Feminism is worthless without intersectionality and inclusion.
by Oriana P.
I am a feminist.
For me this means I fight for a world with equal rights, for justice and for real democracy. All liberation movements have those same exact goals so why even have a separate chapter for women's rights? Doesn’t the general fight for equal rights also cover women’s issues? One would think so but in reality most progressive movements are still male fortresses. Men do not experience the daily discrimination against women and are therefore out of touch with what women want and motivate. They will always approach certain situations and problems from their point of view, which can cause their decisions to be detrimental to women even though they might have the very best of intentions. The role of men in an emancipatory movement fighting for women’s rights is that of an ally. Men can never speak for women but they can and should speak with women and support our struggle. If we wish to change society we need to make these changes first and foremost within our own movements and within our own structures.
Besides being a feminist I’m also white and I am a woman.
There’s no need for me to specifically state that I am a cis-gender woman because I know it is generally accepted that when I say I’m a woman it means I identify as a woman and I was born a female. It is my privilege as a cis-gender woman to declare that I am a woman without this being questioned. In other words people follow the norm, which dictates that we live in a binary gender society. Male/ female and nothing in between.
Many feminists still function from that perspective as was illustrated again in Germany when the ‘radical’ feminist Elonë posted messages, printed on female sanitary pads, about violence against women and against rape culture all over the city. We could read for example: “Imagine if men were as disgusted with rape as they are with periods”. The action was very effective and received a lot of media attention but it was painfully clear it was only about cis-gender women. This while it’s mostly trans women who are victims of violence, especially non-white trans women.
These kinds of actions are perfect examples of a lack of awareness about privileges, intersectionality and inclusion.
Inclusion is related to integration but with the important difference that no one has to adapt to the dominant culture. Dominant culture means one particular group is in control in all areas of society be it politics, the media or business. Hegemony in other words. In the Western world the dominant group consists of white heterosexual non-disabled cis-gender men. They are the norm and every other group stands in relation to them.
Integration argues that other groups, such as migrants, must adapt to the dominant group. Inclusion on the other hand says everyone is equal and everyone has the right to live in co-existence while keeping their own characteristics, belief systems and philosophy of life. By using female sanitary pads as a means of action trans women are excluded and the violence directed to trans women is completely ignored. Oppressed groups such as women can, in their dominant cis-gender form, contribute to further oppression of other groups.
Annie Lennox, former singer of the Eurythmics and role model for many women, was exposed as a “white feminist” when she criticized Beyoncé’s feminism. White feminists think and act from their dominant model, the white middle class model of feminism. Feminism then becomes defined according to the standards of that model. It is a "one size fits all" kind of feminism and apparently Beyoncé had not adjusted properly. "Twerking is not feminism," Lennox claimed. It was the start of a whole discussion about the alleged feminism of Beyoncé but without Beyoncé until Queen Bey herself ended the discussion with an unequivocal statement. She closed the MTV VMA's with in the background the word "Feminist" in huge illuminated letters. With this one act she not only demanded her right to be recognized as a feminist but she also sent the concept into 12 million households. The next day Twitter noted a record for the conversation about feminism. Or how twerking introduced feminism to millions of young girls.
Women of color are not only excluded by white feminists but they sometimes are even recruited to fight for the white feminist cause as if women of color owe them something. In her speech at the Oscars Patricia Arquette claimed “we” had fought for everyone’s equal rights and now in turn they should fight for “us”. "It is time that all the women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and all the people of color now fight for us," said Arquette. She identifies four groups: "women", "men who love women", "gays" and "people of color". It is clear that when Arquette uses “us” and “women” she refers to white heterosexual cis-gender women. By explicitly mentioning the latter two groups she excludes all queer white women, women of color and queer women of color as if they not all belong to the group of "women". Evidently everybody should join the fight for white women’s rights despite the fact that black women only earn 64 cents on the white man’s dollar, Latina women 54 cents whereas white women earn 78 cents. As Gazi Kodzo said in one of his videos online, "Patty! Patty, I think yo '22 cents are gon' to have to wait, the sisters are a little busy”.
To be clear not all feminists who happen to be white are “white feminists”. White feminists are those who have no awareness whatsoever of the concept of intersectionality and are not willing to shake off their racism or are not even aware of it. White feminists are those who are infinitely infuriated by the sexist joke of an Arab man but will laugh heartily with the equally sexist joke of a white man. They fall into the trap of stereotypes that says the Arab man is per definition a sexist since his culture is sexist whereas the progressive white man cannot be sexist since his culture is not, or at least a lot less, sexist. The white man “didn’t mean it like that” and gets a free pass.
It’s akin to contemporary phenomena such as enlightened racism and enlightened sexism, also called "Hipster racism/sexism", where the premise states that racism and sexism no longer exist in the enlightened Western society of today so anything goes. Under the guise of irony, and with a wink, the most racist and sexist statements can be spewed. Whoever protests is not hip to the current trend and will be excluded from social interaction. However what it comes down to is the old concept that white people and men determine the context of what is acceptable in their dominant culture and in what form.
The truth is that all cultures, and most subcultures, are sexist. The irony is that, in the context of the oh so very open Western culture, sexism is denied and feminists are often labeled feminazis. If, supposedly, sexism no longer exists it follows that feminism is no longer needed and feminists are therefore gagged. In other words it is exactly the infatuation with Western values and Westcentric supremacy that is blocking emancipation.
White feminists are also those who patronize their hijab and niqab wearing sisters trying to force them to adhere to a Western form of feminism where there is no place for a hijab or niqab. The white feminists, full of good intentions of course, want to rescue their Muslim sisters and teach them what is a real liberated woman. They hereby completely ignore and/or discard Islamic feminism and the emancipation struggle of Muslimas in their own culture.
The quintessential white feminist’s wet dream must be the storyline of Daenerys Targaryen from the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV series. As a completely oppressed girl she is forced to marry the exotic brute Khal Drogo in the political game for power. She teaches him “civilization” after which of course he adores her. Over time she becomes the white goddess of the tribe with her long white hair and white porcelain skin. As the Khaleesi, and the only woman to ever lead these tribes, she frees one slave community after the other. All of the freed slaves are darker people who worship her and swear allegiance. She is the ultimate ‘white savior’ bringing civilization and liberation or rather colonialism offered with a digestible feminist twist.
White feminists operate from a colonial ideology that argues that white Western society and its values are superior and that every other culture needs to adapt to this enlightened society. It is the opposite of democracy and of the struggle for equality and inclusion and with this it also completely ignores the goals of feminism.
Only by applying intersectionality, the concept that endorses the intersections between different forms of oppression, domination and discrimination, does feminism make sense. Individuals are not only suppressed along gender lines but also in terms of race, class, disability, sexual orientation, religion or any other form of identity and those different categories intersect in numerous ways. Where does my woman-ness end, my oppressed identity, and where does my white-ness, my oppressing identity, begin and how does this identity relate to, for example, an Arab man in a Western society? Do my white privileges carry more weight than his male privileges? In case there’s any doubt, yes, white privileges far outweigh non-white male privileges. White women still enjoy more privileges than their non-white male fellow citizens.
Where does the term ‘intersectionality’ come from?
The theory of intersecting discrimination categories was first introduced in 1989, and later elaborated, by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. However, the concept is much older and was known to the black feminists. Since the 19th century the synchronicity of ‘woman’ and ’race’ was a heavy topic of discussion in the USA. White feminists would do well to consult the works of black feminists and learn. By the time Crenshaw introduced the metaphor of intersectionality to criticize the dominant concepts of discrimination in law and in social movements the use of the language of ‘crossroads’ had become commonplace in contemporary anti-racist feminist thinking. The term ‘intersectionality’ has become so popular that these days it is often used as a synonym for ‘oppression’.
I may be doing my research on intersectionality and draw my conclusions but I can’t and shouldn’t call myself an ‘intersectional feminist’ because I'm still white and I still belong to the dominant group. That term belongs to the oppressed and white people don’t have the right to appropriate it. Just as ‘white anti-racist’ can become another white identity so can ‘intersectional feminist’. This identity, however, still functions within the dominant westsuprematic heteropatriarchal system and it therefore still retains the same privileges. As a white person I can build an entire career around anti-racism and intersectionality without compromising my actual white privileges for even a second. On the contrary, I can take advantage of the situation and use my white privileges to earn money and gain status on the back of racism.
Ultimately this is not the intention. What is the intention is that we act in awareness in our interactions with people from different backgrounds and that when we go to meetings to take action against an unjust system we must realize that we somehow always carry our privileges and our feelings of entitlement. Self-consciousness is but a first, but necessary, step toward that equal and just world. After that, action should be taken.