Looking back on 2015, there was plenty of trouble for white women and white feminism. From HIllary Clinton to Rachel Dolezal to the film about the suffragettes to Hollywood taste-makers, there were new incidents, but old patterns.
Back in January, 2014 I started a series about the trouble with white women and white feminism. Since then, I’ve written about 18 posts, for a total of around 35,000 words – or, half a book. Here, I’m collecting them all in one place and re-ordering them by theme. There’s more I want to say on this subject, but I wanted to collect the writing I’ve done so far into one post because people often request this, and because it’s another step toward crafting this into a full-fledged book project. As I continue to add posts to the series, I’ll include them here, so drop a bookmark on this page if you find it useful.
I opened with something of a personal note, that some of my closest friends are white women. I, myself, am a white woman. I have been helped in my career by white women, many of them white feminists. And, perhaps predictably, I come from a long line of white women ancestors, whose lives were constrained by gender. I found feminism and a way to a different life. But what I observed at the outset is still true: There’s a consistency to the way white women behave and white feminists respond that is both troubling and requires critical attention.
Part I. White Women in the Early U.S.
In this section, I try to parse “white women” from “white feminism.” The overall point here is to look at there are ways in which white women have played a significant role in shaping white supremacy and benefiting from it. Sometimes, this is separate from feminism (by white women who don’t identify as feminist), sometimes it’s consistent with feminism. Not all white women are feminists, and historically speaking, feminism is an idea that early white women lifted (you could say “stole” and you wouldn’t be wrong) from Native American women.
Part II. The Rise of the Professional, Managerial Class of White Women
The trouble with white women and white feminism is rooted in a particular class politics. There is a sociological literature on the rise of the professional-managerial class (PMC), as a distinct class position, which has grown significantly in the US over the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st century. These include jobs like teachers, social workers, engineers, managers, nurses, and middle-level business or government administrators, jobs where white women are disproportionately represented. This class position available to some white women overlaps with particular racial identity formation, in which “management” of one’s self, one’s body, one’s family is part of success. Taken together, these make a particular kind of feminism appealing to white women of the professional-managerial class.
Part III. White Women + Institutional Racism
White women create, actively participate in maintaining, and benefit from, institutional racism. (This is easily the section I’d like to work on more, and there are bits of this in other posts.)
Part IV. White Women in Popular Culture Representations
Representations of white women in U.S. popular culture are pervasive, problematic and largely lacking in a sustained critique. Here, I make an effort to launch such a critique in contemporary popular culture.
Part V. Contemporary Feminism, #Hashtags and the Continuing Trouble
Easily the most important contribution to the revitalization feminism in the last fifty years has been Kimberlé Crenshaw (and other black feminists’) idea of intersectionality. That is the notion that ‘woman’ is not a unified category in which all women share the same interests, but rather ‘woman’ is intersected by race, by class, and by sexuality and (cis)gender identity. Second to that theoretical and political contribution to feminism, the most important contribution in the last fifty years is arguably the Internet. In some ways, these two advances – – intersectional feminism and the Internet — have been on a collision course.
One of the key themes that runs through this work is that white women occupy a particular structural position that enables them (/us) to access more resources (relative to women and men of color): education, jobs, houses, health care, leisure time. This structural advantage creates an affinity for ‘gender only’ feminism and a kind of dissimilitude with intersectional feminism.
To the extent that white women take up feminism to advocate for equality to white men, that feminism is consistent with white supremacy. For me, personally, it continues to be important to critique white feminism because I want to disrupt white supremacy in all its forms, including when it manifests as white feminism.
I also think it’s important to critique white feminism it harms other women and perpetuates racism (causing more harm). My critique is meant to interrupt the harmful cycle of ‘gender only’ feminism that replays in generation after generation of feminists. This cycle is a kind of ignorance that’s painful to other women, especially women of color, and also queer, gender nonconforming and transgender women of all races. It is the antithesis of feminism.