Dear sixteen-year-old me,
Most feminists wouldn’t doubt that they stand for the economic, social and political equality of all women. Yet, for the past few years I have practiced a popular brand of feminism that fails to address the intersectional oppression faced by women of colour. Like most of my friends, I espoused feminist ideology that claimed to represent all women’s experiences but viewed gender equality through the lens of a white, upper-middle class woman. Honestly, I didn’t even come across the term intersectionality until I started university. If you asked me in high school what I thought about intersectionality, I probably would have assumed you were referring to a geometric proof of a hazardous traffic condition.
I attended a predominately white private school, and I never really noticed the exclusivity of my ideology, because I wasn’t aware of it. I called myself a feminist while simultaneously attending Bollywood themed parties hosted by other white women with a bindi on my head. I talked about the gender pay gap of 17.5 percent regularly, ignoring that the statistic represented white women and that the pay gap for women in minority groups is significantly higher.
The notion that white women were privileged compared to women of colour didn’t cross my mind. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about racism. Rather, I saw feminism and racism as two distinct issues in society, and in my mind, racism was not an element of society that feminism need concern itself with. And I didn’t think this because women of colour weren’t voicing their opinions.
I want to practice intersectional feminism that actually stands for all women, but how?
What can I say, and more importantly, what can I do?
To the ‘white’ feminists,
As of recent, I’ve become particularly disillusioned with the feminist movement and the objectives it aims to fulfil. This ‘socially progressive’ movement adopts a broad blanket approach that fails to acknowledge the distinct forms of oppression, particularly those experienced by women of colour. Currently, the feminist agenda is perceived through the experiences of an upper or middle class white woman and has effectively encouraged women of colour to abandon the label entirely.
In my experience, attempts to include women of colour into the feminist movement have, although well intentioned, been completely misguided and tokenistic. For instance, in order to tick off the cultural inclusiveness category of feminism, mainstream feminists often immediately label the hijab as patriarchal oppression without considering that for many Muslim women, the hijab is in fact an empowering symbol. Similarly, feminists ardently criticise traditional Indian marriages, yet they falsely equate forced marriage with arranged marriage in the process. These misconceptions of culture reflect the astounding ignorance of ‘white feminists’ who simply pretend to understand.
My response to white feminists: Remember that social progress and attaining gender equality is not necessarily achieved by ‘making noise.’ As a woman of colour, it is incredibly disempowering when others speaks on your behalf and dominate the conversation. The feminist movement should be about championing the voices of other women, rather than aggressively shouting over them. There are times to speak out, then there are times to remain silent.
So for once, shutup and listen. Oh and don’t wear bindis.