The Disease That Is White Feminism

Posted by Arunima Singh in Feminism
March 12, 2018

Unless you have been living under a rock, you must have noticed the various feminist movements that have been creating a storm lately. From news, entertainment and media, to academia and social media, movements like #MeToo have been able to create an impact because of the growing solidarity among feminists who have access to the internet. Of course, a movement that requires a smartphone and an internet connection would have its limitations, but that hasn’t stopped it from demanding changes in circles that were often otherwise unaffected by what was happening outside of them. Another interesting aspect of movements like this is how they are built upon and encourage solidarity among similar minded people, and especially how the internet became a platform to bring so many women and allies together. Intersectionality, which most feminists regard as essential to the ideology and the larger movement would also gain from this. But has it?

On this women’s day, a certain women’s rights page on Facebook shared this map (which I believe has since been removed) which was supposed to show when women in various nations got the right to vote:

Women-Suffrage Around The World
Women-Suffrage Around The World

Very conveniently, this map forgot to mention (as did the page administrators) that while it showed when various nations like the United States gave (white) women the right to vote after long struggles, countries like India would grant voting rights to ALL its citizens through the establishment of constitutional democracy in the given year. For India, this time meant decolonization. Yet, as soon as anyone could vote in India, everyone could (legally) vote in India. And somehow, we find ourselves on a darker yellow than most of these ‘developed’ countries which took years to realize the personhood of women (and even longer to recognize the rights of men and women of colour), blinded by their glorious ideas of freedom and liberty. Now we are presented with maps like this, that tell us we came late to the adult suffrage party!

I remember yet another post from a few months ago, on which comparisons were made between Christopher Columbus and M.K. Gandhi. Such arguments lacking nuance and any sense of context or history have become typical of White Feminism. And before I am misread and accused of reverse racism (which by the way isn’t a thing – all kinds of people can be racists, but structures aren’t so easy to reverse), I would like to add that I am not simply accusing all white people of doing this or even suggesting only white people do this, rather a standpoint that comes from privilege and the habit of looking down at, largely associated with white people (thus the name), which can be held by other people too.

What is disheartening about posts like this is not the intention in the least, but the lack of regard to various factors one must think about and present when putting up such pictorial representations of markers women’s rights. This is also not in defence of a certain nation. It wouldn’t be a worthwhile conversation to have nation-states compete with one another to see who treats their women better. We would all be losers. It is to make a larger point about the invisibility of our histories, especially colonial histories to so many feminists in the west. Even after immense contributions from feminist scholars from the ‘Global South’ as Chandra Talpade Mohanty calls it, the ‘Western Eye’ is still unable to check its gaze. First, it was the white men who were civilising us, now, white women have taken up the mantle of saving women from the third world. And while their intentions can be appreciated, we must refuse to be passive victims of our circumstances and our men.

If we are to be comrades, we must ask of our counterparts to do better. We must ask them to learn about issues that they wish to speak on, and more importantly, we must be speaking for and about ourselves. I don’t believe in the hegemony of speech, and I am also not suggesting a politics where only I should be speaking on my behalf; that is impractical and impossible for everyone to partake in. What I would suggest and insist upon, is a solidarity that is built on mutual respect and a willingness to learn from both the sides, rather than a philanthropic approach that brands us the receiver of ‘feminist ideals’, and western feminists, the imparters. Such a feminism can never be our feminism.