The Ways in Which Hollywood is a Breeding Ground for White Feminism

In high school I went through a phase where all I read were memoirs written by celebrity women. Most notably, I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham and many more. Memoir is one of the most important tools in feminist history; it has shaped the world with classics such as Fun Home by Alison Bechdel or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. When I was a teenager I believed that reading the memoirs of celebrity women was adding to the canon of feminist literature, and to some extent it is. However, looking back those celebrity memoirs were almost exclusively about white women (with the exception of Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling) with a lot of privilege.

This isn’t to say those books are without value to feminist literature. Amy Schumer discusses her struggle of being in an abusive relationship. Tina Fey talks about being one of the first women writers in a male-dominated industry and her fight against blatant sexism. Lena Dunham explains her history of sexual assault (an extremely pertinent topic at the moment). These stories are valuable, but extremely limited. These memoirs all come from rich, successful and mostly white, straight women. While their stories are valid, they lack diversity.

This is probably due to the lack of diversity among celebrities, which is in and of itself a problem. Hollywood’s lack of diversity teaches viewers to praise white celebrities while viewing them as the norm. In Simone de Beauvoir's book The Second Sex she states, “Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female — whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.” While she uses this quote to convey the discrimination in terms of gender, it can also describe the difference in how one views race. White is defined as a human being, and people other ethnicities are meant to copy them. At least that is how how culture thinks about race. If a white person is caught with marijuana it is normal. If a person of color is seen with the same drugs, they are thought of as a felon. This issue of portraying white as good and every other color as copying that good only perpetuates a white supremacy.

It is not a surprising fact that the majority of celebrities are white. While this has been changing recently, the change has not been expansive enough. When the people who create our entertainment are all white, that is the only story that gets told, both on and off screen. De Beauvoir comments on this idea, specifying it along gender lines: “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.” Representation is one of the main issue when it comes to white feminism, which is constantly perpetuated through Hollywood. It is not that white women do not believe in equality, it is that they are the voices that are heard the most, when they are usually the ones who struggle the least. When white women (or men) are the ones writing songs and plays and scripts, their voices are the ones that are heard. The struggles of those who are black, Hispanic, gay, bi, trans etc. are ignored.

A fight for equality without diversity inherently enhances a white supremacist viewpoint. This is not to say that people who are white feminists, or those that are white at all, are consciously contributing to white supremacy; /that’s ridiculous. But when white feminists fight against the struggles that only white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle class women face, then those are the only people benefiting from the conversation. This creates a greater disparity along socioeconomic lines between those with privilege and those in marginalized groups. When the voices of white women are the only ones heard, their problems are the only ones to get fixed. While their problems may be valid, there are those in marginalized groups whose struggles are much more severe. White feminists may consciously oppose white supremacy, but feminism without internationality leads to the advancement of those who are already privileged (white people) leaving those less privileged (people of color, queer people etc.) without the tools or a voice to help them advance at the same rate. When white feminists are the only ones being heard, they marginalize other groups even further.

But then how is Hollywood to blame? After all the entertainment community is known for being extremely liberal. It is great that many celebrities consider themselves feminists and care about equal rights for all. However, thinking something and acting on those thoughts are not the same. In Roxane Gay’s book Bad Feminist, she discusses the privilege of certain women, stating, “You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don’t have to apologize for it. You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.” Gay’s claim that once one recognizes their privilege they “don’t necessarily have to do anything” is problematic. It implies that if one internally recognizes privilege they don’t need to change any of their behavior or outward expressions of privilege. However, if one refuses to act they let systemic oppression advance, and continue to reap the benefits of it. Changing one’s behavior does not necessarily mean renouncing all benefits of having privilege, and I agree with Gay when she says “you don’t have to apologize for it,” but more needs to be done. Celebrity feminists don’t acknowledge their privilege enough, then speak on behalf of all women.

But what about Beyoncé? Beyoncé’s a feminist and she’s not white. It is great that Beyoncé is a non-white feminist who discusses the issue women of color face. But where there is one Beyoncé, there are 10 white cishet women also voicing their problems. There needs to be more women like Beyoncé who represent a wider degree of backgrounds. Even Beyoncé is surrounded by privilege; she has been famous since her teen years. The trick to overcoming white dominance in celebrity feminism is to have greater representation.

I struggle with this as a white woman writing about feminism and wanting to voice the gender based issues I have faced. Ending white dominance in celebrity feminism is not about silencing the voices of white women, but raising the voices of those who are not heard. Celebrity feminism is white feminism, and ending that starts with creating more diversity. There need to be more women from diverse backgrounds working in entertainment: writing, acting, designing and publishing. Only when those women are able to make the content that represents themselves and women like them will celebrity feminism be more inclusive. Those memoirs I read in high school were great, but I, and feminists like me, need a more comprehensive reading list from those whose voices are heard the most.