Jasmine is in her first year at ANU studying double Laws (Honours) and International Relations. Her favourite things include dumplings, binge-watching House of Cards, and of course, smashing the patriarchy.
One crisp January morning, following the inauguration of one of the most socially divisive and outwardly sexist presidential candidates in American history, upwards of five million women gathered around the globe to demand justice and equality. The scenes that emanated from Washington’s streets that day were, to put it briefly, empowering. A feeling of feminine power and resistance arose in despite of the crushing disappointment that Hillary Clinton – a woman – had been inches away from breaking the glass ceiling of the presidency, and instead, had fallen short. In that moment, we were collectively strong and we were ready to fight for our sisters.
Following the Executive Order banning Muslims from certain Muslim majority countries, women again protested. Interestingly, protest numbers significantly decreased, from millions to thousands. White women had failed to maintain their enthusiasm for women’s rights as an intersectional whole, and instead, turned their backs on Muslim girls and women. This is a prime example of white feminism. I am, of course, not arguing that not a single white woman was present at nationwide airport protests advocating #NoBanNoWall. Nor do I argue that white women do not experience any form of oppression – because in a patriarchal sense, we do. It is important to recognise, however, that many women who did participate in the Women’s March on Washington protested against issues that do not affect them as profoundly as they affect women of colour, sex workers, Jews, Muslims, the disabled, Latinx individuals or members of the LGBTQ+ community. But subsequently, when the women of these minorities were later targeted by Donald Trump’s Executive Orders, the razor-sharp anger displayed by white women on 21 January was not duly redirected.
An Australian example of white feminism recently appeared in a The Canberra Times titled ‘Canberra’s Hidden Figures: the three women inspiring females into ICT roles’. The article is particularly problematic as it quite ignorantly compares the – still very real – trials of three white women attempting to find recognition within Canberra’s STEM industry, to the profoundly intense struggles of three black women, depicted in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. These latter worked as literal ‘computers’ at NASA in the early 1960’s – where laboratories and bathrooms were segregated, and their colleagues were incredibly racist and demeaning. Despite their legitimate struggles to find respect and encouragement in STEM, the three Canberran white women will never understand the depth of hardship that Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan endured, not just because they were women, but because they had to deal with the additional dimension of racism. It is entirely insensitive of the author to make such a comparison.
These examples reveal how it is extremely important that, as white women, we come to collectively understand that our lightness is a privilege. Time warp from the 60s to 2017 and we are still subjected to sexism and misogyny due to our gender. However, as white women, we will never have to experience being a female member of a racial minority. Consider the fact that Indigenous Australian women are 34 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to end up in hospital because of family violence. As a result of this, it is important that we use our privilege positively to elevate the voices of female minorities to front of the stage, passing them the microphone and allowing them to speak about their own unique experiences – while also publicly denouncing their oppression.
In this way, we can collectively expose discrimination for the malignant force that it is, and gradually improve the lives of all people in an intersectional fashion. Any threat to the human rights of others is a direct threat to our own human rights. This is why we must abide by our duty to protect and love other women even, and especially if, they are different to us.