I Am Woman: White Privilege and Feminism

July 7th, 2010 § 2 comments

Picture this: Fellowship Hour at church with some good chili. Myself and three others get into a discussion about feminism. I ask the two guys: are you a feminist? Both are hesitant to simply say “yes.” Those pesky “extreme” feminists get in the way. And so proceeds an hour long conversation about feminism. I’m not sure I didn’t scare some grown folks – I get very passionate. ;)

But here were two examples of guys who were trying to understand, who were listening to me and I to them. It’s always wonderful to have those kinds of conversations. I want to work so hard at dispelling the myth that feminism is only for women. It is also for men. And it isn’t just about “women can do whatever men can do,” but understanding the standards and social constructs that privilege men. Often I respond angrily in situations because of how I am made to feel, as a woman, whether belittled or silenced or inadequate or objectified.

So I am feminist.

But I sometimes have trouble saying that. It’s loaded. It means so much to so many different people – many times unflattering perspectives. Not only that but it is just complicated. As we had this conversation, I was well aware that I was speaking to a black man and a white man. Gender is not the only factor at play in our experiences and relationships. Because, while I lack one privilege, I have another.

I hesitate to firmly announce “I am feminist, hear me roar,” when feminism historically has been a space for the voices of white women. White women have employed their white privilege, even as they demand men to relinquish theirs. And because of that, as you suggest, white women sacrifice their wholeness.

I think my hesitation in fully claiming the “feminist” title (no caveats) is a part of my own attempt at claiming wholeness. The idea of wholeness gives me shivers. The idea of claiming myself – no caveats – is miraculous. But as I strive, I will continue to add my asterisks: I am feminist.*

*Sort of. 

PS – I love blogging. This post went in a direction I didn’t intend and I love it – blogging as therapy indeed. 

§ 2 Responses to I Am Woman: White Privilege and Feminism"

  • Anonymous says:

    What has feminism done for men besides let them in your hate group?

  • Liz says:

    I don't believe I belong to any hate group. In fact, my post gives love to two guys who didn't necessarily agree with me on everything but were willing to talk about the issues I brought up. I don’t believe feminism is about hating men…not the kind of feminism I appreciate anyway. Feminism looks at the ways in which men have been privileged in our society, ie how being male has given them power and disempowered women. We can see this in violence against women, in political representation, in the media, in business environments, just to name a few. In my own experiences, I’ve seen the effect this can have on everyday interactions.

    Now, as to what feminism has done for men? That’s deep, I gotta say. Because why would men want to give up power? And I’m hoping there are some men out there that can answer that question from their own experience. But I believe it goes back to wholeness – wholeness is unattainable when accepting/ignoring power and privilege. I have chosen to fight against my white privilege (and am still learning how) because it lies to me about myself. With privilege, I operate in ways I do not like. Men gain the world and lose themselves when they don’t reach out to their sisters. Acknowledging privilege is uncomfortable. But feminism isn’t about hating men. It simply asks, can we love women too? And then explores the ways we can.

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