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My Thoughts on White Feminism in the Media

Josephine O'Brien

October 25th, 2017


Throughout history, white women have promoted an activism that exclusively focuses around their struggles as women, excluding women of color.


White feminism, as defined by Urban Dictionary, is “a brand of feminism centered around the ideals and struggles of primarily white women. While not outright exclusive, its failure to consider other women and its preoccupation with Western standards and the problems faced by the ‘average woman’ is often alienating to women of color, non-straight women, trans women, and women belonging to religious or cultural minorities.” Mainstream feminism has often been, and continues to be exclusive and alienating to women of color, queer and trans women, and disabled/neuroatypical women.


Parallel to this form of exclusive feminism is intersectional feminism, an important movement that fights for the equality of all women, and grapples with the crossroads of systemic privilege. Although an increasing amount of people are learning about intersectional feminism, due to the perpetuation of white feminism in the media, too much of today’s “feminism” is actually white-washed. This creates a poisonous environment that pushes marginalized groups out of a movement that should be working and fighting with them.


Many praised “feminist” celebrities not really representing the true, inclusive, intersectional movement that feminist should be at all. Prominent white celebrities hide behind the “feminist” label while continuing to problematically hurt marginalized groups.


This sort of white feminism continues to be normalized in the media. And while white feminist celebrities are more frequently being called out on their problematic actions, these white feminists are still often the “feminist icons” of our society.


In the media (Hollywood, the news, and the Internet, etc), intersectional feminism continues to be considered a more radical version of feminism, when it really is the only type of feminist activism that should be accepted as legitimate and genuine. Popular, white feminist celebrities are given large amounts of time to talk about their “movement” and are often only critiqued by social media and more modern, liberal online news sources, while intersectional feminists (the majority of them queer women and women of color) rarely have the same chance to speak or be heard on an important platform, and are considered to have a “rare” and radical viewpoint.


Lena Dunham, the “posterchild for White Feminism” according to Thought Catalog, and her clique of white feminist friends (who I’ll get to later), are often praised by the media for their “feminism”, while Dunham has done many problematic things that are very, very anti-feminist. She’s said some seriously offensive things, like that she’s never had an abortion but wishes she had. She also wrote a racist essay on Japan and racist material on India, and wrote a disturbing passage about molesting her younger sister in her memoir. She does not mention intersectionality; her “feminist” show, Girls, has an entirely white cast, and her activism has done nothing to help women of color, queer women or other marginalized groups.


Another example of a classic white feminist is Amy Schumer. Although Schumer is well-known for being body positive, she’s made countless problematic and racist jokes that reveal the true, tasteless racism of her comedy. As Sade Andria Zabala of Thought Catalog writes, “[Schumer] doesn’t take responsibility for her words and doesn’t use criticism against her in order to evolve as an artist and person. Instead she firmly stands her ground, proceeds to produce the same tired material, and shouts ‘I’m not racist!’”


Miley Cyrus, the Disney Channel star turned pop musician has spoken out against sexism as a white feminist, but has built her career off of exploiting black culture, while not discussing important issues prevalent to the African-American community. This spring, Cyrus reinvented her image again, showing how she appropriated black culture when it was convenient to her, then discarded it when it wasn’t useful to her anymore.


Taylor Swift is another well-known white feminist. Swift has a famous clique filled with other white feminist friends and hid behind the “feminist” label for her brand, has culturally appropriated and used people of color as props in videos, has stayed silent on many important (actually feminist) issues, and came under fire for a imperial-era nameless African setting for her “Wildest Dreams” music video.


Yes, many white feminist celebrities have done beneficial and important things, and I am not saying those are not valid, but their actions do not erase the problematic activities they are involved in, and their continued part in the harmful white feminist movement. And of course, white feminists are not limited to just this list. The media is filled with white feminism, which we must look out for and call out.


Instead of supporting white feminists, let’s support Intersectional Feminists and queer people of color. Some inspirational intersectional feminists that you can start following now include but are not limited to: Amandla Stenberg, Rowan Blanchard, Laverne Cox, Rosario Dawson, Constance Wu, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Zendaya, Margaret Cho, Malala Yousafzai, and Angela Davis.


Learn more about White Feminism and Intersectional Feminism:

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