The term white feminism is gaining popularity lately, even though it's existed for years. In the simplest terms, white feminism focuses on the struggles of well-off white women and ignores the oppression of female minorities. Although white feminists can't change the fact that they're white, they can change how they operate within their whiteness and recognize that it sometimes hurts other women. And for moms of girls, that means learning how to talk to your daughter about her white feminism. After all, talking to the next generation about feminism will hopefully help to propel it into more inclusive territory.
My two daughters are of mixed ethnicity — a blend of both European and Middle Eastern blood. Half of their family members are Muslim, have brown skin, speak a different native language, and have customs and traditions that fall outside of white Americaness. My daughters struggle in ways I do not. Their Middle Eastern identity is, unfortunately, a catalyst for this harsh reality that I could literally cry about every day. However, I know addressing white feminism with them is the key to them understanding that there are always more groups of people that are more oppressed than us. Here are some ways to discuss white feminism with your daughter.
1. Acknowledge That White Feminism Is Real
White ladies should not get defensive about white feminism, because it exists. Period. To argue otherwise, would be absurd, and talking about it honestly and openly will hopefully help steer feminism towards being more inclusive.
White feminism is at play in the entertainment industry, politics, and the internet. The moral of the story is that white feminists shouldn't get to decide what feminism is for women of color or other able-bodied women. Everyone's choice of feminism is their own, unique to them, and their struggles.
2. Explain There Is A Long History Of Racism In White Feminism
There is a lot of white supremacist behavior and racist rhetoric embedded in the history of white feminism. As troubling as that is, daughters need to know.
One example is Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the foremother of women's rights. Everyone hails her as the leading suffragette and figure of the early women's rights movement, but the truth is she didn't exactly fight for all women's rights. In fact, according to NPR, Stanton made many racist comments, like "we educated, virtuous white women worthy of the vote."
There are many more example of this throughout history and it's important that daughters learn about it so they know what not to do in the future.
3. Emphasize That Everyone Is Responsible For Making Feminism More Inclusive
Sometimes, women of privilege don't even realize that they're excluding other groups, until it's brought to their attention. Everyone is responsible for being honest with feminists of privilege, and telling them how their lack of understanding and self-awareness negatively impacts other women.
White girls need to know that they have privilege. In doing so, they can recognize the importance of helping women of different races, sexual orientations, religions, and able-bodiedness.
4. Remind Them That Just Because An Issue Doesn't Effect You, It's Still A Critical Feminist Issue
Everyone has different struggles, and part of being a feminist is helping others even when the problem doesn't directly impact you.
One example of this is police brutality, which doesn't impact white women nearly as much as it impacts black women and their families. According to the FBI's recent accounts of "justifiable homicide," a white person used deadly force against a black person almost two times a week between 2005 and 2012. Additionally, New York Magazine reported that roughly 20 percent of unarmed people of color killed by police are women.
Police brutality is a feminist issue. Just like transgender rights is a feminist issue. Just like the Dakota Access Pipeline for the indigenous families, is a feminist issue. The struggles may be different for everyone, but fighting for the rights of everyone is central to feminism.
5. Teach Them To Consider Intersectionality When Deciding How To Tackle Issues
When feminists work on issues they need to consult with the people they are supposedly taking a stand for. Attempting to be a martyr, or free people from oppression that you don't fully understand has the opposite effect - it's condescending and can be quite harmful.
For example, many women in my husband's family are Muslim. These women don't feel they need to be freed from the hijab. Generally, Muslim women are happy to wear it as a form of their religious expression. The freedom lies in their choice. White feminists can help, so long as they truly take the time to listen to these marginalized groups and spread their message.
6. Let Everyone Speak And Be Heard
Sometimes, you just have to know when to sit back and listen. Teaching white daughters to listen to all female experiences is a start. Additionally, imploring white daughters to know and recognize when it's time to take a supportive role, rather than a leading role, will help empower all women. Everyone deserves a place in the feminist movement.