Earlier this month when Donald Trump was elected as the next president of America, many of us rushed to our keyboards to vent our anger and disappointment. Amongst all the ranting, one of the popular ideas that surfaced was the idea that Trump’s victory was a result of sexism and people being unwilling to vote for a female president. As a feminist, it upsets me that a woman lost a job to a man far less qualified than her, who speaks about women in such a derogatory manner. However, to claim that the election result is a consequence of prejudice against women is very ignorant. As statistics have shown, the majority of white women in America voted for Trump, demonstrating that they are willing to vote for a candidate who symbolises white supremacy even if it means voting for misogyny. To suggest that this election was lost due to sexism instead of due to racism is a prime example of “white feminism”, a strand of feminism that fails to recognise oppression that women face in other cultures.
I asked a friend, who is a black feminist, if she would share her experiences of how being a POC feminist is different to being a white feminist and what her experiences of white feminism are. “[As a black woman] we are literally at the bottom of the social food chain” she told me, “not only do we have to overcome oppression from the black male, but also oppression from all the other races of males and females above us, you could argue that, in certain societies, white women only have to contend with white men, as their white privilege already sets them ahead of many other races, despite the patriarchy”. When I looked into this I found that in the USA in 2013, white women were, although being paid significantly less than white men, being paid more than both black and Hispanic men. I was amazed that I had never read about this before, either on social media or in news debates about the wage gap, which goes to show the extent to which the media under-emphasises non-white issues in the feminist movement.
The issue of cultural appropriation, an issue that white people don’t have to deal with, was also raised. “Lots of features of our culture, hairstyles, big lips, stuff like that, is much more likely to be used in the media by people who don’t naturally have those attributes. Media imagery that is degrading towards women, or overly sexualised, often uses these features. Black features are being sexualised, but not portrayed as beautiful, and when these features are presented as beautiful it is on a woman of a different race”. An example of this is Kylie Jenner, a white woman, altering her appearance to have fuller lips, and then being worshipped on Instagram, with thousands of fans ordering lip plumpers and doing the “Kylie Jenner Challenge” to make their lips appear fuller. Another example of a white woman gaining success through appropriating black culture is X Factor contestant Honey G. Anyone who has ever listened to professional rap music can tell that Honey G’s attempt at rapping is far from being good, and if a young black male were to audition for the show and rap to the same standard that she does it would be ridiculed. However, because she is a 35 year old white woman, she has managed to reach the Live Shows with an amateur performance.
Another friend, who is an Asian feminist, explained that “a lot of white feminists just ignore their own privilege”. Although it’s great that the feminist movement fights for the equality of women and men as a whole, you can see how feminism in this country puts barely any emphasis on problems that are not relevant to white women. For example many feminist Harry Potter fans are quick to gush about what a wonderful feminist figure Emma Watson is, yet you will rarely hear any of them mention how, in the Harry Potter franchise, the character of Lavender Brown was originally played by a black actress, but when the role became more prominent, a white actress was re-cast in the role.
White feminism causes disunity between feminists, pushes people away from the movement, and is bad for feminism as a whole. Some misogynists are quick to use the ignorance of white feminists to present everyday sexism as a non-issue. For example, tweets that read “In some countries women aren’t allowed to vote and you lot are complaining about dress codes” suggest that some women don’t have the right to complain about sexist dress codes because there are women in other countries who are more significantly oppressed. Obviously it is not fair to claim that sexist dress codes are acceptable because discrimination of any form is wrong. But if white feminists were to put more emphasis on promoting issues that affect women in other cultures it would bring more unity and to the feminist movement and attract more people to identify as feminists. However when white feminists only put emphasis on issues that directly affect them, it makes it impossible for the feminist community to unite in bringing about meaningful change.
Edited by: Sarah Holmes