Recognizing My Privilege as a White Woman

By Savanah Mandeville

Just about every day since the election, I’ve seen one thing or another online hating on white women/white feminists/white feminism.

To begin, there’s nothing wrong with being a white woman or a white feminist. You can’t help what color your skin is. There is a problem with white feminism. By definition it is…

White feminism: a form of feminism that focus on the struggles of well-off white women while failing to address the distinct forms of oppression faced by women of colour and women lacking other privileges. Such feminism is regarded by some authors to be in opposition to intersectionality and black feminism.

White feminism is a hot topic. Whether it’s an article bashing Emma Watson’s credentials as a feminist, a viral post telling white girls to stop doing yoga because it’s cultural appropriation, or a review of the themes in the blockbuster film “Get Out” explaining that white women can’t be trusted … It’s clear that for the first time in American history, white women are the scapegoat.

These critiques can be a tough pill to swallow sometimes.

But I can’t say we don’t deserve it.

Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Donald Trump.  And to make matters worse, the Democratic candidate was a white woman. If we can’t even pull together enough to vote for one of our own for President, what kind of group of people are we? People are looking for a scapegoat for all the bullshit Trump is doing, and white women are the obvious group.

How Groups Voted
This is just plain embarrassing.

When I first started seeing the flood of posts hating on white women and white feminists, it was hard to not take it personally.

“Of course my views are intersectional,” I would tell myself.

“Many white women didn’t vote for Donald Trump. Why am I getting lumped in with them?” I would ask.

But I recalled when I first heard the expression “white feminist” a couple years ago. I didn’t know what to think of it. I didn’t know what it was nor did I want to accept that it was really a thing. It made me uncomfortable because it questioned an identity that I held dear: that I believe in equality for all. Had my fight been in vain? When I saw the results of the election and conversations about white feminism became more ubiquitous, I had to accept my ignorance and learn more.

The easy way out would be to label WOC as divisive and dismiss their complaints as feminist in-fighting. I think a lot of white women are doing that and the only way to stop is to take a long hard look in the mirror and learn to recognize your privilege and learn about the problems faced by less privileged groups.

So I took steps to do that.

Examine privilege

The more I pondered the issues of white feminism and the more I learned about what it means to be intersectional, the more I realized how narrow my views of feminism really had been.

A turning point for me was when I was listening to an interview with Crissle West, a black woman, on the Guys We Fucked podcast. The episode was titled, “What Can White Women Be Doing Better?”

Crissle said:

“White women, you’re just one step down from white men. You’re barely below them in society.”

This really struck me. In a sick way that’s embarrassing to admit, I kind of took it as a compliment. With that quote in mind, I could fully recognize for the first time the success of the feminist movement … for white women. For the first time, I truly appreciated that white women have it really good in America.

We have it so good, in fact, that we can vote against the interests of other women because we know we’ll be fine.

It’s clear that white women are holding back the movement.

As a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, straight, thin white woman (wow, typing all that out, should I even be writing this? Maybe I need to just sit the fuck down, but I do think white women HAVE to recognize their privilege so here I go…), I don’t have to worry about “passing” as a woman or what bathroom to use. I don’t have to worry about being brutalized or killed by the police. In fact, I get special treatment from the police and people automatically assume I’m a good person. I don’t have to worry that people will view my relationship as sinful or illegitimite. I don’t have to worry that I won’t be able to get a job because of what my name is or what my hair looks like. I can worry less than WOC that my body will be fetishized. I can worry less than WOC about dying in childbirth or not getting maternity leave. I can worry less than WOC that my future husband will end up in prison or deported or that my future kids will end up in a gang. I can sit around and complain that I make 82% of what men make when black women make 65% and Latina women make 58%.

I wanted to give examples because, to be honest, in a lot of my research about white feminism, I was able to find a plethora of complaints about white women not including other groups in the movement, but I was finding few explanations of what the other groups actually wanted and needed. To be honest, I had to delve a little bit more deeply and open my eyes a bit wider to recognize the distinct issues listed above. White women like me have moved on to worrying about little things like manspreading and how we’re supposed to feel about Amy Schumer as women are underrepresented in comedy. A black single mom working at McDonald’s in Alabama probably doesn’t give a fuck about manspreading or sexism in the entertainment industry.  She’s probably too busy trying to survive day-to-day to even give a fuck about feminism.

That’s not to say that a white single mom working at McDonald’s in Alabama doesn’t have any problems. She has a shit ton of problems. But she doesn’t also have to deal with racism on top of everything else.

This is why your feminism must be intersectional. The movement must give a voice to the voiceless. White women have to use their privilege to speak out for those who can’t. The movement can’t leave anyone behind.

And as one last parting note … I think it’s important for people to realize that having privilege doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, so there’s no reason to deny that it exists. Denying that you have privilege is lacking empathy for people who have less than you and downplays their struggle.


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