I Feel Like Feminism Leaves Me And Other Women Of Color Out

It's easy to feel left out of the feminism movement when I don't feel like my voice is heard. | Source: Shutterstock

It’s easy to feel left out of the feminism movement when I don’t feel like my voice is heard. | Source: Shutterstock

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!

 

10 Things You Can Do AND Be A Feminist

 

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  • Jessica

    I think as a woman of a very mixed background. I think I see people try to twist it to a vision that just suits them. We need to stop fighting eachother. Acknowleging that there are different view points and try to support all view points…

    If I was to try to find something in feminism to suit me exclusively I would never find it If I was looking for race and gender… Because I am so mixed…. Both parents were mixed, all grandparnets and great grand parents. I am mostly caucausian in genetic make up and I look light skined.. but it is golden because of the hispanic and black part that is added into the mix… I always get strangers trying to tell me I am not acting black enough, or asking If I am Egyptian, or what part of India my family is from (even though there is no Egytian or Indian in me nor do I believe that is what I look like… There would be nothing out there Black or White or what ever race of women it wouldn’t really apply to me…

    I think we should learn to listen to eachother.

  • morag

    Nope sorry, teenage transgendered girls are not part of my feminism. Trans women will never really be women b/c they don’t suffer the unique sex based oppression that we do. Women’s shared girlhood experiences matter, which is why WOC need to be given a louder voice in feminism. Men, albeit gender nonconforming? Not so much.

    • suzana

      perfect, totally agree with you. women have to start thinking about ourselves. gay/trans dudes are not a matter for feminism, they have gay movement to take care about them. i’m interested in only female issues.

      about race: i’m a brazilian woman of color and kinda agree and disagree with the author. the focus of feminism MUST be combat misoginy, rape culture, street harassment, prostitution, domestic violence, female murders, and make reproductive rights legal and accesible. these general issues affects ALL of us, but mostly the poorest women (what means women of color, women of third world, poor women, mostly). here abortion is illegal but rich woman still do that because they have money to pay, to educate themselves about it, to get safe and out of prison). poor woman suffer more with this issue. the same is true for prostitution (most prostitutes are poor and women of color), domestic violence (more common in poor areas), etc.

      but we do have to pay attention how patriarchy affects different races, sexual orientations and economic classes. i really like allen’s videoclip, but i’m disapointed with her answer (i thought her choice to put black women there was to show how racist this clips are too). here we have a problem with how maids are underpaid and have less work rights, and most of them are poor black woman. does it mean upper classes women are not our allies? of course not, we count on them to get the positions the poorest can’t access and change politics and corporations to make it fair for all women. i endorse white upper class female candidates (we have less than 10% os congress seats) despite our differences

      sorry for english mistakes

  • FoxxyRoxxy

    I think that was part of the point she was trying to make. We aren’t called women or females in songs. We are bitches by most artists, hence the satire. I might be wrong but thats how I see it.

  • Nathella

    She just compared all women to dogs. Ummm… Not what I expected considering the point she was trying to make

    • FoxxyRoxxy

      I think that was part of the point she was trying to make. We aren’t called women or females in songs. We are bitches by most artists, hence the satire. I , iht be wrong but thats how I see it.

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  • Anna

    Is anyone familiar with Womanism? It’s kind of like the black woman’s equivalent to feminism. The term was coined by Alice Walker. I think every feminist–regardless of their race–should be familiar with it.

  • Veronica

    I am genuinely curious. I saw another article where Jay-Z and Azealia Banks are calling Miley out for her cultural appropriation because twerking has african american roots and she’s a white girl who can pretend to do this then take it off…. but at the same time we get mad because we have portray African americans as twerking in videos? It just seems silly to get mad because someone else “acts black” while at the same time also being mad because we show black people “acting black.” It’s either a baseless stereotype or the reason why black women are portrayed this way is because they *are* the predominate image for this behavior.

    Then again, perhaps the point of Lily’s video was to point out that stereotype, and that no women should be portrayed that way.

    • bgurrl

      Twerking is from Africa

  • Samantha Escobar

    You know what sucks? I thought she was trying (like, really obviously trying) to make a point about white people being surrounded by black people in music videos, so I assumed that that part of this was a big “F YOU” to that type of appropriation and utilization. Alas, from her own defensive blog post, it seems like she was inexplicably unaware so…bummer. Big ol’ bummer.

  • shingekim

    I agree, and this was very well said. Feminism is not even unique in being exclusive to some of its own members. For example, the LGBT movement, while ostensibly about equality for all lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans* people, is still often very forgetful of (or downright unwelcoming to) bisexuals and trans* people. I’ve encountered a lot of judgement within the LGBT movement as a bisexual woman, even from those who have been discriminated against their whole lives for their sexuality. You’d think there would be more sympathy, and yet I’m frequently treated as though my sexuality is made up, or that I’m a slutty nymphomaniac. As though I am doing it for attention. I can’t even imagine what trans* people experience.

    On that note, I do wish discussions of intersectionality had broader horizons. In my experience, the same people who talk of intersectionality are often those who treat me as nothing but a “privileged white girl”. Yes, I AM well aware of my privilege in society as a white person, and I try to keep it in mind as often as I can and learn about it. That doesn’t mean I have privilege in every aspect of my life. I’m a lower-middle class woman in a relationship with another woman. Being white does not exempt me from prejudice about my sexuality, and it does not make me magically rich and powerful. Being white doesn’t make misogynistic jokes any less hurtful. Privilege is not a matter of 1′s and 0′s. This is exactly what intersectionality is all about, and yet it’s often ignored by those who discuss it.

  • Simone

    I understand with the video, but just because people mis understand with a video doesn’t mean the ENTIRE world of Feminism is leaving out women of color. Feminism is Gender. I don’t know where you’ve been find your info on feminism, but Everything I see, has to do with women of all kind.

    • Michelle

      Feminism is gender, but it’s not mutually exclusive from race or sexuality. To say that feminism has nothing to do with race is a disservice to women of color. Intersectionality, people.