Saturday, April 14, 2018

Are Hillary Clinton, Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham White Feminists?

In recent years, more and more self-identified feminists have condemned some fellow feminists as 'white feminists'. The precise definition of the term, however, is unclear. Does it mean feminists who happen to be white? If that's the case, then most of those doing the accusing fall into this category too. Therefore, this cannot be the real meaning of the term. Alternatively, does it refer to feminsts who are white and racist? Or at least white and don't care about non-white women?

Let's first look at who the term is actually being applied to. Hillary Clinton, Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham would have to be three of the most common names I have heard in association with 'white feminist' in the past two years or so. First of all, there is no evidence at all that any of these three are racist in any way, quite the opposite in fact. Therefore, 'white feminist' can't be just referring to racist feminists. As for a broader definition of feminists who are white and don't care for women of colour, I don't get that vibe from any of these three either. Finally, are these three any different from other feminists in their feminism? Do these three share some particular characteristic that 'good feminists' don't share? I don't see any.

So there you have it. The 'white feminist' label is meaningless.

What's the opposite of 'white feminist' then? The standard answer is, 'intersectional feminism'. Intersectional feminism is supposed to be the 'good feminism', the kind that cares about the intersectional disadvantages that ethnic minority women and queer women suffer. So how do the aforementioned three supposedly 'white feminists' measure up here? First of all, all three appear to be very queer friendly. Hillary Clinton may have come later than Barack Obama to the marriage equality table, but at least she got there earlier than many other progressive feminists, including even former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Taylor Swift even made sure there was trans representation at one of her concerts; how many other musicians have actually done the same? As for caring about ethnic minorities, these supposedly 'white feminists' aren't deficient either. In fact, Lena Dunham in particular really, really cares about being sensitive to ethnic minorities, and I have even cringed at hearing some of what she had to say about cultural appropriation in food. If Lena Dunham isn't left-wing enough in this area, I don't know who is.

But then, intersectional feminism, as it is often practiced, is effectively GLIF (gatekeeper limited intersectional feminism), where self-appointed gatekeepers decide what's in and what's out, and perhaps just as importantly, who's in and who's out. I don't exactly know how the gatekeepers decide who is a good intersectional feminist or not, but it may have to do with their own political views or personal likes and dislikes. For example, Hillary Clinton has arguably become the most prominent representation of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, and some socialists strongly dislike her. Taylor Swift is very, very rich, and again some socialists may not like that. Alternatively, her relationship history has made her unpopular with some women. As for Lena Dunham? Some people just strongly dislike her, for whatever reason.

In conclusion, if Hillary Clinton, Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham are 'white feminists', then the label effectively means 'feminists that some other feminists don't like', and is therefore effectively meaningless. We should all probably stop using it.