In case you missed it the first forty times: I’m a white man. So it’s impossible to talk about experiences which aren’t my own with any full understanding. It’s likely it’ll come across as patronizing. There’s a lot to take in, to learn, and I guarantee I will miss out elements which shouldn’t be ignored. I want to be corrected and have people tell me what I’ve missed and why I’m wrong. I genuinely want to know and try to comprehend another’s experience.
And with that disclaimer, let’s hope I don’t fuck this up!
So let’s start with this:
Mainstream feminism has always been overwhelmingly white. White voices, white faces, white circumstances, white explanations, white solutions. Whitey-white-white. Early 20th century suffragettes certainly had problems with including non-white women. Not all, or even most, feminists today are white, but these faces continue to front the movement.
White women struggle to have equal footing with white men in pretty much all situations, and their hardships shouldn’t be ignored. No woman’s voice should be (I’m pretending Theresa May and Sarah Huckabee Sanders don’t exist for this moment). But we are drastically imbalanced in the voices we hear, the faces we see, and the platforms to share their stories.
Pay What The Fuck?! Gap
Women, we are told, earn 79 cents to every dollar a man makes. This is but a half-truth since we instinctively misplace the word “white”:
Compared to a dollar earned by white men, white women make 79 cents while black women receive 63 cents, 57 cents for Native American women, and 54 cents for Latinx women. Yes – Latinx women earn just over half of a white man’s pay for doing the exact same job. For Asian American women, the number is 87 cents to the dollar. A smaller gap which would surely make the issue seem less drastic, yet we only talk about the 20 cent difference for white women! What the fuck?!
In my naïvety, I used to believe raising pay for white women would raise it for all women. At best, women of color would see their pay go up, but never to an equitable level. Bottom-up approaches, however, are rarely considered publicly.
Yes – white is the dominant culture and demographic in the west. But our culture willfully ignores non-white stories. Women of color rarely have their stories heard, are drastically underrepresented in government and media, and are blatantly ignored by those who should have their backs (*cough* Democrats *cough*).
None of this is new, least of all to any woman of color. So it came as no surprise when one of the “most uplifting movies of the year” fell into the exact same rhythm as pretty much all of Hollywood’s releases: I Feel Pretty.
In case you somehow missed it back in the early spring, Amy Schumer’s character isn’t drop-dead gorgeous and definitely isn’t a size zero. Schumer is mass-playing the role of women who are described as “average”. The morals are: beauty is inside; how you think and feel about yourself is important; friends who like you for you are tantamount. All good messages. And when Schumer has an accident, realizes how great she truly is, and gains that much-needed confidence boost, she is rewarded with a new job, and immediate promotion, heads up a whole section of the company, wins over the founder, the CEO (and her hot brother), and meets a man she’s crazy about. You see, white women who are average – not ugly, obese or lacking higher education – can still win if you only believe in yourself. Obviously.
Except, no, not for most women of color.
In most examples, women of color do not fit in the west’s standards of beauty. Those who are deemed “stunning”, however, have to work their asses tirelessly to achieve. Serena Williams is a perfect example. Here’s a woman with 23 Grand Slam titles, has created a brand worth millions, is an ambassador and advocate for women everywhere, and yet is still judged harder than white women who pale [yes – intended pun] in comparison. Maria Sharapova is still considered her greatest rival, yet her win-rate against Williams hasn’t reached ten percent. Even in the liberal Guardian, comparisons between the two athletes attempts to make their footing equal while brushing over the facts:
“…there is a gathering conviction here that Maria Sharapova will emerge from her fourth-round match on Monday celebrating her first win over Serena Williams in 19 matches…”
This is batshit crazy, considering how Sharapova struggled against Williams even when doping. What exactly does a champion like Williams have to do to be regarded with the same respect as not just her male counterparts, but the white women who are clearly inferior athletes?
And then there’s a superstar like Beyoncé, who commands fame, fortune, media, peers, politicians, a global audience… She is a woman residing in the highest echelons of public life. But even Beyoncé plays second fiddle to herself.
Independent Woman Beyoncé is heralded as an icon. Formation Beyoncé is an angry black woman. The latter version has no place in our culture. At the Super Bowl she apparently incited violence as the embodiment of the modern-day Black Panther. Speaking up for all women is a-OK, but when she stands for black people, specifically empowering black women, even Beyoncé goes too far.
While women of color and their stories go ignored, Hollywood, large portions of the media, and audiences have allowed white men, including the bigoted Mel Gibson and sexual harassers like James Franco, Casey Affleck and Woody Allen, to continue on with not just fortune, but critical acclaim; in 2018 Franco won a Golden Globe while Affleck received an Oscar in 2017, both after their respective accusers came forward.
It’s a white, white, white, white, white, white man’s world
In these white-centric stories like I Feel Pretty, we are reinforced to believe that a plucky, can-do attitude and an extra boost of confidence is all you need, which completely washes away anyone who doesn’t have that privilege. Women who do not fit into this mold can tell you that extra pluck is never enough, while women who do – BOOM! – that success can come in spades.
As well intentioned as these stories may be, they fail to discuss the privileges white women possess. Many white women have even argued that talking specifically about struggles faced by non-white women can comes across like some extra hurdle, because surely talking about white women generally is good for all women, right?
This isn’t just true of women or feminists. In the LGBTQ+ community, you will regularly see large community organizations being led purely by white, cis committee members. To understand what it’s like for black gay men and women you have to seek out those groups separately. Progressive movements are not black and white, yet many progressives have chosen to view them that way.
Every aspect of our so-called multicultural values are weighted to whiteness and how we all fit on that scale, even in feminism. White, straight men are the pinnacle, dictating the rules for culture, behavior, and even what to care about. Where does this leave lesbians, trans, Latinas, Native, Black, Muslim, Arab, Middle-Eastern, East Asian, South-Asian, and every other non-cis/straight/white group of women who are overwhelmingly sidelined to make space for whiteness? The struggle is different for these women, the fight tougher, the success harder.
And if this all seems a little too Hollywood…
Hillary Clinton won women overall in 2016; Donald Trump won white women. The Republican platform long before Trump has not advocated for women in decades, yet for the 53 percent, white privilege enabled them to select a candidate, a party, that refuses to work for, or listen to, women. 94 percent of black women and 69 percent of Latinas, on the other hand, voted for a party – and all the candidates running including Clinton and Bernie Sanders – whose primary advocacy continues to be for the white working class voters. People of color, women in particular, are secondary.
In western democracies, women of color can be the most loyal supporters, and yet their value remains sidelined. In their millions they show up to support “progressive” candidates and platforms, and every single time they are taken for granted so explicitly it is painful. “If only women voted then Democrats would never lose an election,” we hear. As you see above, this white-washed statement is not true.
If women of color never voted in another election then right-wing politicians would always win. They are the key to the political left, and yet their representation in a few fucking movies, showing their faces and telling their stories, is an argument deemed to be inconsequential.
And the worst of it:
After the 2016 election, many vocal white women came out and cursed people of color for not supporting women, for not showing up, for not coming out for Clinton like they did Obama. The blame is never the absolute fault of white people, even the women.