We’ve all seen that term at this point.
It’s become kind of a catch-all for feminist activism that, intentionally or otherwise, reproduces racism, ableism, transmisogyny, imperialism, etc. etc.
there’s a critique to be made there already (the co-optation of a phrase coined to talk about the racism of mainstream feminist practice into a catch-all term for general shitty feminism
is white fucking feminism in a nutshell, yall) but I wanna talk about the discursive role it has come to occupy more broadly recently.I’ll be up front: I don’t like the term.
Like white people who make white people jokes, or men who say they just don’t like other men,
I think it gets used to distance ourselves from shitty feminist praxis without understanding why the practice in question is bad, or taking any material action to disrupt it.
Speaking from experience, I see, for example, folks who will call TERFs White Feminists in the same breath they will call Lean In types White Feminists,
and while that stems from a much-appreciated recognition that both of these schools of thought have some big fucking problems,
it conflates them in a way that betrays a serious lack of understanding of what those problems are.Our feminist theory and practice demand specificity.
They cannot exist purely in opposition to an ill-defined, monolithically-constructed Bad Feminism. For one, if we ever hope to achieve anything, they must stand FOR something, as well.
But also our criticisms are toothless if we aren’t willing to take specific, intentional action based on them.
I don’t wanna fucking hear you talk about how TERFs are White Feminists, and of course,
you aren’t–I wanna hear about what you’re doing to dismantle transmisogyny through your own feminist activism (actually I don’t, I want you to do it without expecting back pats from trans women,
but you know how it is).
I don’t wanna hear that having cops at your event is such a White Feminist thing to do–I wanna hear what you’re doing to dismantle the racist carceral state,
and how your feminism envisions community accountability once it’s gone.None of this is to say that “White Feminism” is useless conceptually.
Like, racism is not dead in feminist communities, so obviously it isn’t.
But the way I see the concept deployed these days serves the function of (a) erasing the specificity of feminism’s many varied (intersectional, even!
) failings across its many diverse schools (radical feminism is rife with transmisogyny but produced important insights about lesbian identity; womanism has issues with homophobia but was
a source of critical work around the liberation of women of color; liberal feminism is a capitalist, imperialist shitshow, but it became the premiere face of feminist activism,
so maybe we can learn from it, etc.) and (b) allowing a quick-and-easy-but-not-materially-significant disidentification with the systems of oppression thus hidden from view.
Building an inclusive, accessible, intersectional (I hate to use that word, though,
‘cuz I really don’t think most people using it actually understand what it means beyond being a vague stand-in for “diverse”, which is W-R-O-N-G,
but it’s gotta be part of the answer) feminism is not something you can do by snarkily shit-talking White Feminists.
It takes energy and time, it takes knowing specifically what Your Shit is, and it takes a specific plan for Unpacking Your Shit (And Burning It If Need Be).
The “White Feminism” rhetorically-constructed monolith is not useful to that end (unless we are specifically talking about racism in feminist movements, which we clearly need to do, yall).
So please, for my sake at least–give women of color their terminology and language back, and spend some time analyzing your feminism for bullshit, WITHOUT a reductive,
simplistic caricature against which you inevitably look good, close at hand. We all deserve better.