If somebody asked me if I’m a feminist, I’d say yes. If somebody asked me how I feel about the feminist movement, I’d say “it’s complicated.”
Some of you might be wondering why that is.
Well, I’ll let my reaction to Lily Allen’s latest video for “Hard Out Here” explain. A lot of people are praising it for its cutting critique of how sexist the music industry is. I understand why my fellow feminists have a lot of love for the video: it is a satire that slams body shaming and the exploitation of women’s bodies and I love when women within the industry bring this to light.
What I’m not as in love with is her use of predominantly, black women’s bodies twerking and gyrating to prove her point about the lengths the industry will go to exploit women’s bodies. But in response to her critics who claim that that portrayal was racist, Allen said that the video had nothing to do with race and everything to do with gender.
Um, what? Look, I know that we live in a sexist society that loves to strip women down to nothing more than object status, but are we really going to ignore the fact that, when it comes to butt shaking in music videos, it’s usually black women who do the butt shaking? Are we really going to pretend that black women aren’t disproportionately depicted in this manner or are we going to glaze past that and just look at it as women in general? How are we going to challenge this when we’re going around pretending that women are affected by sexist crap in the same exact way?
See, this is my problem with the way that feminist issues are often explored: Many feminists approach feminism as the fight for gender equality, but what does equality between men and women even mean when there isn’t even equality among women? When you’re a woman who fits into other marginalized groups–due to race, your sexual identity, your class, etc–you might feel like the problems that you face as a woman aren’t really addressed in a lot of feminist discussions because your struggles are either ignored entirely or treated as a niche issue.
For example, I’ve sat in plenty of gender studies classes in school and had to deal with listening to self-described feminists claim that race isn’t a feminist issue or race is a distraction. Well, what am I supposed to do? Apologize and say, “whoops, sorry, let me just ignore the fact that I’m black for a few minutes and just focus on the woman part of my identity.”
I can’t do that. Being black is a part of my reality of being a woman. I don’t choose one or the other! So when feminist issues are approached in a way that only talks about gender, I can’t help but feel alienated. I’m asked to ignore my blackness for the cause and that’s unfair.
My point is that sometimes mainstream feminism just does’t care about marginalized woman. It already feels like anytime there are big strides made in gender equality, they happen to straight, white women first and foremost. Brown chicks? Queer women? Oh, they’ll get their chance later! They’ll just have to wait their turn!
Yeah, I’m not feeling that.
Some of you young feminists are probably thinking, “Okay, so what am I supposed to do about it?” Well, I’m not expecting you to single-handedly dismantle the patriarchy, white supremacy or hetero-normativity overnight. I mean, if you could do that that would be great and much appreciated, but I’m going to assume that that’s a little tricky to accomplish right now.
Honestly, my only suggestion is this: Become a feminist who cares about and fights for the inequality and disadvantages of every kind of woman, even if those problems don’t personally affect you. The lack of women of color on Saturday Night Live is a feminist issue. Care about it! The lack of rights that transgender teen girls have is a feminist issue! Care about that, too! Things that screw over all kinds women are feminist issues that you should care about and sometimes those problems include racism, homophobia, classism, and more.
That’s what solidarity looks like, it’s about fighting until things start looking up for all kinds of women, not just women in general…whatever that means.
Do you ever feel like your concerns aren’t addressed in feminist discussions? What do you wish feminists would spend more time focusing on? Tell us in the comments!