The racialized intersections of women’s rights deserve more space

How White Feminism can silence every other feminist

White women shouldn't push aside issues of race to further their activism.

It’s difficult enough to be a feminist, regardless of your skin colour. You’re policed and dismissed. Your frustration is interpreted as rage, and you always seem to be ‘asking for too much.’

Up until very recently, you’ve even been compared to Nazis—until, of course, internet misogynists started to come around on Nazism.

The odds are still stacked against women who insist the fight isn’t over for gender equality. But for women of colour (WOC), even feminist communities can mirror the alienation they feel in mainstream society.

This is rooted in White Feminism.

Being called a ‘White Feminist’ might strike a nerve. You can be white and a feminist without being a White Feminist. But the moment a woman pushes aside issues of race and ethnicity to further her activism, she becomes a White Feminist—which is its own term altogether.

A White Feminist feels she can sacrifice issues of race to further her own agenda, whether to prevent the powerful from dismissing her demands, or to keep herself from feeling uncomfortable. 

When you become a White Feminist, you’re no longer fighting for the rights of all women—just for white women.

Although the term rose out of discussions about intersectionality that began in the late 1980s, White Feminism and its toxic effects have been around for about as long as misogyny itself. 

In the Southern US, white American suffragettes used white supremacist rhetoric to further their goals of gaining the right to vote, all while pushing Black civil rights leaders to the back of their protests.

In Canada, as we celebrate the Persons Case, we often forget that The Famous Five endorsed eugenics—enacting laws that forced sterilization onto Black and Indigenous Albertan women.

More recently, 53 per cent of white American women decided detaining Latin immigrants and enacting a Muslim ban was just attractive enough to justify electing a known sexual predator as US president.

White women have historically relied on WOC’s support in their pursuit of equality. In North America, Black and Indigenous women in particular have placed their lives on the line to advocate for women’s rights for a group that’s thrown them under the bus in return.

As an academic institution that boasts a first-year class of 53 per cent female students, it might seem like Queen’s is above the spread of toxic White Feminism.

With what seems like an infinite array of clubs and conferences dedicated to advancing feminist initiatives, the women’s movement at Queen’s seems to be the one thing we’re doing right.

But despite an intake report that features almost exclusively racialized students in its promotional images, our university is still predominately white. This leaves plenty of room for institutional blindness to the needs of students who find themselves on our community’s margins.

Now, more than ever, we need to keep questions of race in mind as we move forward with our activism.

While many student groups and individuals take action every day to adopt an intersectional mindset, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of our feminist foremothers. As a large student body, a loud majority has the power to decide which fights are ‘worth it,’ casting aside women of colour in the process.

Issues of race are inherently feminist as they relate to women of colour, but may be ignored in order to prop up broader women’s issues, ensuring that feminists at Queen’s do not appear to be asking for too much.

As women, it can feel difficult to demand more from the Queen’s administration. We continue to face issues like alarming sexual violence rates, enabled rape culture, and the fast-fading history of feminists that made our presence at Queen’s possible.

In a time where our safety and dignity come with a price tag, it might be easy to make ‘sacrifices’ for the majority, like casting aside racial issues and leaving them up to groups dedicated to addressing racism specifically. However, when those same groups may sometimes feel the need to ignore women’s issues, it creates a damaging paradox.

Our experiences don’t exist in a vacuum, and they become infinitely more difficult to deal with when our narratives are disregarded by mainstream campus groups.

We’re at a crossroads for women’s empowerment, which is where White Feminism has historically proven to strike through history and exclude marginalized feminist voices.

Regardless of the colour of your skin, consider how White Feminism impacts your ideology.

While you’re fighting the good fight, remember what this school has subjected its racialized students to. Recall the 'racist party' from three years ago, the racist graffiti on campus in April, and the Chown Hall note from earlier this month.

Remember that we expect a yearly hate crime as women of colour at Queen’s. Remember your Indigenous, Black, and brown sisters on this campus.

Remember that, as a white feminist, your voice is heard louder than ours, even when you don’t feel like you have a voice here at all.

To white feminists at Queen’s: please don’t make us capitalize the ‘w’ and ‘f’ when describing your activism.

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