In September 2015, Annie Lennox, a white Scottish singer and songwriter, accused Beyoncé of not being a true feminist, calling her “feminist-lite.” Lennox explained saying “Twerking is not feminism. That’s what I’m referring to. It’s not liberating, it’s not empowering. It’s a sexual thing that you’re doing on a stage; it doesn’t empower you. That’s my feeling about it.” But seriously! Should Lennox talk about feminism while she’s sexualizing Beyoncé’s performance, reducing it, and her identification with feminism as well to mere “twerking”?
With all due respect to every white woman out there who is fighting for her rights or trying to make the world a better place for all women everywhere, the fight doesn’t apply to gender only, it must also account for class, religion, race, caste, culture and sexuality. But what Annie Lennox said has nothing to do with all of this, and it has nothing to do with feminism, because excluding or humbling someone’s effort is not feminism.
Intersectionality as a term was first introduced in 1989 by the law scholar and critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, while the actual concept has existed since 1851. Intersectionality is defined as “the view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.” Unfortunately, White feminism as a belief permits the exclusion of issues and experiences that affect non-white women. As one writer observes, “White feminists are an exclusive group of feminists in that they do not include women of color, queer women, or any other minority group of women in their talks of gender equality. They are only concerned about equality for white heterosexual women.” Which means it fails to be intersectional.
White feminists think that sexism is the only sphere of influence on oppression, or the biggest problem women face in society. But do you think ending sexism is going to end racism, for instance? Ladies, being lucky enough to not experience as much oppression as other non-white women should push you harder into helping other women, not making it all about your experience! And believe me, being all defensive and crying about how good your intentions are, and how we’re all in this together isn’t helping at all, it’s only wasting valuable time on nothing.
There’s also white feminists’ weird reaction around Muslim women’s hijabs or burkas. Believing that hijab is a form of oppression is understandable, but trying to force what you believe on people is totally not! Yes, many Muslim women are forced to wear hijab, whether by a family member or because of societal pressures. In Iran and Saudi Arabia women are forced to wear it by law. And of course women shouldn’t be forced to do anything. But on the other hand, there are so many who actually choose to wear it because it’s a form of their faith or commitment to their religion, and they have said many times that they’re not forced to wear it. In France, several laws were passed to prevent wearing headscarves in certain places; School teachers, for instance, are prevented from wearing it, or the burka, in public places. Burka is also prohibited in public places in Belgium. So please tell us how exactly speaking for them, claiming that you know better than them, forcing your opinion on them, or banning hijab in some countries is different than forcing them to wear it? How do you consider this as a form of empowerment?
Many White feminists call for preventing sex work because, simply, it’s ‘degrading’ and isn’t an empowering profession to be considered as a “legitimate choice.” This actually divides women into worthy and non-worthy. So you believe that women have the absolute right to do whatever they want about their lives except when it comes to a choice you don’t agree with, even if it is their choice and nobody is forcing it on them? Again… How do you think you’re different than someone who’s forcing something on them?
“I mention my own good luck/fortune/privilege something like 5 times in my UN speech and my wish to make sure other women have access to the same opportunities I have.” That’s what Emma Watson, actor and an ambassador of the He For She campaign, said after she was asked if she is a White feminist or not. Watson told Huffington Post that she cannot speak on behalf of intersectional feminism, but instead, she’s trying to give a platform to intersectional feminists to talk about their experiences and share their stories.
Being lucky or privileged because you haven’t experienced as much oppression as other women can also be used to help other women. Instead of making it all about your experience you can pave the way for others and stop being hurtful to other women. We need to elevate each other and hear each other’s voices. Be more inclusive instead of being exclusive. And remember that empowerment lies within free choice. Instead of forcing your opinions on other groups of people try to let them speak for themselves, educate them and help them know their rights not claiming that you know better.