(The above image is from this article, which I also recommend reading, though I disagree with the idea of rejecting a widespread movement and ideal because some people in it are detrimental to the cause or simply don’t seem to grasp what the cause is about)
Feminism is great. It’s about opposition to the social and cultural forces that cause so much injustice in our world. Pernicious patriarchal societal forces tell people what they should and should not be, how they should behave, and how they should interact and regard one another, with many roles determined purely by the biological sex of the individual.
In other words, some things are for men and some things are for women, and in 99.99% of those instances, these socially prescribed gender roles favor men. Men getting paid more and having more power, with the lives of women revolving around men.
That’s patriarchy. It’s absolutely gross. It’s not a conspiracy by a cabal of bearded old men who sit around contemplating whom and how to oppress in order to keep themselves in power. For the most part, the presence of the patriarchy in the modern world is just the product of thousands of years of human stupidity. And a lot of tradition is involved.
And there’s a lot to it. This cultural force has an awful lot to do with men controlling families and, specifically, controlling their wives and daughters (and children in general being regarded as property). The modern and very real effects of patriarchy range from slut-shaming to street harassment to the many layers of rape culture to the proportions of men and women being much less than representative in most professions. It impacts how people are expected (and even allowed) to dress. It impacts what classes students are encouraged to take in school or what arts they may feel open to pursuing.
What the patriarchy does best of all is probably double-standards.
It’s wonderful that feminism exists to, essentially, be the solution that dissolves the patriarchy. All joking aside, feminism is not about women being better than men, or about women taking over the world and ruling it. Though the jokes are quite entertaining.
Like I said, entertaining.
Here’s the thing—for the majority of the Twentieth Century, study in the West of feminism (and, particularly, feminist movements) had to do with Western women. It had to do with white women. It had to do with straight women. And it had to do with cisgender women. Which is all great, if you’re a Western white straight woman whose female gender identity and expression happen to match up with female sex organs.
Not so great for, um, everyone else. In particular, women who are not white. If you point out that Third Wave feminism is noted for expanding the scope of the feminist movement to include Women of Color, LGBT women, and women from different social and economic backgrounds, then you’re right. But you should also consider that viewing feminism and the history of feminism from that perspective means that you are basically viewing feminism from a white/straight/cis perspective.
Unfortunately, as with a lot of LGBT Rights issues, sometimes a lot of important issues get overlooked when it comes to feminism—essentially, people who are campaigning for human rights and for social justice kind of forget to be inclusive. Sometimes, it’s a calculated PR campaign targeting an audience that may have a racial bias. And sometimes it’s an oversight.
If your feminism is not intersectional—if your idea of feminism does not consider and include people who are different from you—then you are not doing it right. I do not only say this because the demographic of “women” includes women of so many religions, ethnicities, nationalities, sexualities, body-types, and economic levels (though that should be reason enough). I say this because the patriarchal ideas of ownership and the ongoing fight for women to be recognized as peers and equals is very relevant to matters of racial equality and LGBT issues.
Unfortunately, while some people may not consciously view them as separate issues, some white feminists can neglect to include . . . well, everyone else . . . in their feminist promotions.
Sometimes, you will see a promotional image or an image for an article about feminism discussing how feminists come from many different walks of life. The message loses some of its meaning when the image is of a bunch of white girls.
Sometimes, well-meaning feminists see religious garb worn by some women as oppressive. May the religion that gives a reason for a head-covering (I’m not speaking exclusively of Islam, here) be patriarchal in its origin and in many of its values? Absolutely. But being a feminist does not mean that you may not cover your hair, or your entire body—in fact, being a feminist does not need to impact any aspect of your appearance or what you do with your body, except that you should do it for you. A law requiring women to cover their heads? That is unjust. A woman wearing her own head-covering of her own volition, for any reason, is not a woman in need of rescuing.
Also, most uncomfortably of all, there is the White Savior idea. It’s the idea of a white person coming to the rescue of an oppressed racial minority. It’s a bizarre masturbatory, self-congratulatory aspect of white storytelling and it produces films like The Blind Side or The Help. You know, movies in which the message is “thank goodness that these black Americans had white ladies to fix their problems!”
Like I said: uncomfortable. It’s a problematic (and offensive) message.
Feminists should know better than most to be conscious of the privileges that they enjoy in society but others do not. That applies to straight feminists, cis feminists, wealthy feminists, and it certainly applies to white feminists.
Feminism is not just for any one group. Feminism wants to make the world a better place for everyone.
Feminism is for everyone.