Feminism: Gender, and What Else?

A guest post by Ashley Meacham

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” –Audre Lorde

Although feminism gets a bad rap for being infiltrated by a bunch of man-hating women, there is only one way to describe what the movement actually is about: Equality between women and men. Don’t get me wrong, the hatred of men (otherwise known as misandry) is alive and well, but that is a topic for another day. It’s interesting to think that from the time of women’s suffrage to the current third wave of feminism we are still advocating for political, social, and economic equality between the sexes. My father always tells me that I have the same rights as him, but I don’t think he’s ever taken a walk in my shoes. With that being said, I’ve never taken a walk in the shoes of a woman of color, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, an economically disadvantaged individual, or someone who is disabled.

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Image credit: Samantha Carlson, CC BY 2.0.

Historically, and even today, most women leading the movement are white. Is it all that surprising, though? Better yet, they are also typically heterosexual, able-bodied, and wealthy. At face value, it really doesn’t sound so bad that a whole bunch of white women are joining together to give a voice to the voiceless…but which voiceless individuals are they standing up and advocating for? Have you ever looked at celebrities to see who is leading the feminist movement? Beyoncé is a feminist and believes in the power of femininity, but why is she excluded from the movement? Is it because twerking isn’t considered feminism? I’ll give you a hint—Beyoncé doesn’t fit the mold of the straight, white, class advantaged, able-bodied feminist. Well, she is three of the four things, but you get the gist.

Gender equality isn’t just a gender thing—it takes into account all systems of oppression. This is why Kimberlé Crinshaw coined the term intersectionality. If you’re unfamiliar with it, that’s okay. Intersectionality is the term given to the interconnected nature of systems of oppression (race, social class, gender, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, and so on), and how they depend on one another to create a system of advantages and disadvantages. It is a hot topic in any sociology course, and most sociological literature has now started to look at problems from an intersectional perspective. So, now that we’ve defined intersectionality, let’s ask: How does this play into the feminist movement led by white women?

For starters, most white women are only disadvantaged because they’re women, and achieving gender equality is much easier when one is only oppressed by the gender system. With that being said, the current narrative of the feminist movement is not taking into account race, sexuality, social class, and ability of other women. Historically, though, it never really has. So, my question is this: Who is actually benefiting from the feminist movement? That’s simple enough to answer—it’s heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied, white women!

Patricia Hill Collins’ Matrix of Domination is a visual representation of intersecting inequality, and anyone can easily determine their social location by looking at the matrix. However, the feminist movement is not paying any attention to other’s unique social location on the Matrix of Domination. One’s social location is made up of their intersecting social classifications. To put it simply, the more one is disadvantaged based on interlocking oppressive systems, the lower their status is in the social hierarchy—and this greatly affects their life experiences and opportunities. So, really, how much equality is being achieved if people are oppressed by more systems than just gender?

Every woman holds a different social location, and this has major effects on experiences within the workplace. By now, we’ve all heard how women only make 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Did you know that that’s only true for white women being compared to white men? Yeah, the feminist movement is always talking about the gender wage gap, and rightfully so, but they have conveniently left out information about all women of color.

In the workplace, black women make about 63 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, and Latina women make a whopping 54 cents for every dollar earned by a white man! Yet people wonder why people of color are experiencing social disadvantage more so than their white counterparts. Oh, you know how Sheryl Sandberg says women are afraid to speak up because they’re concerned to be looked at as rude? Imagine having to live with and internalize the stereotype that you’re already an angry black woman before you even open your mouth. Do you see the pattern of the feminist movement? It’s only worried about achieving equality for white women.

At the end of the day, of course it is necessary to achieve equality for white women, but the focus of the feminist movement needs to be on how gender, race, sexuality, class, ability, ethnicity and all, interact and connect to create differing levels of oppression for all women. Every female has a specific social location which has created a life experience that is uniquely her own. Not every female feminist is going to be an Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, or Hillary Clinton. Let’s embrace Beyoncé’s, bell hooks’, Malala Yousafzai’s, and Audre Lorde’s; the list could go on forever. We must come to the realization that the feminist movement, in its current state, isn’t benefiting everyone. We are all taking a stand against gender inequality, but our fights are not the same.

 

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About the author: I am a senior at Georgia State University studying psychology and sociology. I am an advocate for human rights, and love learning about human behavior. Atlanta, Georgia is my home, but I hope to travel the world one day. I am passionate about studying abroad (Oldupai Gorge in Tanzania, East Africa is pictured here), and I will be experiencing Dubai, UAE over Spring break. You can usually catch me at a music venue, the dog park, or watching Grey’s Anatomy.

 

Copyright © 2016-2018 Forever Leaders.

20 comments

  1. I found this post very enlightening, especially as a white female. It can be easy for me and other white women to be blind to the level of inequality women of color face even within the feminist movement. I have found the information in “Lean In” to be very helpful and inspirational, but reading this post does make me aware of the fact that Sandberg rarely covers gender bias from intersectional prospective if at all. Although I do believe that the general information covered in “Lean In” and by our speakers can apply to all women, I can see the importance and necessity of hearing first hand from women of color who have overcome not just gender bias but racial discrimination as well. I completely agree that the feminist movement needs to include women from all backgrounds and ethnicities, so that women can be better aware of how to support one another’s success in all areas of life. Having an intersectional perspective is especially important for growth, understanding, and change because of the inequality experienced by so many people. As individuals we are defined by the many roles and aspects of our identity, not just one. I feel that I would learn a much deeper and richer understanding for not just challenges that women make but that many others face if the feminist movement included women from all different backgrounds. The more well rounded a movement can be the better the equality achieved.

  2. Great post, Ashley! I agree that even in empowering movements, there is still a divide, especially among races. As an Asian-American, we don’t even usually get mentioned ever. I’ve always felt left out of the discussion because we tend to just get lumped in to a group without much further consideration. When talking about minorities, we get lumped in with them, but we also tend to get mixed in with Caucasian people because we’re considered a “good” minority. Either way you look at it, we don’t get the same opportunities as a lot of white women, and when we do, it’s under the assumption that we’re quiet and subservient, but also smart and hardworking. I would be interested to see what Asian-American women earn. I think we need to start highlighting leaders in the feminist movement a that are willing to address the additional inequalities based on race. Granted, I’m glad that women as a whole are standing up to be heard more so that before, but we still have a long way to go.

    • Thank you so much for the feedback on the post! I completely agree that Asian Americans are kind of forgotten about when it comes to inequality. I think it’s because a lot of Asian Americans are seen as somehow overcoming the racial and class disparities that a lot of other minorities are still fighting against. Granted, I feel as if most people forget about a lot of Asian women who are sex trafficked or bought as brides…Asian Americans may be viewed as geniuses (which is a stereotype in itself), but they are still made fun of for their non-white facial features. You’re right in saying that Asian women are stereotyped for being docile and better behaved than white women, and this ties back to the surge of mail-order brides. At the end of the day, being a “good minority” just separates you from the majority. One can’t just say that someone is a good person; the majority must make it known that although a minority group is good, they will never be one of their own. White supremacy is real…even among white women.

  3. As a white woman in the United States, sometimes I feel uncomfortable saying that I face disadvantages solely because of my gender. In fact, in a multicultural psychology class a few semesters ago was the first time I heard that I am “oppressed”… I thought (and still think) that most of my disadvantages come from my socioeconomic status. With that being said, I think the concept of intersectionality is important, because it recognizes other forces that are holding women back, besides gender. The resistance I feel at the moment, as a woman in STEM, is not from men. It’s from the price of the GRE, the price of graduate school applications and the financial consequences I faced when I decided to quit my part-time job to focus on research, for the sake of my future career. I cannot imagine, having to deal with racial discrimination on top of financial hardship. This is an example of why I feel uncomfortable saying I am disadvantaged as a woman, because at the end of the day, I still receive privileges in this country because of my skin color.
    I think it is so important for the feminist movement to represent women from all backgrounds. But, at the same time, I wonder, is the idea of true equality for all even compatible with capitalism? In such a competitive and individualistic society, how do we relieve women of intersectional struggles? Personally, I think this change will have to begin at local levels and there will have to be a cultural shift, community by community, toward collectivism. Men, white women, the affluent, heterosexual and able will have to prioritize the needs their counterparts. We will all need to listen to each other and come up with solutions that will level the playing field for everyone.

    • Jenna, I can relate to what you have stated. Although I am a black woman in America, it is similar to a predicament where I oftentimes feel ashamed to complain about my life or any financial struggle I may have when someone somewhere has it a BILLION times worse off than I do. How dare I complain about my pain when others are experiencing things I cannot even begin to imagine? And even though you can’t particularly relate to being disadvantaged because of your skin tone, empathy can go a really long way. Intersectionality is something that affects everyone – those at the top of the social ladder and especially those at the bottom. But at the end of the day, we can begin to dissipate these gaps with empathy.

    • Carmen, I agree, I think empathy is a great starting point. For me, reading the comments on this post has been difficult but necessary. I think Ashley started such an important discussion and provided a great platform for women of color to speak about their experiences. I too have felt the pain of discrimination, being one of the few white students at my high school. I was often asked “why are you here?” or talked about in Spanish. So I truly do empathize with women and men of color, who have to deal with this pain on the scale of racism. I think women of color, especially black women in this country, are so resilient and often handle their struggles so elegantly. I think you all have so much to offer not only in the feminist movement but the world. So please, continue to share your stories and experiences!!

  4. These are usually thoughts that I would share with myself, which isn’t surprising. How is that this group is intended to help “all” women achieve equality when there is lack of representation for women of color. Or should I say, lack of exploited representation for women of color. As Ashley stated, her father tells her that she has the same rights as him, that’s easier said than experienced. Giving advice and suggestions, to me, is the easy way out of helping someone else achieve their goals in regards to gaining equality. There needs to be active/showcased forms of representation and support from feminists and others who truly believes in equality for all. Because the truth of it all is that no one will ever know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, but you’ll get a great idea of what the challenges are when you are “actively” walking beside them.

  5. This article shows what I as a Latina have known for years. I have at times felt the feminist movement was just for white women. It is hard to want to participate in the something when no one that looks like you or understands your disadvantages is participating in. Being a Latina comes with many disadvantages for me they have helped shaped me into who I am. I know I have to work harder to get where I want to be. It is important to recognize the struggles all women face, but also to recognize the struggles minority groups face. A proper representation of all women is needed for women to properly fight for equality.

  6. As being a black woman, I have endured sexism, racism & a combination of both. I feel as a person of color, we have to prepare to work twice as hard to receive half of what the majority has. There are silent guidelines on what to do and how to behave as a black woman in the workforce. We can’t comfortably wear our natural hair. We can’t be late; we must arrive early. We cannot slack off at any moment, it shows laziness. We basically have to prevent ourselves from fulfilling the negative stereotypes society has created. I am a introvert and can be assertive sometimes but people view my characteristics negatively. I have been the angry black woman when I’m just content. I have been the angry black woman because I spoke out about what I felt wasn’t right. Why is she mad they ask? I’m not mad. Speaking out as a black woman is seen as us complaining about everything. I believe that its an excuse not to hear us out or make it seem that our opinions are invalid. Sometimes I feel that if I speak, its going to get shut down anyway, so why try? Why try to get your ideas involved if no one cares about what you think? It destroys confidence knowing that people don’t trust and believe in the work contribute to your peers based on your color and gender. My gender and race doesn’t determine my abilities and what I can achieve.

    • Brianna, I like what you said: “We basically have to prevent ourselves from fulfilling the negative stereotypes society has created…” I feel like I want to add, “..by overcompensating.” Reading all of these comments about race and gender makes me want to just reject it all and just be authentic to myself at the end of the day. I heard a quote by my professor today and she said, “The easiest way to fail in life is to try to please everyone.” If someone gets mad at you for speaking your truth, let them be mad – it’s no skin off your back. If people disregard what you’re saying, then speak louder! I have also had people negatively judge me based on physical characteristics that I cannot (and should not desire to) control. Being half black, I have very big, unruly natural hair that I wear as a proud mane every single day of my life. I have been told relentlessly that I had to “do something to my hair” because it looks unkempt and unprofessional. And you know what I wanted to respond back to the people that tell me that – Well, take that up with God if you don’t like my hair. Simple and plain. I don’t think we should ever change who we authentically are to compensate (or overcompensate) for the gender/racial stereotypes associated with us.

    • Brianna,

      What you are explaining is a theory of consciousness described by W. E. B. Du Bois called double consciousness. “Du Bois describes double consciousness as follows: It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” This is what I face every day. This phenomenon happens to everyone but is more common in men and women of minorities. We live and make every decision as who we are and how people view us. It is exhausting. We think we must try to fight, day to day, all of the stereotypes in order to beat racism and sexism against the category in which we fall. We can choose to fight or we can stick to the status-qou. I have chosen the front rows of the fight.
      As a black woman, I face similar circumstances. I think the worst part of this is when people think what they are staying is positive, then it is not. “Strong, independent black woman” or “SBBF, or sassy best black friend,” are two statements I am tired of hearing. I may be sassy or independent but when it is stated in such a format including my race, it feels as if it is the leading cause of why I am who I am is because I am black. Can I just be strong and independent, “Mohails?” (I am using my handle.) The other thing is at the same time, black women commonly want to be appreciated and recognized for their survival and growth despite all odds. I believe we can recognize these women without using stereotypes and making them feel like they are an individual not a representation of their race.
      At the end of the day I do believe our actions will never change the mindset of all of those who feel we are incompetent or worse than the next women. I do believe; however, that we must not sit around and wait for them to die off. We must stand up.

  7. I too have also felt like I do not fit in with the feminist movement at times. As a black Caribbean-American I have experienced racism and sexism in different ways. I went to a mostly white private high school and a lot of the students their said they liked me because I didn’t “act black” or because I didn’t “talk black”. I didn’t take these as compliments because the way I interpreted it was “you don’t fit the sterotypes we chose to assume about you so I guess you can hang with us”. I want to say not everyone was like this but there were quite a few. I like the point that Ashley made about the feminist movement it opened my eyes to show me why I did not choose to be closely associated with the term. I too believe that we have to look past race and seek equality in all areas of life because before that happens people will continue to not speak up,(the angry black women example), becuase they are scared of how societies sterotypes will effect how they are interpreted.

    • Time and time again I feel as if black women are completely dehumanized, and often looked at as the “token friend” or exoticized. Black women have never been allowed to fully be themselves in any situation. It’s as if you must assimilate into the white culture of nearly every workplace or friend group. Saying that someone doesn’t “talk black” or “act black” is another way for whites to showcase the normalcy of white supremacy. It’s extremely frustrating being white and seeing this happen over and over again to human beings who deserve to be themselves. I will say, associate yourself with feminism and own it because we need more women of color speaking up against the issues within the movement! Raise your voice and know that there will always be allies standing behind you and backing you up. Hopefully one day we can reshape feminism, but for now all we can do is do our best at fighting for human rights.

      Also, your comment made me think of a a post titled “The Right to Be a Black Girl” by Thahabu Gordon. It’s an amazing read! Granted, it does go further into how black females who “act white” still aren’t protected from harassment.

  8. Race a topic everyone is afraid to speak about due to the conditioning of not speaking of the elephant in the room. I as black women had to encounter feeling invisible as if I did not exist because my voice or my appearance was never acknowledged and when it was acknowledged it was more implied than explicit. I mention this because I always got the feeling that since I am a very educated black woman and usually am surrounded by white women or white males, I come across the sense that they believe I am lucky to be in their presence. I would either get the white woman who’ll smile in my face say a few words and look as if she was terrified of me or the white male who would look down on me as if I wasn’t enough. As a black woman, I always get told I am doing a lot they’ll say wow you’re involved in a lot as if they’re surprised black women can accomplish so much. But, I grew up with the mentality of knowing I had to work hard because if I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be qualified for the job or even considered. It is frustrating because no one will understand my struggle except for another black woman because as stated by Malcolm X, the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. To be the most disrespected person in the world hurts to say because that is my life and I can empathize with other women and other minorities, but not everyone can understand what I have to deal with on a daily basis. Because what I do is never enough. I have to fight stereotypes, discrimination, poverty, insecurities, and the fear of not being accepted in a world that never accepted me in the first place. It’s a constant battle that I am always fighting to overcome. Furthermore, I feel until someone has been in my shoes and can relate or at least understand where I am coming from then there will be no change. Therefore, if a person can’t empathize with you how can they help or resolve any issues involving something they don’t comprehend.

  9. I really enjoyed reading this post, Ashley! Great job! I like the fact that you are so woke and that you recognize the exclusion of women of color in the feminist movement, instead of embracing the movement as all-inclusive. I really liked the part about stereotypes. It is often so easy to be labeled as an angry black woman for feeling passionate about an issue, or having an opposing view, or voicing an opinion at all. This is true when it comes to most minorities: the angry black woman, the feisty/fiery Latina, or the submissive Asian. This can tie into a concept you brought up, which is intersectionality. Most people will always believe there are winners and losers in every situation, and that is just how it works. The fact that it is now it is recognized that the only way one group of people can be deemed as better is by deeming another group as inferior is a very important step. With this realization hopefully people can begin to make the change, and disadvantage groups will begin to work together in order for all groups to get on an even level, instead of one making its way up by putting another down.

  10. I am a Jamaican-Canadian. When I first told my friend that, she gasped and quickly said, “Stop lying! There aren’t any black people in Canada.” Back then, I got kind of ticked off. In my head, I did not understand why I would lie about where I am from. Nevertheless, I told her to go visit one day and walked off. That was one of my first experiences with a racist individual. I enjoyed reading this post because you hit a key concept that no one is really talking about. Black women are hindered by their male and female counterparts. Society paints us as angry, ugly, nappy headed, uncut, and lazy people. Most of us have to be nice, have straight hair, and suck up to the boss just to keep our great paying jobs. If we mess up once, our penalties are higher than white females. If we have a lot of qualifications, some people become fearful that we will take their jobs. If we are educated and speak proper, we are called white. But as soon as we stand up for our rights, we are called disrespectful, ungrateful, bitter black people, which really has to stop. I could go on and talk about the difference race in our society, ie how Africa is referred to as a country instead of a continent, but I will let that be. I will say this, true equality will only be achieved when we stop judging people based on their gender, race, ethnicity, religious view, etc and start judging them based on their intellectual and physical capabilities.

  11. Isn’t feminism about equality for all women? Well, the first step is to be more inviting to those women who are not being appropriately represented. Saying that feminism is only helping white women achieve equality only discourages women from different backgrounds to join the movement. Equality between the genders is the goal. That’s it. If you believe in that, you are a feminist. You don’t need to label yourself as one, but you hold this same value as millions of other people. Demanding equal pay is something all women should fight for. I have seen a lot of statistics showing how the wage gap increases for women who are also minorities. This information isn’t being hidden. In fact, I think this should bring more women in minority groups to the realization that things can change and there are people fighting the injustice. I will concede to the point that a lot of the feminist movement in the past and in the present, has been led my white privileged women. That’s the beauty of intersectionality though: a formerly closed group with good intentions has opened itself up to hearing the voices of those they do not effectively represent. Inclusion should be one of the main priorities for all feminists.

    • Obviously, equality between the genders is the goal, but this movement is only looking at that. You cannot achieve equality of the genders without fixing racism, classism, heteronormativity/homophobia, and the list could go on and on. When it comes to the issue of demanding equal pay, a white woman would have a lot easier time doing this than a woman of color because there are added oppressive barriers for women of color. This is what makes it hard, from what I’ve understood through conversation and lecture, for women of color to accept and identify with the movement. Inclusion is what feminists are striving for (well, some of them), but we’re not exactly there yet. This makes me think of a reading I just finished about sisterhood by Jodie Michelle Lawston where a bunch of white prison abolitionists tried to form a sisterhood with marginalized inmates. They acknowledged the differences of the marginalized women, but ultimately wanted to bond via shared disadvantages and similarities. It all sounds great on paper, but there are still gaps between women. Sisterhood is the dream, but white women are almost patronizing and paternalistic when interacting with marginalized women; they acknowledge difference, but they have done nothing to dismantle the structures that create difference. In a perfect world, women would stand together as women, but right now, we must come together with our differences and destroy other oppressive barriers before we tackle gender oppression. At the end of the day, a lot of people are in it for the gold star, and listening to marginalized groups doesn’t really do anything. We must take action.

  12. I enjoyed reading this post! This article opened my eyes past equality between just genders. I recognized the struggle for equality between races, social status, and upbringing. I like how she addressed the stereotypes placed on women in our society. For example, black women being classified as angry or Latino women being classified as crazy. She brought attention to the stereotypes that we might place on women without knowing what we are actually doing. I know acknowledge the adversities women of each color experience in their everyday life. Black women in particular experience a lot of hidden struggles in their upbringing and often hide them on the outside so they wont look weak or inferior. I believe women should stand together and build each other up so that they will be stronger as a unit.

    • Myles,
      I completely agree with you! This post also made me think about the certain stereotypes which are placed on women of color in our society. So upsetting to know that in this day and age white people are still in a place of advantage in society and minorities are still struggling due to systematic racism. Even though I think that movements like the feminist movement mean well, they can still be inclusive and not address the struggles which minorities face, and instead mainly focus on the struggles of white women, who are already in a position of social advantage. What do you think can be done in order for the feminist movement to move towards a more intersectional movement that places women of color, women who identify as LGBT..etc, physically disabled women and women with mental illnesses on the front line of the movement rather than keeping them in the shadows?

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