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Has Feminism Become Whitewashed?

CW: This article discusses topics of racism which be distressing to some readers.

The fight for feminism has been paramount to the female gender for centuries, if not millenniums. Due to its constant force throughout history, more men are acknowledging their privileges and are subsequently joining the fight for equality.

Following a series of social movements and political campaigns for radical and liberal reforms on women’s issues, we have slowly taken a step in the right direction. Feminists hope to advocate for women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes as well as putting an end to sexism, sexual exploitation and oppression.

A brief history of the feminist movement:

  • Sappho, an Ancient Greek poet born approximately 615BC, made waves as an acclaimed poet during a time when the written word was conducted and utilised primarily by men. She wrote about sexuality.

  • Women’s March on Versailles: 1789 – the first documented gathering of women to form a movement with a common goal.

  • Wave 1: 1840s – education, right to property, organisational leadership, the right to vote, and marital freedoms.

  • The suffragettes: 1880s – 1918 – an activist women’s organisation who fought for the right to vote in public elections in the UK

  • Wave 2: 1960s – gender issues, sexual liberation, reproductive rights, job discrimination, violence against women, and changes in custody and divorce laws.

  • Wave 3: 1990s – redefined what it meant to be a feminist, individualism, diversity, intersectionality, sex positivity, transfeminism, and postmodern feminism.

  • Fourth-wave feminism: 2000s onwards – female empowerment, body shaming, sexual harassment, spiritual concerns, human rights, and concerns for the planet.

History has witnessed a profound number of championing feminists. But, as history shows, many of the most celebrated feminists only fought for white women’s rights. As a result, the term ‘white feminism’ has been coined:

"a term used to describe expressions of feminism which are perceived as focusing on white women while failing to address distinct forms of oppression faced by ethnic minority women and women lacking other privileges.”

The term, which is mainly used as a derogatory label, has predominantly been levelled against the first waves of feminism. Similarly, it mostly refers to Western Feminists. But just who are we talking about?

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Stanton is best known for her work in the Suffragist movement. Despite her efforts to provide women with the right to vote, she was actually very racist. On multiple occasions, Stanton argued that white women were “more civilised” than black men, thus discriminating against an entire race and gender. Supplementing this, Stanton “pandered to white southerners by arguing that if white women could vote, they could drown out the Black male vote.” Likewise, she routinely left black women out of her advocacy.

Susan B. Anthony

Like Stanton, Anthony was another Suffragette who only prioritised white feminism. She also regularly implied that white women were more educated/civilised/developed than men of colour. Anthony attended the famous Seneca Falls Convention (a “fight for equality”), wherein no black women were invited.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG)

Best known for her role as Supreme Court Justice, RBG was highly regarded for her fight to affirm protections against gender discrimination. However, there were several occasions in which she decided to act on several opinions against ethnic minorities. For example, RBG struck down a $600 million judgment that helped the Navajo Nation; she dismissed tribal rights; she voted in favour of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which destroyed the sanctity of sacred native land.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Over on this side of the pond, we had English writer and advocate Mary Wollstonecraft filling the role of white feminist. In her famous book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Wollstonecraft compared the troubles of upper-class white women to those of enslaved people. The book was published in 1792, a time when many white women were enslavers, thus appropriating slavery.

Of course, these women made remarkable progress in the fight towards equality. But there is no feminism without intersectionality.

Many have argued that we need a more inclusive ideology modelled on the intersectionality of black feminism. After all, we are all after the same motive, so to discriminate against a particular race within our fight is contradictory to the hope for equality.


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