The Dangers of White Feminism
Updated: Mar 19
During the spring of 2020, singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey sparked controversy when she posted about her reputation and said, “Now that Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f---ing, cheating etc - can I please go back to singing about being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship is not perfect, or dancing for money, or whatever I want, without being crucified or saying that I'm glamorizing abuse?”
The fact that Del Rey named artists who were mostly women of color brought attention to the issue of how women of color are put down in the name of a white woman’s empowerment. The post was anti-feminist and perfectly showcased the issue of white feminism.
Intersectionality in the feminist movement has been a legitimate issue, especially since its leaders have historically been upper and middle-class white women. Women of color and LGBTQ+ women’s issues being are often shut out. The lack of intersectionality in the feminist movement has earned the name “white feminism” and those who take part in it “white feminists." Dictionary.com defines “white feminism” as “the label given to feminist efforts and actions that uplift white women but that exclude or otherwise fail to address issues faced by minority groups, especially women of color and LGBTQ women."
The history of white feminism has been a serious issue in the women’s rights movement since the early suffragettes, who were typically white, upper-class women and prioritized the white woman’s vote over the Black man’s. The women’s suffrage movement temporarily split during the civil war over the abolition of slavery, and would then either discriminate against Black women or completely exclude them. Even when discussing the history of women’s suffrage, activists of color such as Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells are excluded from the narrative.
White feminism discounts or outright ignores the struggles of women of color and places white women at the center of the movement. There is always the topic of fragility in this matter, in this case when a white woman is told her behavior is harming women of color and she becomes defensive and denies it. In June of 2020, the co-founder of Refinery 29, a women’s magazine, was accused of contributing to a toxic work environment that discriminated against employees of color. She eventually resigned after several employees came forward via social media to describe their experiences. The same women who claim to be allies and progressives often stay silent or promote regressive agendas for the sake of their own comfort and fear of accountability. It is not up to women of color to make white women feel comfortable in these discussions, and it is up to white women to not let their discomfort get in the way of listening to their counterparts.
When a woman of color shares her experience, white women should not argue, interrupt, or try to change the subject. Being uncomfortable is a sign that you need to listen and learn about the experiences of marginalized women. To become true allies we must sacrifice our fragility and comfort for the sake of having an open and honest feminist movement that is truly representative of all women.