“I’m Not A Feminist But…”: Why The Feminist Movement Needs to Change
I’m a feminist. I’ve been a feminist probably since before I truly knew what that meant, and I’ll likely be a feminist for the rest of my life, for this simple reason: I think it is absolutely ridiculous that I, or you, or my sister or your sister, or my daughters or your daughters, or anyone else for that matter, should be treated like a second-class citizen simply because of our gender. I’m a feminist because I don’t think that second x-chromosome should determine all that much about my life.
But the feminist movement isn’t always the most welcoming. I stay with it, because I believe in the cause. I stay with it, because I love feminism. I love it enough to say that it needs to be fixed. And it does. If the movement is going to stay alive and stay strong, there are things that need to change.
I am lucky. I am a white, middle-class cisfeminist. That means that *some* of my problems are economic and *most* are just based on my gender. Those problems are real-~-to be clear, I’ve still been told that my assault was my fault, I’ll still get called a slut for embracing my sexuality, I’m still at risk to be abused, I’m still substantially less likely to get promoted-~-but there are a range of other issues that don’t necessarily apply to me, which are still incredibly important.
When asked about the next challenges for feminism, Jessica Valenti stated that most of the feminist movement is still powered by volunteerism, because this remains unrecognized as legitimate work. While that may be a thing that could be fixed, it is hardly the biggest challenge feminism needs to address. Most of my readers will have seen something like this at some point, but in case you haven’t, or if you haven’t in a while, here are a few bigger fish we need to fry:
1. Feminism has to become more intersectional, starting with addressing the needs of women of color. There are no ifs, ands or buts about this statement. Ladies, it is time. White feminists NEED to become more vocal supporters of women of color who are struggling in ways we are not.
- Example 1: women of color face a range of general racial issues that white women obviously do not. This means that they have to deal with multiple forms of oppression that in turn create layers of problems which white women do not have to deal with. Women of color are less likely to report crimes such as sexual assault, for example, because they feel a need to protect their community from backlash or further condemnation by white people; a white woman never feels this way. (For more on the issue of rape in the African-American community, please check out “NO!”, a documentary on this subject)
- Example 2: women of color face additional hypersexualization that white women do not. Look, I’m not saying white women’s bodies are not objectified, because they are. I’m not saying white women aren’t subject to hypersexualization, because they are. But I AM saying that white women’s bodies are not fetishized in the way women of color’s bodies are. And because of this, women of color are subject to extra assumptions about their sexual behavior, which white women do not necessarily have to deal with.
- There are sub-groups, such as groups of immigrant women, who face additional challenges simply because they are not considered “American enough”, and a large part of that has to do with their being white. White feminism runs the risk of ignoring these groups, and the additional challenges they face. Remember again that identities intersect with each other and help shape each other-~-to be an immigrant and a woman is not the same as to just be a woman, and to be a Latina immigrant and a woman is not the same as to be a European immigrant and a woman.
- We need to be standing by Native American women. Guys, 1 in 4 women in the US will be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime, but that number shoots up t 1 in 3 on Native American reservations. Native American women are subject to greater abuses and in addition face challenges that the rest of white America does not, simply because they are native Americans.
I should add that VAWA has not been passed specifically because it affords greater protection for immigrant women and Native American women. This country has a long way to go and feminism needs to grab this issue and really fight for it-~-NOT just because white women need access to protection from stalking and support when they have been abused, but because ALL women deserve these protections and we should NOT be willing to sacrifice our sisters of color to advance the rest of those protections.
2. Feminism needs to be a better ally to the LGBTQ movement. If one freaking chromosome shouldn’t define us, then it shouldn’t define anyone else either, right? (Hence, the title of this blog). But more importantly, if what we stand against truly is patriarchy, then it is time to stand with other groups that patriarchy has marginalized, including the LGBTQ community. And I mean we REALLY need to stand with them. Feminism needs to become more integrated in the overall fight for equality.
3. Feminism needs to become more inclusive of transpeople. This looks like it should fall under LGBTQ ally-ship, and this should just be freaking common sense, but there’s a little more to it than that. Trans women face additional barriers to accessing their rights than ciswomen simply because they are trans and not cis. They are more likely to be attacked, sexual assaults against trans people are more likely to be fatal, they are less likely to even be hired let alone promoted, etc. My point is that if we want a movement that really fights on behalf of ALL women, we need to make sure that we are actively supporting transwomen and addressing their issues directly.
You get the picture, folks. Feminism is a good cause, and women should be able to access their rights…but that has to mean ALL women. We can’t sacrifice the needs of transwomen or gay women or women of color, just to advance the goals of the so-called broader movement driven by white, straight cis feminists (and I say this as a white, straight cis feminist). We can’t ignore the problems going on just because they don’t directly pertain to the group that has stood at the forefront of the movement. Feminism needs to stand for more: more equality, more change, and most of all, more women than it currently does.