It’s time for a pop quiz! But don’t worry, it’s an easy question: When did all American women get the right to vote?
The answer isn’t 1920. That’s when white women got the right to vote.
The whitewashing of women’s suffrage is not a singular phenomenon; it’s a symptom of the not-so-subtle systematic whiteness of feminism. While modern feminism is an incredible movement that I am so proud to be a part of, the lack of intersectionality silences too many women who want to have their voices heard. How is it that somebody, who calls themselves a feminist, a person who stands for equal rights, can choose to look the other way when somebody else’s struggle doesn’t affect the white, middle class, educated, abled, neurotypical, straight woman? When you put all of those adjectives next to each other, they feel pretty restrictive.
Sojourner Truth had it right in 1851, when she shook the world with her Ain’t I a Woman? speech – which is why it’s so shocking that it took something as big as the Women’s March for white people to finally realize the non-intersectionality of feminism. Not fix. Realize. Because we’re still excluded from the fight for our own rights.
I used to separate myself from the feminist movement, and I called myself a “womanist” instead. I didn't want to fight for my rights as a woman under that label, if being a feminist meant that I had to stop being unapologetically and explicitly Asian. Race and gender equality movements seem to have been inherently distinct since their beginnings. Early feminists, like Alice Paul, denounced the rights of people of color to further the agenda of white feminists, and marginalized women of color so much that we were forced to create our own groups – groups that seemed doomed to ineffectuality from their starts. Second wave feminism increased skepticism amongst women of color, because feminist icons, like Betty Friedan, have been pulling a Kylie Jenner since the 60’s by taking uncredited strategies from the Civil Rights Movement, while marginalizing the very people she learned her best moves from.
Even though “white” is implied, “women’s rights” seems so much more appealing than “Black women’s rights,” or “Asian and Pacific Islander women’s rights”, especially when Women of Color are fighting for not only equal rights as women, but simply to be considered women.
"But Emmmm, that was like, 100 years ago! Racism is like, basically over now! And like, especially in feminism because we're hashtag woke, right?” Ding dong, you are wrong. Important movements that feminists have been pushing for, such as ending sexual abuse and oppression, closing the wage gap, redefining beauty standards, and many more, seem to conveniently exclude women of color when it’s beneficial for Becky. We still don’t get to speak up, even though we are the ones being fetishized. Muslim women still don’t have the freedom to cover their hair if it’s their belief to, just because White Feminists think that a hijab is oppressive. We are still ignored in the workplace and paid less than our white colleagues. We are still told in order to be a beautiful woman, we have to lighten our skin, have slim noses, and have double eyelids. It’s 2017, and we are beautiful. We are strong. We are fierce, powerful women. So why aren’t we considered women?
With hundreds of years of feminism excluding women of color, the future seems bleak… And for now, it is. Because the most basic step to solving the problem of discrimination within a discriminated group is admitting that every single one of us is at least subconsciously racist – and nobody wants to admit that. However, efforts to have true intersectional feminism must include an explicit discourse about race relations and recognize our own prejudices. Without transparency, attempts at inclusiveness almost always fall flat, and struggles are silently unnoticed.
Nobody’s saying that we can solve racism with a paragraph, but we can take the first step by admitting to ourselves and society that there is a huge flaw in the system we always try to ignore. Only then can we truly have an intersectional movement that is equally accessible and beneficial to all, regardless of race, culture, disability, or any other way people are traditionally marginalized.
So here goes: I'm Em. I'm a feminist. I'm a little racist and a little prejudiced. But I'm fixing that.
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