I’m scared because I think I might be a “white feminist”. I mean, my flesh says “I’m white” and I identify as “feminist”, so logistically speaking, I’m a white feminist. But that’s not really what this is about.
I think I might practice white feminism, a branch of heavily criticized feminism that focuses on mainstream issues such as abortion rights, equal representation in the workplace, and 77 cents to every dollar. Issues that, at their core, have good intentions but primarily represent the voices of privileged white women. Not to say I don’t recognize and condemn the exclusion of important groups of people in white feminism, however, my personal activism seems to fall into this mainstream feminist category and I’m equally conflicted and unapologetic about that. Let me explain…
I will dedicate my life’s work for the equal representation of women in politics. Right now, that work involves encouraging university women to take on leadership roles. When I graduate, I want to work for an organization that fundraises and campaigns for pro-choice, democratic female candidates. Someday, I might run for office. What I know to be true is that (1) I am woman and (2) women are underrepresented in politics and (3) I have the ability to change that. In my activism, I truly want to support and work for movements I don’t personally identify with. As an activist, I will do everything I can to be inclusive of all regardless of race, ability, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, all of the intersections and you name it. But what I know to be true is that I cannot be the face of every cause. I feel called upon and compelled to encourage women to run for office, and that’s what I’ll do.
In countless ways, I connected with and learned from Sheryl Sandburg’s Lean In, a manifesto that asks women in business/politics to be fearless while navigating their careers. Many of my WILL peers denounced Sandburg’s work for being a privileged white woman’s handbook and their anger stuck with me. Truth be told, I agree, but I’m also scared. I’d be lying if I said Sandburg’s success wasn’t an inspiration to me and that I still admired her strength. So does my WILL family believe that I too am fake, uneducated, privileged, and awful?
If I’m going to be criticized for reinforcing patriarchy or for being a fake feminist, whatever that means, then I ask my critics to trust that I know my patriarchal peers and colleagues. I know the system. I know their beliefs and ideals are just as strong as yours and mine. And in politics and economics, preachy revolution just doesn’t work. It’s not fair, it’s not all right, it’s demeaning, it’s disheartening, it will make you want to scream, but I know the way to change the system is to work from within the system. I recognize I am able to do this from a place of extreme privilege, but still, this is something I am capable of doing. This is something I know.
There is a reason the word “feminism” evokes such strong feelings in our society. I blame most of this on patriarchy, let’s be real. Yet, when I read feminist blogs and critiques sometimes I find myself thinking, “This is violent. This is ugly. I don’t want to be a part of this. Who would?” I know I am not alone in feeling dismissed by the feminist community. Since being introduced to feminism, I have experienced cycles of learning and growth and have molded my feminism into what it is today, but I don’t feel like the proud feminist that I used to be. Feminism is an essential part of my being, but when even I feel unwelcome, how can I realistically change the hearts of nonbelievers, so to speak? (Side note: the only synonym for feminism, according to Word, is radicalism)
I don’t want to be a so-called “white feminist”, but I also refuse to believe that my work is “fucking things up for the movement”. My feminism is not the same as your feminism or your feminism or your feminism, but it is important.
Emily Imhoff is a second-year WILLer and Junior International Affairs major with a minor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.