Feminism Is Not Serving All Women Equally


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The feminist movement has done a poor job uplifting the voices of transgender women and women of color.

“I am successful because I refused to take no for an answer,” says Rachel Hollis, author of Girl Wash Your Face, a self-help book published in 2018 to empower women. Mottos like this have been circulating around the feminist movement for decades, supposedly uplifting women to rise against all misogyny and become their best selves.

This way of thinking, however, can feel distant and even alienating to the women who do not fit the usual cisgender, white, straight and able-bodied feminist image. Misogyny is much more than a gendered issue, and there are many factors that make the intersectional activism of women of color and LGBTQ+ women land outside the box of traditional feminism.

White feminist activists like Susan B. Anthony are the traditional icons of women’s liberation. Anthony’s purposeful exclusion of women of color in her fight for equal rights, however, often gets lost in all the historical praise. Lack of female representation in school curricula is frustrating enough; when textbooks fail to acknowledge the complex ethics of early feminists, matters get even worse for female students still affected by those issues today. If white women achieve success exclusively for white women, they have not achieved real success.

When feminists say all women need to do to succeed is to “refuse to take no for an answer,” women of color often feel ignored because there is a lot more that needs to be done to achieve equality and justice for them. Such messaging overlooks the institutional obstacles they face at much higher rates. This gap has been persistent throughout history: in the initial women’s suffrage movement of the 1800s, Anthony had originally been working with Fredrick Douglass, but later requested that he distance himself from the white women she was fighting for because she did not want them to be associated with a Black man. When Black women turned to the suffrage movement to aid them in earning the right to vote because Black men did not help them, women like Anthony said, “That is a race question, it is not our business.”

Until white women, who have been put at the forefront of the feminist movement, see that all oppression is connected and misogyny is not only a gendered issue, feminism will not benefit all women.

Ms. Rose Delorme Metayer, faculty advisor of Young Women of Color, adds, “We have a hard time, as people, allowing what needs to take center stage take center stage […] As a trans woman, you have seen the skyrocket in numbers of abuse and murder of them. So we need to give that space to trans women, we can’t keep encroaching on the moment for them to waste their issues.”

Womanism is a movement for Black women to act on their intersectional feminism without white women speaking over them. Mainstream feminism has thrived by manipulating capitalism, telling women to gain the power to surpass men by taking their “typical” roles as CEOs and other managerial positions in the workplace.

The “girl boss” movement stemmed from this ideology. If you work hard and ignore discouragement from men, you can “become your own boss.” Ms. Delorme Metayer says, “When a white man oppresses or engages inappropriately with a white woman, it’s usually about surface things like your looks […] But when it is the oppression of a black woman, or, you know, a woman of color, it is usually about socio-economic capabilities.”

In our society, people of color, no matter how hard they work, will always be at a disadvantage to white people. Real activists know that they cannot alter the patriarchy to work for women of color and trans women the same way they can for white women.

“I’m seeing the rise of the womanism movement and […] I was really into it because a lot of the people leading it were Black women or [women] of color, and I finally was connected to feminism for the first time,” says Sergine Muzac (III), president of Breaking Down Barriers. “But now that it’s getting more and more popular, I’ve seen white women take over the movement […]. If you look up on TikTok womanism, the first videos that you see are white women or men, and it is kind of like being silenced all over again.”