the need for intersectionality within the movement. 

My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!
— Flavia Dzodan

Kimberle' Crenshaw states that “For white women, claiming sex discrimination is simply a statement that but for gender, they would not have been disadvantaged. For them there is no need to specify discrimination as white females because their race does not contribute to the disadvantage for which they seek redress. The view of discrimination that is derived from this grounding takes race privilege as a given.” The very bench mark of experience within our society was set by and for white women, white women are the starting block of understanding - not only on a social level but within our wider systems, this has created social inequity and systemic issues of oppression that continue to marginalise, perhaps just in a more polite disguise. To simplify: Within almost every marginalised group there are women, therefore the issues of the marginalised are [feminist issues] Intersectional feminism does not try to separate levels of oppression but rather recognises that they are impossible to separate. Systems and norms must be challenged and malleable in order for them to effectively serve us and societies intersecting needs.

 

 In her paper Fat People Of Color: Emergent Intersectional Discourse online,  Apryl A Williams says that fatness is a feminist issue as it “directly challenges the unrealistic expectations of women presented by mainstream culture” So while much of the modern feminist discourse is largely focused around beauty standards, body hair and sexual autonomy - women are still packaging these issues in thin, white bodies ignoring the fact that fat women experience the same misogynistic factors of inequality, such as fat men not receiving the same social stigma as they do, sexual fetishising and body shaming, Compounding this fat female bodies are still stigmatised by thin women and the beauty standards they uphold. I would argue that in many ways it is white feminism which upholds the paradigm of patriarchy and the above is just one example of the ways in which many women still exist within that misogynistic paradigm; our own misogyny internalised yet reflected onto women who don't look or appear like us. 

Feminism that does not acknowledge all marginalisation and oppressive systems only further propels the voices of the privileged thus upholding the patriarchal and misogynistic standards we say we want to dismantle. To promote a one size fits all type feminism is to silence the experiences of women living outside the typical and false image of what it is to be a woman - false in the sense that there is no normal, no average and no benchmark of femaleness.

 Progress is not comfortable and systems must be broken down in order to be rebuilt in ways that are progressive and inclusive but for feminism to be true to its name, it must aim to be fully inclusive and represent all women. This should be at the very core of the movement.