Painting Over White Feminism

Image Courtesy: PopCrush
Article By: Alexis Daigle, Cia, Daniela Ramirez, and Stella Nico.

Feminism in its current wave is summarized in two “I” words: inclusive and intersectional. White feminism, to put it simply, is not feminism at all. It thrives for equality of the sexes yet only recognizes the white cis-gendered women who may be at a disadvantage in society rather than the importance and intersectionality of race, gender, culture, and such. The lack of inclusivity or awareness that is found in white feminism is reflective of the lack of understanding towards other cultures and race. Equality and intersectionality are not mutually exclusive. However, in the “white feminist” perspective, intersectionality is often unintentionally forgotten. Privileges are disregarded or not even acknowledged by those who pertain to white feminism.

White feminism is harmful because it silences the struggles of the oppressed (e.g. people of color, LGBTQ+ people, women in third world countries, etc). By only focussing on a rather small spectrum of issues and deeming it ‘feminism’, white feminists make the entire feminist movement look like it only cares about women who are  cis-gendered, able-bodied, straight, white and middle-class complaining about the fact that they’re labelled bitchy whenever they’re assertive. Of course, their struggle is still somewhat valid - the blatant sexism that still exists in workplaces is awful - but it’s not exactly on the same level as other, more endangering examples of sexism today: for example, the life expectancy of a trans woman of colour is 35, due to the increased rates of murder and suicide, and discrimination against women prevails in the laws of several countries around the world.

Lena Dunham is a clear representation of white feminism. Activists like her often fail to recognize white privilege and western privilege. They also do not often acknowledge other struggles besides just gender inequality. Most feminists, sometimes referred to as “intersectional feminists” are generally more understanding and educated when it comes down to the other aspects of women’s struggles. Dunham has been known to make racist comments; including sexualization of black men and racial stereotypes during the Odell Beckham incident. Along with that, her show Girls lacks diversity and her Twitter is flooding with ignorant statements.

When she acts like this:

We will reply like this:

Of course, Lena Dunham isn't the only white feminist out there. Here are a few others:

  • Emma Watson - you can read her response to being called out for white feminism here. She describes white feminism as the “exclusion of black women from the [feminist] movement”, and then proceeds to distance herself from the label by declaring that her bosses “(and the people who gave [her] the job) are two black women”. Out of her entire HeForShe speech to the United Nations, only two sentences explicitly referenced the struggles facing other women across the globe (child marriage and lack of access to secondary education), as opposed to her own experiences as a privileged white woman with gender-based discrimination (such as being called “bossy” for wanting to direct a play). Of course, this doesn’t undo her work as a UN ambassador: you can read about what she’s done for poverty here.
  • Amy Schumer - by attempting to parody Beyonce's Formation, she places herself, a white woman, at the centre of a narrative about black women's self-love and sexual liberation. You can watch the parody here. Despite fighting against rape culture and Hollywood's institutional sexism, Schumer still chooses to joke about sexual assault and use people of colour as comedic props.
  • Jennifer Lawrence - her response to the backlash against her being casted in the Hunger Games movies due to whitewashing in Hollywood neatly sidestepped around the entire whitewashing issue. She's made dozens of awkward comments about mental health, sexualities and body types - for example, she thinks that OCD is 'quirky'. More here. Then there’s her rude exchange with a non-English speaker at a press conference when she told him to get off his phone, and her absolutely offensive depiction and mockery of native Hawaiian culture in an interview on the Graham Norton Show.
  • Taylor Swift - that awkward Twitter exchange with Nicki Minaj. You know, this one.

Lena Dunham is most known for her quirky and “groundbreaking” sitcom on HBO, Girls. While continuously criticizing the lack of diversity that there is in the film industry, the show that she is so proud of has a central cast made of only white women. Girls focuses on a group of white female friends that all live in New York. How refreshing and utterly innovative! Characters of color have only ever been presented as supporting characters that may appear in a few episodes. Rapper, actor, and comedian Donald Glover (a.k.a Childish Gambino) guest-starred on her show as a strongly conservative Republican man. He was quickly written off the show, however: it was through a heated breakup with the show’s protagonist that he left the show with an argument that ultimately involved the discussion of race. Despite this significant turn in Girls’s response to race, it is an isolated instance of inspiring more common discourse of race. One moment of diversity does not account for an entire show that is already going on for its sixth season. Dunham has responded to the diversity issue on her by telling how it had been a “painful learning experience” however so far there have been no explicit attempts of diversifying the cast of Girls.

The 2016 Met Gala was full of famous celebrities, beautiful clothes, and Lena Dunham. In an interview with Amy Schumer, Dunham discussed her experience sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr (a wide receiver for the New York Giants). She complained that he ignored her, choosing scrolling through Instagram over conversing with her. She attributed that incident to the fact that she was wearing a suit, going as far as to say, “I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards. He was like, "That's a marshmallow. That's a child. That's a dog." It wasn't mean — he just seemed confused.” Instead of considering that fact that Beckham could have made the conscious choice to not speak to her because of personal reasons, she immediately assumed it was because of her attire. Forcing Beckham into a harmful, outdated stereotype that black men are savages who only have sex on their minds is racist. . This is also a prime example of white feminism - stereotyping POC to fit their small-minded ideas of the world. After receiving plenty of backlash on the internet, she tweeted these:

However, she soon found that most people don’t accept apologies full of poorly veiled condescension, so she formally apologized on Instagram

Yet can an apology that has only come as a way to save face truly mean that much?