“I’M NOT NOT A FEMINIST, BUT THERE HAS TO BE A PLACE IN FEMINISM FOR WOMEN WHO LOOK AND ACT LIKE ME.” WITHOUT CONTEXT, WHO DO YOU THINK SAID THIS? UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE ACTUAL POST FROM LANA DEL RAY, YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T ASSUME THAT IT WAS A CISGENDER, HETEROSEXUAL, WHITE WOMAN. AT LEAST, I WOULDN’T HAVE.
The goal of Lana Del Ray’s post was to defend herself from people who accused her music of glamorizing abuse. In the process, however, she ended up sounding like just another ‘woe is me’ white woman. To start off her message, she listed seven women, six who are Black and/or Hispanic, who have been successful with songs about “being sexy, wearing no clothes, f**king, and cheating” to justify why she should be allowed to make her music without the criticism she had been receiving. It came off as a whiny request of ‘now that these women got away with singing about sex, can you guys let me sing about it, too?’
Maybe that’s a fair point. Maybe it’s not. But my question is: why couldn’t she get that point across without name-dropping women of color? And on top of that, what did that even add to her point, seeing as the success of artists such as Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, and Cardi B does not erase the fact that they constantly receive misogynistic comments about their looks and their music? Even if it was unintentional, she had a microaggression field day. But even with all that, the hardest part for me to wrap my head around is that she feels like feminism does not accommodate “delicate” women that look like her. As far as I’ve seen, feminism has always protected people just like her, so am I tripping or is she?
Since the concept of feminism has been around, it has primarily served to advance the status of cisgender and heterosexual white women. As a matter of fact, white women have historically used the heavy lifting of women of color only to abandon them at the first sign of opportunity for themselves. Take suffragettes from the late 1800s and early 1900s, for example. Many white women worked with Black women to advocate for women’s suffrage and supported the idea of equality for Black people. Boy did that change when Black men were legally allowed to vote before white women. Something a large amount of white people have in common is entitlement, so seeing people progress ahead of them makes their skin crawl. White women sacrificed their “allyship” with Black women in an attempt to appeal to the racist southerners they believed would help improve their status. Black women, apparently, weren’t worth the effort to them. So even though non-white men could technically vote by 1870 and women could technically vote by 1920, targeted disenfranchising laws kept non-white women from voting for decades after that.
So yeah, supporting intersectional identities has never been a strong point for white feminists. And God forbid a woman of color tries to call them out about it, because then we’d be angry, hostile, and divisive since “we’re all women.” True as that may be, the experiences of white women are very different from the experiences of Black women, Indigenous women, or any other minority. In videos on TikTok addressing the similarities between the roles of white women and men of color in the oppression of women of color, George Lee, also known as theconsciouslee, brought up the term “oppressed oppressors.” This term makes complete sense because you can ask almost any WOC, and they would tell you that they have been asked to put their womanhood aside in racial issues and vice versa for gender issues. The entire point of intersectionality is that there are people who suffer under multiple systems of oppression, and it’s not fair for them to have to try to focus on one system when ALL oppression is intertwined.
In the pamphlet Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, Frances Beal looks at the intersection of being Black and a woman through an economic lens. One line says, “Very few of these [white] women suffer the extreme economic exploitation that most Black women are subjected to day by day,” and that is as true now as it was in 1969. Women have always been paid less than men for the same work, but it is also true that Black, Latina and other women of color (excluding Asian-Americans) are paid less than white women. (Side note: this does not mean Asian women are more privileged than white women, but we can get into the model minority myth another day.)
But the exploitation doesn’t just stop at pay. For a more modern example, we can look at how women of color make up large percentages of occupations like housekeepers, nursing assistants, and health aides, putting them at constant risk during the pandemic. And if that wasn’t enough, WOC are disproportionately represented in unemployment claims in industries having significant job loss including health care, social assistance, and food service. (Frye). Not so easy to separate race and gender now, right?
The persistent devaluing of women of color is as annoying as it is exhausting. There is something really diabolical about the fact that white women can watch WOC be belittled, mock us for our plights, and then turn around and appropriate our culture. Black women have been incessantly mocked for our hair, lips, butts, accessories, etc., and it has cost many of us jobs, schooling, and safety. Black women, as well as Latinas, have been called ratchet by white people AND non-white men for being “loud, argumentative, hot cheeto girls.” Despite this, we’re still expected to turn the other cheek when white girls on TikTok think it’s funny or cute to call themselves “ghetto” with large hoop earrings, acrylics, and face piercings? It has become entirely too common to see people do things such as blackface or sexualizing traditional garments, like kimonos and cheongsams, and call it fashion or a halloween costume. Black women get called angry for being outraged at this, but can anybody honestly say that we don’t have the right to be angry after the world has shown time and time again that it couldn’t care less about us? Even girl boss feminists who should have our backs push us out of their fight for “equality,” and we’re supposed to be okay with that?
Tl;dr: BIWOC have long been isolated from movements that should be supporting them, and feminism is one of the main perpetrators. Feminism has centered around white women for as long as it has been around, and when Black women or other WOC challenge this, white women take up this martyr complex because they think we’re trying to invalidate their experiences. In reality, we just want them to be more conscious of the privileges they do have for being white, and use them to support other intersections. If you’re such a feminst, tell your besties to stop making songs like “Real Women Vote For Trump” (I must admit it was catchy though, lol). Oh, and break up with your racist boyfriend, too.
Though I’ve mainly focused on the intersection of race and gender, disability, sexuality, and class are big ones, too. In 1979, writer and activist Alice Walker coined the term “Womanism” as an alternative to feminism that creates a movement supporting all women while also giving special focus to issues pertaining to Black women and families.
All this to say: if you call yourself a feminist, ask yourself, “is it intersectional?” If the answer is no, scroll to the top of this page, read this article again, and repeat until the answer is yes. <3