The world is not big enough for women. There are just so many incredible white men out there. By the time society has rewarded all of them, there simply isn’t enough room for all the women.
It’s not that the world doesn’t want to let women in. It’s that letting too many women will upset the careful balance society has spent decades perfecting. It is not misogyny, it’s science. Too many women spoil the broth, or something.
At least, that’s what we’ve been told.
From birth, women have been told that there’s only a limited amount of space at the table for us. When a woman does get into the special all-male clubs, therefore, it’s an exciting moment for womankind.
But getting a seat at the table as a woman is nothing like getting a seat at the table as a man. For a start, it’s widely accepted that the men at the table are there because they earned it. They had to slay dragons and climb over mountains of poor people to get to that table. It’s nothing to do with their manhood, and everything to do with their incomparable skill set. Women, on the other hand, are assumed to have had an easy route. They either slept their way through a dozen men, or they bypassed the system altogether and got there via a quota or diversity scheme. No dragons or mountains involved.
It’s then decided that that woman will, from hereon out, be the sole representative of all women everywhere. If she’s a feminist, then this is doubly true. Her political opinions will be regarded as the Ultimate Feminist Truth forever.
We see it all the time. When Lena Dunham created Girls, she was heralded as the one and only female feminist creator worth listening to; Emma Watson is lauded at the only woman to have ever raised feminism at a political level; and Laurie Penny and Caitlin Moran are the epitome of feminist journalism.
What they say goes, and all other feminist discourse is rendered unnecessary.
And because these women have grown up thinking that there’s only a limited amount of space at the table, they do nothing to combat this perception. They nervously release statements on issues they know nothing about, because they don’t want to lose their status as the Feminist Oracle. Worse still, they refuse to listen to the valid concerns of the women below them – the women who dare question their Ultimate Feminist Truth; the women who call them out on racism and classism and transmisogyny – because to acknowledge their imperfections would be to admit that maybe they’re not the perfect woman. And if they’re not the perfect woman, then the men will kick them off the table for confirming what they already knew: that women don’t really deserve to be at the table in the first place.
This is how white feminism continues to prevail.
Not because white celebrity feminists are hell-bent on being exclusionary, or because they’re too stubborn to learn how to do better – but because the patriarchy has ingrained in us an us or them mentality. White feminists are white feminists because they know that to be anything else would cost them career.
Of course, that’s not an excuse. If you’d rather have personal success than work towards liberating all women, you’re a terrible feminist. If you think it’s better for one woman to be famous than for all women to be safe from poverty, you’re a terrible feminist. To paraphrase the great Audre Lorde, you cannot be free while any woman is unfree, even if her shackles are different from your own – and if you think you can be, you’re a terrible feminist.
But it does explain why Laurie Penny continues to exclude black women. It explains why Emma Watson could not admit her hypocrisy over the Vanity Fair shoot. It explains why white women overwhelmingly voted for Trump and why apologies from celebrity feminists are thin on the ground.
These women know they’re privileged to have a place at the table, and they’re terrified of losing that privilege. Not because they hate minorities (okay, some of them do hate minorities), but because they hate the patriarchy. They know all too well what will happen to them should they fall from grace. They’re terrified of going back to their pre-table life.
The answer to white feminism, therefore, isn’t just to call white women out on their shit (although that is, of course, an important and highly necessary part of the answer). It’s to bring more black, LGBT+, disabled, and poor women to the table too. It’s to show white women that another woman’s success doesn’t equal her failure.
Once white women realise that there is enough space for all women in this world, maybe they’ll stop being so scared of losing what privilege they actually have.
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