I cannot call myself a feminist. The reason why was not an easy or quick revelation for me, but I can remember exactly how it happened. Several months ago I came across an article on a website about women who started a movement against feminism called “I Don’t Need Feminism.” In the article were pictures of women holding up signs that explained why they would not call themselves feminists. Some women said they were not man haters. Others said they were not oppressed in the workplace or weak in their homes. However, none of those women looked like me.
I went to the article’s comment section in the hopes that I would find more answers. Were these women right to denounce the current feminist movement? Why was there a lack of women of color in the article? Did this not pertain to women like me? The comments did nothing to answer those questions. Instead, I found myself reading an extensive argument between strangers over why feminism is not what it appears to be.
According to a basic definition, feminism is a type of advocacy for women’s social, political, and economic rights. It is about equality of the sexes. Any case that has to deal with gender- or sexuality-based oppression, stereotyping, objectification, or infringements of human rights is a feminist issue. It does not matter if you are a man or a woman. If you are against sexism and believe in equality, then technically you are a feminist.
Feminism sounds like a wonderful thing, and it is, on a certain level. If you are a middle-class white woman, feminism is great. It should be. It speaks more to a white woman’s experiences than the experiences of women of color. There is an assumption behind the movement that the white woman’s experiences represent the lives of all women. This simply is not true. The feminist movement largely ignores the struggles women of color face.
The revelation that feminism is colorblind is why I could not be a feminist.
When I think about that article about women who denounced the feminist movement, I remember that not one of those women spoke about the inequalities women faced within our gender. Not one of them discussed the inequalities transgendered women faced within their new gender. The argument I read in the comment section was full of women who were angry at those who said they were not feminists, not because they had valid points about the movement’s flaws but because they did not fit neatly into the mold they expected feminists to have. Though the article was about why some women felt they did not need feminism, some of the readers explained that they did not need the movement because it never fully included them.
The article confused me. The comments confused me further. I could not understand how men and women who believed in equality among the sexes could not comprehend why others had different opinions and experiences. Yes, equality between the sexes is something we should all strive for, but I had one question to ask the women who were so adamant about all women needing feminism.
“If all women are unequal to men, then why am I — a black woman — still unequal to you?”
The problem with feminism is that white women and women of color both suffer from misogyny and injustice, but we do not necessarily experience them the same way. For instance, equal pay has been a feminist issue for decades. The gap is slowly closing, but it is still present. At the moment, white women make 78 cents to a man’s dollar. The pay is far from equal. However, black and Hispanic/Latina women make only 64 cents and 53 cents to a man’s dollar, respectively. While there is a discernible wage gap between white women and their male counterparts, women of color fall far below that.
The differences in pay show me that despite the fact that women as whole face sexist injustices on a regular basis, white privilege is prevalent in white women, even if they do not recognize it. According to some people, racism is the same as bigotry and prejudice, and discrimination only happens on a one-on-one basis; there is no such thing as invisible systems that create racial domination from birth. As part of the dominant group, white women receive certain advantages that are not easily accessible to minorities, such as receiving educational materials that celebrate successes and contributions to their race and not having to act as a representative for one’s racial group. While white people are taught that they are “moral, honest, and fair” and can dictate what is right and wrong, a majority of people of color share a different perspective. To some of us, we perceive white people as behaving oppressively or self-serving. Their truth is not my truth.
I firmly believe that gender-based oppression is wrong, and I will always speak out on it. We should all be paid appropriately for our time and efforts, not based on our gender. I believe women are strong, and we do not need to bend to any stereotype placed over us. I believe in equality. However, I do not believe that one group can speak for everyone. As a black woman, I have my battles to overcome, and colorblind feminism will not help me achieve them.