In January, I wrote a monster essay defining the way I use the term "white feminism." A phenomenon that goes by many names, white feminism is essentially the practice of centering the issues that disproportionately affect white, middle-class western women, while specifically and intentionally excluding or ignoring the often more pressing issues that affect the women who do not meet this criteria, namely women of colour. "White feminism" is feminism without intersectionality. That's it. That's all it is.
And yet, white feminists still don't get it.
Nearly a year later, the mainstream white feminist media still fiercely and disproportionately protects whiteness, c
ausing active harm to women of colour. I got a lot of pushback on that essay because my use of
the term "white feminist" was perceived as racist and exclusionary, but frankly I don't give a fuck. Watching feminist discourse unfold online over the last year has reinforced for me that white feminism is dangerous and has no place in the movement. Actively harmful and violent shit happened time after time after time, and those of us who called it out were shouted down as divisive, race-baiting, jealous and toxic.
Everyone's praxis is different, but as Flavia Dzodan once said, "My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit." So in no particular order, here's part one of the greatest hits list of all the ways that white feminism was bullshit this year.
1. Saartjie Baartman: The Original Booty Queen: In one of the more egregious examples of disregard for the painful history of sexualization that black women were subjected to, Jezebel published a guest essay which posited that Saartjie Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, was actually a "diva" and "illegal immigrant" who used her body to "strike it rich." The problems with the essay are too numerous to name, and "revisionist" doesn't even cover it.
2. Amanda Marcotte Advocates Incarceration Rape Victims to Force Compliance: Because further traumatizing a rape victim by subjecting them to legal sanctions and jail is exactly the way we encourage more victims to speak up about their assaults. Marcotte's assertion is that putting the rapist in jail is more important that catering to the well-being of the victim, but considering that few rapists are ever prosecuted or even charged, is it really okay to prioritize what has proven to be an ineffective legal system over the mental and physical well-being of the victim of the crime?
3. The Art Center College Thinks Beyoncé is Hijacking Feminism: The racial divide in the feminist movement is nothing new, and the targeting of Beyoncé's feminism in particular has been a favourite white feminist past time in 2014, but ACC sunk to a new low when it published the course description for a class called "Pretty Hurts" that not only called Beyoncé's feminism into question, but implied she had no right to identify with the movement at all because her husband "is a pimp." It was yet another blow in the ongoing struggle between white and black feminists, and was rightfully recognized as an institutional attempt to separate feminism from blackness.
4. Blake Lively Pines for the Antebellum South: In a particularly tone deaf move, Blake Lively's new curated lifestyle website Preserve posted a fashion spread titled "Allure of the Antebellum" with copy that waxed poetic about the nostalgia of the Old South, and the beauty of the Southern Belle. You know, those women "with an inherent social distinction" whose wealth was a direct consequence of the slave trade. Yeah...
5. Iggy Azalea Is Protected from Misogyny While Azealia Banks Is Forced To Fend For Herself: Earlier this year, Snoop Dogg began taking potshots at Iggy Azalea on social media, spouting various misogynistic insults. While Iggy shot back, it was ultimately her mentor T.I. who stepped in to squash the beef. Snoop apologized and it was done, and the media narrative was overwhelmingly in Iggy's favour. However, Azealia Banks, rightfully called attention to the fact that T.I. had previously threatened her safety on social media, and coverage was not as sympathetic. While Banks has a poor reputation for the number of squabbles she gets into, she correctly pointed out the way misogynoir played into the coverage of this story. Beefs have been part of hip-hop culture since its inception, and rappers were expected to handle it on their own, woman or not. That Iggy was attacked and the media closed ranks around her, while the same happened to Banks and she was hung out to dry is a strong indication of the way that white womanhood is protected, while black womanhood is devalued. (And this doesn't even cover their most recent dust up over cultural appropriation, and Iggy's tone deaf response.)
6. Feminism Forgets The Fappening Affected Black Women Too: As an A-list celebrity having a big year, Jennifer Lawrence unwittingly became the face of the celebrity nude leak that saw numerous famous women's private photographs posted online against their wishes. Most if not all the coverage focused on her, while briefly mentioning other white women who had also been victimized. Not included in those lists? Women like Gabrielle Union, Jill Scott, Keke Palmer and Meagan Good, who were all targeted in the leak, but received little to no coverage or support. The racial disparity in coverage in just one of the myriad of ways in which mainstream feminism demonstrates that advocating for women of colour is not a priority for the movement.
7. Marie Claire Atributes Cornrows to Kendall Jenner: In another infuriating instance of cultural appropriation, Marie Claire proclaimed that Kendall Jenner had taken bold braids to "an epic new level." Claiming that a style that has been around in diasporic black communities for years is now epic when appropriated by a white woman, continues fashion's long racist tradition of denigrating styles created by minority women as "ghetto" or "low class" until they have been subsumed by whiteness.
8. The New York Times Calls Viola Davis "Less Classically Beautiful": This particular piece of garbage failed in 7 different ways. In addition to portraying #TGIT showrunner Shonda Rhimes as an "angry black woman," NYTimes writer Alessandra Stanley framed Viola Davis, star of the breakout hit How To Get Away With Murder and all round flawless person as "less classically beautiful," comparing her unfavorably to Halle Berry and Kerry Washington and studiously making mention of her age and dark skin. What makes this incident so particularly irritating is that Davis' role on the flourishing primetime drama is revolutionary because of those things, and this article, (which also called Clare Huxtable benign, because Stanley has clearly never even SEEN The Cosby Show) effectively used them as a tool against her and all the dark skinned black women who were finally being represented on television because of her. It reinforced the status quo that places dark-skinned black women are at the bottom of the desirability hierarchy, and that anything they might accomplish has happened despite that presumed fact.
9. Plastic Surgery Shaming Is Only Okay If You're Talking About Lil Kim: Earlier this year, Renée Zellweger stepped out with a brand new face. Gone were the signature apple cheeks that make Bridget Jones (a personal hero of mine) so lovable. Understandably, people were shocked. Renée still looked lovely, she simply looked like an entirely different person. But those of us who pointed that out were labelled as anti-feminist body shamers. It seemed we'd collectively forgotten the decade of mocking that we'd subjected Lil Kim too, with nary a word in her defense. Personally I think you're allowed to do whatever you like with your body and neither women's plastic surgery bothers me. But when you defend the white woman, and mock the black one for exactly the same "crime" the racism starts to seep through.
10. Annie Lennox Says Twerking Isn't Feminist: Because apparently Annie Lennox is the arbiter of such things. In the lead up to the release of her latest album (more on that nonsense in part two) Annie declared not only that Beyoncé was "feminist lite" but that that "twerking is not feminism. [...] It's not liberating, it's not empowering." Strawmen sure are fun aren't they? To be fair, she was asked for her opinion. But for Lennox to declare a form of cultural expression to be outside the bounds of feminist praxis because... sexual, not only ignores a lot of feminist history, but curiously manages to demonize black women, while giving, say, Madonna a pass. It's a naked attempt to position the lived experiences of black women as antithetical to feminism.
And that's just the first ten. This list isn't meant to accuse, but simply to show examples of the kind of thing that us "toxic black ladies" are "always yelling about" on twitter. This is the kind of thing that we see happening day in and day out. This is the kind of thing that we're being asked to cosign, while our very humanity and dignity is debated like a rhetorical talking point.
White feminism wanted proof. Here it is.
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow.