As a rather newbie intersectional feminist, I sometimes feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. White, pushing 50, straight, currently work from home mom, born and raised in Silicon Valley and now living in Arizona, I am almost embarrassed to go on.
My feminism shift continues to evolve. It is like Intersectionality 101 in my brain right now. I am working on the nuances of theory, and I admit I still grapple with some. I sometimes need to look up definitions, say hmm and wrap my head around the ideas. Women’s studies have changed since 1987!
Intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 and is used for the most part by Feminist theory to describe systems and structures which privilege one group of people at another group’s cost. White Feminists simplify feminism to white privileged women’s issues, when feminism truly should encompass women of color, disadvantaged women, educated and less educated women, women of all religions, women with and without children, trans, bisexual and lesbian women. You are not a feminist if you leave out any section of the population of women.
I don’t think I ever truly lived the complacent life of a White Feminist, but I do know, along with many women of my generation, I have white feminist moments when I take a stance without considering a wider lens.
I also admit to taking a hiatus from my feminism, (I can hear the friendly laughter and calling bullshit in the background already.) Suddenly, most of my children were grown up and I realized I had shit to catch up on. I had succeeded in not only raising feminist daughters, but I had also raised feminist sons. My kids were calling me out. It was time to raise my bar as I had always pushed them to do.
Here Are 6 Tips for Shifting from a White Feminist to an Intersectional Feminist
1. Check your privilege.
I know, duh? But actually until we admit some of our social given privileges exist, we can’t move forward. The basic tenants of intersectionality suggest privilege is as multi-layered as the systems and ways we discriminate against any type of person. But here are the answers to my own basic questions of privilege; I have never experienced financial or food scarcity. I have never lived in a neighborhood where I had to fear for my safety in an ongoing way. I never had to worry that the schools I attended were not preparing me for my future professional life. The color of my skin has never been used to profile me in a negative way. I have taken every advantage my privilege provided and worked my ass off. Privilege is not your fault. Admitting privilege does not take away from who I am or how hard I’ve worked. Admitting privilege just says I had a head start multiple times throughout life.
2. Learn to widen your lens
Honestly, I was freaked out when the Black Lives Matter campaign appeared. Are we saying only black lives matter? Does saying ALL Lives Matter really dilute the message? Yes, when our country needs to focus on the systematic treatment of people of color, it does dilute the message by acting colorblind. The issues of racial profiling and crib to prison pipeline exist, and voices need to be heard to have a national discussion. It does not mean all lives do not matter, it means at this particular time, with the particular statistics we have, black lives need to matter and the systemic issues need to be addressed.
3. Listen and read carefully
We often jump to conclusions about activist groups. It is like when teaching preschool or parenting my kids; I praise one child, and often all the rest of the kids say “how about me?” “I can do that too.” “See me, I do that and more.” In my calm teacher or mom voice, I have to explain; “because I praise one of you does not take anything away from the rest of you.” As feminists, we need to think that way too. Pro-Choice activists are not inherently anti-child or anti-family, marriage equality doesn’t say everyone should be gay, and body positive doesn’t mean we hate skinny people.
4. Step outside your own experience
Nothing is as simple as our opinions seem to be. We need to step outside ourselves and realize nothing is simple. While the LeanIn campaign has made some strides to be more inclusive, I am turned off by the exclusivity of it. In fact, this may have been my first intro to intersectional feminism. It was unbelievable to think a campaign was introduced saying what was wrong for gender equality was women not ‘leaning in’ enough. For the majority of the women in this country, marriages are still not 50/50. Power differentials don’t even allow us into the bosses office, and access or affordability to quality child care bars even small attempts at leaning in. Whether we lean in or lean out just isn’t relevant for the majority of us. Not to mention access to transportation, meaningful education and mentoring is non-existent. Lean In was originally a campaign of white feminist privilege. When we as women finally do have a platform we must carefully use it in inclusive ways, can it reach and uplift all women? Does it represent all women or only a cross section? If not what needs to be better flushed out?
5. Ask what you don’t know
This summer while working at summer camp, I was corrected by numerous people about the use of pronouns when speaking with a gender fluid individual. I knew I wanted to be an ally, but I really didn’t understand the quick corrections because they were done in such a way I could not make sense of it. Instead of being pissed off (which easily happens to all of us sometimes when we are abruptly corrected,) I finally spoke up and said “help me understand.” We need to be willing to ask how to be better allies. What is obvious to one is not always obvious to another.
6. Believe in evolving thought
On the flip side of seeking more knowledge to be an ally, we need to believe in the idea that people have evolving thought. Some people are not in a current situation where they feel able to speak out but may have space for evolving thought. Spreading intersectional wisdom supports the evolution of thought. People don’t know what they don’t know. Even with the web, many people are still insular in their communities. Being able to articulate intersectional feminism in terms we can all grasp will assist with a true paradigm shift.
In truth, white feminism is not much better than outright male chauvinism or misogyny. I contend in some ways it is worse, oppressiveness in the guise of feminism. White feminism is hidden in the auras of many strong women breaking the glass ceiling. What good is a hole in the ceiling if we aren’t using our platform for lifting up others to get there as well?