White Feminism

Why must I always worry about the voiceless and underdogs, and who cares anyway?

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

This White Feminism video was circulating on my professional social network, and it is relevant, but it also misses a major point. The point is entirely valid that feminism that considers all females to somehow be a monolithic cohort is bound to fail, simply because they aren’t. Not any more than all males are some united front. Of course, you could abstract some attributes to such an extent that one could argue that the vast majority of females have two feet. Of course, that’s ableist at the start and we’ve accidentally included men. Besides, now you’re being silly, you tell me, we are talking about attitudes and behaviours, not physical attributes. That’s another arena.

So what’s the deal? The problem is that even this frame is too narrow. Adding colour to the mix improves the intersectionality, but it goes nowhere near far enough. Am I allowed to say “near far”? Moving on.

A couple of books I haven’t read myself are “Against White Feminism: Notes on Disruption” by Rafia Zakaria and “What’s Up with White Women? Unpacking Sexism and White Privilege in Pursuit of Racial Justice” by Ilsa Govan and Tilman Smith.

These authors are focused on the experience of women of colour through a predominately American lens. More on this in a moment. Their point is that women of colour have different problems than so-called white women. And this is true. But gay women have problems unique to them, and trans-women have problems unique to them, and Latinas have problems unique to them. But there’s more.

Here’s another problem, these authors are all affluent, educated women, who view the world through this lens. Paternalism is a problematic perspective, but some parallel maternalism isn’t a step in the right direction.

And there’s a larger problem. Most so-called feminists tend to privilege Western women over non-Western women, in practice invalidating the lived experience of a majority of women in the world. They presume that the poor rural woman in Afghanistan has more in common with them than a vagina. And this is true, but it’s a privileged perspective to presume that your New York City or Islamabad perspective is even halfway valid is unadulterated hubris.

I suggest becoming familiar with Chandra Mohanty’s “Under Western Eyes” and Sunera Thobani’s “White Wars: Western feminisms and the ‘War on Terror’.” These women do hail from the educated class, but they approach the situation with broader compassion and so are more inclusive of the diversity. Moreover, the referenced works are free essays that make their point. Meantime, David Guignion shares a short primer for these two. “Oh my God,” you say, You want me to listen to an educated Canadian white man school me on the plight of non-Western women? Why, yes I do. Of course, you can also read the source material on your own.

So, “why should I listen to some educated white bloke with a blog?” you ask yourself. You don’t need to. That’s on you. I’m just the messenger. Feel free to think that everything is male and female, black and white, or some admixture. Feel free to leave a comment.

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