White Feminism: Why is it Toxic and How Can We Apply Intersectionality Better?

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Written by Mariana Robles

Feminism is defined as a social and political movement that strives for the liberation of all women from the patriarchal system and the abolition of said system. Some authors state that feminism started in the XVII century when Guillermine de Bohemia proposed the idea of making a church only for women. Others say it was during the witch huntings and trials in Europe, but it was much later when it became an organized and collective movement. Women participated in important historical events like the French Revolution and socialist revolutions but in a subordinated way. It is from suffragism when they claim their autonomy. When the movement started, it only fought for and included rich white women. While white women fought and gained the rights to vote and divorce, women of color, especially black women, were being ignored and treated in inhumane ways. This led to the creation of the different kinds of feminism and their ideologies.

What is intersectionality and why is it important?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, intersectionality is “the interconnected nature of social categorization such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. The term was introduced for the first time by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 in her paper for the University of Chicago Legal Forum. Intersectionality acknowledges that everyone has a different and unique experience with discrimination and strives to give visibility to all experiences and perspectives. Because intersectionality acknowledges that not all women have the same kind of oppression, it creates a more inclusive movement. For example, a black, disabled woman won’t suffer the same kind of oppression as a white, able-bodied woman. Intersectionality encourages more privileged women to check their privileges, listen and learn and use those privileges to uplift less privileged women.

Why is white feminism toxic?

White feminism is sometimes regarded as white supremacy in heels. White women often dismiss the voices and experiences of women of color and center themselves once again in the movement. When women of color cry out about their pain, their daily discrimination, and frustration, they are often met by white women telling them to “say things in a nicer way” to be heard. They often have a white savior complex and think that they can’t be part of the problem because “they have done so much for people of color”. This all goes back into centering themselves and disregarding the voices of other women. 

When white feminists are asked to use their platform and uplift the voices of women of color or talk about an issue that is affecting people of color, they get defensive and sometimes even offended. This reaction is immediate and a lot of people don’t question themselves as to why they reacted that way.

How can we be good allies and apply intersectionality in our feminism?

First things first, we have to listen and learn. We have to open conversations and safe spaces that are actively anti-racist, anti-ableist, pro-Jewish, pro-LGBTQ+, anti-fascist, and more. We should also be actively helping and uplifting marginalized communities on our day-to-day. Kimberlé Crenshaw created a wheel of privileges and disadvantages and oppressions. It is a great tool to check our privilege and see how we can help others uplift their voices. We should apply intersectionality not only in our feminism but also in our daily life and question ourselves about our beliefs and what we can do to use our privileges to the advantage of marginalized communities.