A Privileged Feminist's Rant on Privileged Feminism
I am a feminist and a white woman. I fully understand the irony of publishing a piece asking fellow white women to shut up and listen in which I am essentially rage ranting. But bear with me. I come from a place of great privilege. It is by sheer luck of birth that I was born a straight, cis, white woman in a middle class family. Yet because of this luck, the world bestows upon me certain gifts others are denied. Since the election, I have thought many times about how easy it would be to sink into my privilege. Turn off the TV, only look at interspecies animal friend videos on the Internet and live in sheer denial of what the world is becoming. I have that gift. Others do not. Feminists with privilege have the freedom to ignore how misogyny affects non-white women in greater and less addressed ways. White Feminism, or privileged feminism, was never more apparent this week than in Lena Dunham.
If I had a nickel for every time Lena Dunham made me want to bury my head in shame this year, I could have afforded all the donations I made to the Clinton campaign. Her latest was stating, on her own podcast, “I never had an abortion but I wish I had”. Oh, if I could list the ways this was problematic. First of all, it completely ignores the financial, emotional and logistical realities women facing abortions deal with every day that, were she to find herself in a position of wanting to terminate a pregnancy, she would never have to face. Given her socio-economic status, education level and liberal upbringing, she has likely had access to contraception her entire sexual life and the means to either obtain an abortion or raise a child, should she choose.
But on top of all that, it just screams of narcissism. As if having an abortion would make her part of this club that gets to speak on women’s issues with more authority than the rest of us. She wants to be “in”, to be relevant. And because she’s never had to deal with actually going through an abortion, she can wish for it like it’s an invite to Soho House – proof she’s made it and her opinions are important. This is Privileged Feminism. Wanting to be part of the group. Wanting to be able to speak on issues with authority that other women are more qualified to speak on, because then we’ll feel important, in the know, part of an exclusive group. And we want it without the actual hardships that come with it. We want to be able to speak on black issues, LGBT issues or even having an abortion without dealing with the emotional, financial or discriminatory realities that come with it.
She apologized. She was joking. It was meant in jest. I have often defended Lena Dunham’s importance to the feminist conversation, arguing that her many missteps are human. We all make mistakes and learn from them to become better activists. Kerry Washington’s response to her usage of the phrase “spirit animal” is a great example of this. Only Lena Dunham is not learning, she’s half-apologizing/ half-defending her words. She reminded us how pro-choice she is, how feminist she is without addressing the real problems with what she said. It’s similar to Amy’s Schumer’s response to her interview with Lena Dunham on Odell Beckham Jr. and the Met Gala. Saying “but I’m a liberal who cares about black people and women’s rights! I can’t be wrong!” is not the same as checking your privilege. Dunham sees herself as a pioneer of modern feminism without fully looking at the work she has left to do. I’m tired of defending a woman who does not seem to be learning from her many mistakes. On top of that, she is publishing her ignorance on her own platforms. The Amy Schumer conversation was published on Lenny Letter and this abortion comment on her own podcast. She is reviewing this material and STILL deciding it’s okay to put out in the world. I wonder if all the time she spent apologizing for ignorant, privilege-revealing comments were spent reading up on issues facing disenfranchised women or engaging in conversations with people who have more knowledge and experience on issues of race and class, would she have to apologize so often? Maybe she was joking. In fact, I’m sure she was. Just as I’m sure her apology was sincere. But her “joke” was character revealing and her apology missed the point.
As a woman with privilege, I have always been made to feel that my voice and opinion matters more, at the expense of other women being silenced. And now that other women are being listened to more, women with privilege feel shafted. This is prevalent in well-meaning groups like Pantsuit Nation. Where privileged feminists share their self-righteous stories of helping a minority neighbor or being proud of their kid for playing with a non-white classmate. Here’s the thing: you don’t get a gold star for not being racist and kids don’t think there is anything remarkable about playing with their friends. They’re just existing.
To people in privilege, equality feels like discrimination. It makes us uncomfortable, guilty even. But maybe it’s high time we feel uncomfortable and use that guilt to guide us to do better for non-white, straight, cis women. In the coming political reign, we need to continue to advance feminism. So, my fellow privileged ladies, I beg of you, use your privilege to amplify the voices of women who have not been heard, and then stay silent while they’re talking. Listen to them. Until we have achieved equality for all women, we have failed in the pursuit of gender equality. We need to accept that all women must have an opportunity for their issues heard. Then we listen and do whatever we can to help them. It is going to feel like we’re losing something. Because we are. We’ve had more, now we give something up to be equal. If you have three quarters of a cookie and you have to split it in half, you’re going to have to give up one quarter of that cookie. And I get it, I understand the struggle. Mostly because I really, really love cookies and feeling superior to all other people. But feminism is not a game of getting to the finish line first to win all. It is about equality, and it's high time we (read: privilege feminists) accepted our share of the cookie.
Feminism is hard. You gotta want it. We are each continually learning and growing as activists.
Here are some resources on intersectional feminism that we at Rockette have found helpful:
Update: In connection with its 5th Call to Action: Reflect & Resist, The Women's March on Washington has published a fantastic list of resources for people seeking to educate or refresh themselves on intersectional feminism. It is definitely worth checking out!
'Intersectional feminism'. What the hell is it? (And why you should care), by: Ava Vidal, originally published by The Telegraph.
5 Reasons Intersectionality Matters, Because Feminism Cannot Be Inclusive Without It, by: Suzannah Weiss, originally published by Bustle.