A few months ago, I wrote an article on PolicyMic explaining why I am not a feminist. One of the reasons I gave was because racism and classism are endemic in the movement. Many women of color and working-class women do not have access to the necessary resources to help them advocate for themselves, and I believe feminism is far too absorbed in its own dialectical processes to bridge this gap. Earlier this week, the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen on Twitter went viral. Its creator, a black feminist coined it in reaction to Hugo Scwhyzer allegedly attacking feminist women of color before his fall from grace. It was an eye-opening moment that gave the feminist community pause. The idea that feminism treats all women equally had been challenged, if not shattered.
I want to take the conversation a step further and postulate it’s not just solidarity that’s for white women. Feminism itself is for white women. By “white” I’m not talking exclusively about race. I’m talking about native-English speaking, upper-middle-class, educated women. They’re the only group of women for whom feminism seems to have any relevance or long-term benefit. That hasn’t always been the case, but feminism has become increasingly whitewashed and richer since the movement’s inception nearly fifty years ago.
During my time at Wesleyan, many of the radical feminists on campus where white and came from privileged backgrounds. Few of the female women of color self-identified as feminists (if they did, they were less vocal about it). At a place that purported to promote diversity and equality, that contrast always bothered me. Yes, I know bell hooks and other prominent feminists are women of color, but that does not make feminism any less a white woman’s playground. Tokenism is not diversity. Pointing to a few brown faces in a crowd does not come close to including more voices we need to hear; it only shows that they were lucky enough to sneak in without being noticed. One of the most powerful #solidarityisforwhitewomen tweets by @mcbyrne read, “talk[ing about] glass ceiling[s] without making sure everyone is in the building first.” Amen, sister.
The fundamental reason I am not a feminist is that I won’t stand with a movement that leaves so many women behind. In many ways, feminism’s attitudes are just as patronizing to women as the patriarchy it dismantled. The message that women need to be “enlightened”, unchained from their stoves and dispatched on a journey of sexual self-discovery is not relevant to all women everywhere. Instead of detailing how to lift women out of poverty, educate them, get them jobs, and empower them to defend themselves against violence, feminism has been couched in academic terms that are inapplicable to the everyday woman’s plight. Waving around brightly-colored charts about consent is not going to solve the fact that 1 out of 5 women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Teaching women to be on the lookout for violent behavior and supporting them as they take control of their lives will. The fact that we hear stories about women who step away from six-figure salaries to raise their own children while those of of middle and working-class women have managed to work full-time and raise their own children go unmentioned demonstrates the sharp divide between women who can afford to tow feminist line and those who cannot.
I believe all women should be educated, economically self-sufficient, sexually satisfied, and free from the threat of violence. The fact that I am a non-feminist does not mean that my vision for women is diametrically opposed to that of feminists; I get along with and respect many of them. I simply choose to view empowering women not as a feminist cause but as a tenet of human morality. We cannot be a strong society if women are not safe. Women need to be empowered, not just by knowing terms like “consent” and “cis” “genderqueer”, but by finding the words to join the conversation so we have a range and plurality of voices. We need to find the words to describe our present reality and how we want to create a better future for ourselves and our daughters. That’s not feminism. That’s progress.