I’m not white. Applied to me, non-white is a meaningless descriptor, but it’s also a very obvious one. My complexion makes it difficult for this fact to go unnoticed, especially in my home country of Sweden, where I stand out quite a bit. So, I was a bit shocked when I was called a white feminist—by a white feminist.
The term white feminism is used to describe feminism that focuses on the struggles of white women and ignores other forms of oppression faced by non-white women. It is the opposite of intersectional feminism, which, at its best, is an acknowledgment that different women have different struggles, and, at its worst, a form of victim Olympics. But, since I was the only non-white person in the room, the irony of calling me a white feminist soon dawned on my accuser and she tried to explain: you know, you’re a liberal feminist.
I sport the term liberal feminist with pride and, for me, it has nothing to do with white feminism. My liberal perspective on gender equality is intersectional: i.e. I acknowledge that women in different cultures face different challenges in the struggle for female liberation. My work against honour culture, religious oppression and patriarchal rhetoric is the opposite of white feminism. The exchange with my accuser reveals how badly many western university students understand both international women’s struggles and the western world’s role in them.
Feminism is important to me because I grew up in a patriarchal Arab environment. Throughout my life, those closest to me have made it clear that—while I can study and work—my end goal should be to become a wife and bear children. While the rest of Swedish society disagrees with this mind-set, the segregated area in which I grew up strongly reflects this norm. When we visited relatives, the women would be stuck in the kitchen working, while the men ate. It was always made clear that it is the man’s job to provide and that everything a woman earns is secondary to that. And many of my female friends and classmates also had to endure religious oppression and honour culture. In my life, it’s always been provocative and controversial to refuse gender norms and openly criticize honour culture and religious oppression and such a stance has met with clear social sanctions.
But my situation is better than that of most people in the world right now. I live in one of the most egalitarian countries on Earth. I can therefore see how much better the situation of western women is than that of eastern woman—thanks to liberalism. Whenever I see a Western woman fight against injustices that could be considered trivialities in the east, I feel pride. It shows how far they have come in their battle for equality. Equality is a constant struggle: if we were to stop fighting for it, it would be taken away from us. That is a lesson I have learned from the history of countries like Iran. That is why I consider my feminism to be intersectional—even though western feminists often tell me I’m mistaken about how to liberate eastern women.
To me, arranged marriages are wrong, no matter what culture they are part of. Female genital mutilation is wrong, no matter where it occurs. Strict gender roles are wrong, no matter what culture they are part of. But, to many, this mind-set makes me a white feminist. My strict interpretation of equality strikes many as Eurocentric. They forget that women from many different places and many ethnic groups are fighting for their freedoms. They forget that, in Eastern Europe, basic female rights, such as access to safe abortion, are under threat. I, as a non-white woman, am still much more privileged than many white women in the same continent as me. The pejorative term white feminist destroys any real conversation about diversity in feminism.
My issue is not that a white woman said this to me. Anyone of any skin colour who lives in the west—including me—has access to a degree of equality of which many other women cannot even dream. The issue is that the term implies that feminism is about race and that liberalism is a western invention that shouldn’t be adopted by other cultures.
Those who use the term white feminist demonstrate that they are not intersectional, since the differences in women’s experiences are due not to race, but to their economic and social situations. A woman of Asian or African descent can have just as privileged a view of equality as a so-called white woman. A poor white woman might face many of the challenges usually faced by minorities. And, as the world has shown time and time again, economic and social rights are not dependent on the presence of white people, but on liberal values.
Liberal feminism takes an unapologetic stand in favour of women’s liberation. It acknowledges that different parts of the world will reach that goal differently, but that the end goal is the same. Arranged marriage, honour culture and religious oppression were not feminist in the west during the middle ages, and they are not feminist in the rest of the world now.
Political terms should provide a way to explain your position as honestly as possible, but recently there has been a shift towards using such terms as pejoratives, rendering them useless for communication. This is also true of terms like social justice warrior, which is often taken to mean crazy woman; liberal, which is often misunderstood as socialist and white male, which is used to mean a very privileged person. But, until this trend reverses, I will be a proud non-white white feminist.
Very interesting article and it certainly aligns with my own experience with those people. The moment when I woke up was some years ago when I heard for the first time that some far left people actually denied the Bosnian genocide in the 90’s. Why? Because they hate the West so much that they coulnd’t imagine that a non-western country could be the aggressor. They really claimed that Bosnians, Roma and Albanians conspired with the West to take the Serbs down. This was in the 90’s but some years ago a pomo historian and sociologist claimed the same thing (in more politically correct terms) in a mainstream Swedish newspaper. At that moment I realized that many people on the far left only care about genocide, women’s right or LBGT rights in a very abstract way and only as long as it fits their ideology. Since the West is always evil,… Read more »
My understanding is that even Kimerle Crenshaw has despaired at the way ‘intersectionality’ is now used. The thing to keep in mind is she’s a legal scholar and the original paper was in relation to work place discrimination class action law suits. Now the obvious thing about class actions is that they are by their nature reductive, you’re literally saying people belong in a group together because they’ve been harmed in some way due either some attribute about them or someone event that’s occurred. However no one sane thinks either that attiribute or event encompasses everything about them or that what’s given rise to the harm is their entire life. You’re reducing them to a single thing for the purposes of the law suit. Crenshaw’s observation was that doing this can miss ways people are harmed ie a black woman may suffer discrimination in a way a white women or… Read more »
Well, if that happened, that was a good sign that you were winning the argument.
The far (i.e. “progressive”) left loves to pull out insults whenever they begin losing. These insults are vile, creative, and show the ugly mind behind them. But, whenever you start getting them, it means you are making a good argument and the other person has nothing to reply with. Being shown that they are wrong with facts and logic triggers them, and they need to restore mental homeostasis. Thus, the ad hominem attack, which as you correctly observed enables them to permissibly use racist slurs, classist bigotry, and other ugliness that the far left says are unacceptable for (anyone but themselves) to say.
If they had an argument, they would use it. But they don’t, so the racist insult means you won whatever argument you were having at the time.
Liberal feminisim imposes islamic patriarchy and strict islamic dress code not only Muslim girls in Europe but also over secularist girls.
What a paradox.
As I wrote last night, while Marian Hennings observed that “All cultures are not of equal worth even though all racial groups are,” I myself noted that it may be really more correct to say that “Not all aspects of all cultures are of equal worth.” Thoughtful liberals (and thoughtful conservatives), for a moment borrowing a favorite postmodernist and “critical race/gender theory” buzzword, should not “valorize” any culture in its entirety–whether “Western” or “non-Western,” “white” or “non-white.” At the same time, I’d add, they likewise should not “devalorize” (to coin a PoMospeak neologism) the entirety of any culture, either–whether it be the culture of dusky-complected Middle Easterners, of pale-complected white working-class Middle Americans, or of similarly pale-complected college-educated upper-middle-class “cultural elite” liberals. Thoughtful liberals and thoughtful conservatives alike should always be careful to distinguish between the vicious, dangerous, or stupid aspects of any culture (or any belief-system) and its harmless,… Read more »
I really like your article, but I’m wondering if there is a terminology different between US and UK? Here in the UK, in my experience, it is 3rd wave/liberal feminists who accuse 2nd wave/radical feminists of being ‘white feminists’ for the reasons you outline. I agree with you, that what is good for the goose should be good for the gander, but that is considered anti-liberal-feminism, and old-fashioned second-wavism amongst younger liberal third-wavers. Someone like me who shares your beliefs would be dismissed as a ‘white feminist’ specifically by the liberal feminists. I’d love to have this conversation with you!
The author comes uncomfortably close to implying that Everything is not whitey’s fault. Perhaps she’d like to clarify that, since such an implication would be heresy?
The very first time I saw the term “intersectionalist” a couple of years ago, I initially thought it meant the exact opposite of what in fact it’s come to be used these days. I thought it meant someone who recognizes that individuals are often pulled in different and even opposite political directions by their various simultaneous identities and affiliations–e.g., by their social class, their gender, their race or ethnicity, their religion, etc. Thus, I thought, “intersectionalism” meant the observation, for example, that a given individual might be pulled ideologically to the Left by his or her economic position but at the same time to the Right by his or her religion, or conversely to the Right by his or her economic status but to the Left by his or her membership in a discriminated-against or oppressed ethnic, racial, or religious minority. “Intersectionalism,” I thus thought, meant a recognition of such… Read more »
Good article. I am happy to see that some students are not buying into the silliness being promoted. I would call this author a liberal feminist, which is what I am. I agree with her emphasis on social evils such as honor killings, FGM, and forcing women into purely subservient, domestic roles. It doesn’t matter what racial groups exhibit these atrocious customs. All cultures are not of equal worth even though all racial groups are.
“—while I can study and work—my end goal should be to become a wife and bear children.”
Given that women have a monopoly on this it’s not unreasonable.
A man’s only value is how much he can support a woman. Replacement of men in the labor market has cause wage stagnation, broken families, a deficit of qualified husbands, and increased inequity.
So long as feminism (or any -ism) draws the battle lines internally – white feminism, black feminism, liberal, radical, intersectional – the forces aligned against it are happy. This is why I am no longer a progressive. Progressive in the Civil Rights/hippie 1960s meant obliterating the walls between races, genders, etc. Battle lines were not demographic but ideological. Joining hands on our side were white, black, male, female, gay – all in it together against a corroded ideology. Progressives today have taken 180-degree turn. They are all about rebuilding those walls – white can’t know black, male can’t know female – it’s all about guarding your demographic turf. It used to be that feminists and progressive males could stand together in large numbers. Try as they might, conservatives were unable to drive a wedge between them. But it seems today that feminists and progressives are hell-bent to drive in that… Read more »
What was it?