White feminism is on repeat
Hey Ms. DJ, please don’t re-play.
February 20, 2017
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One of my friends told me that white feminism isn’t real. White feminism, according to Fem magazine, “is a term typically used to describe the belief system of white, heterosexual, cisgender feminists.” According to my friend, feminism is just feminism.
But, is it really?
The Women’s March is an iconic representation of the worldwide support for human rights through demonstrations and protests. According to the New York Times, in Washington alone, there were approximately 470,000 attendees, thrice the amount of people in comparison to Trump’s inauguration. America Ferrera, Alicia Keys, Cher, Scarlett Johansson, Olivia Wilde and Zendaya were some of the many celebrities present in the march; however, of the celebrities who have branded themselves as “feminists,” one in particular was missing in action: Taylor Swift.
Lena Dunham, Swift’s bestie and self-proclaimed feminist/advocate for (arguably, white) women’s rights, defended Swift’s absence from the march.
“I just think everyone has to do [activism] their way,” said Dunham in a Rolling Stones article last week.
The question is then, of course, is there a “right” way to be a feminist?
Julia T. Wood, a feminist theorist, defines feminism in her book Gendered Lives as an act of treating everyone equally, regardless of their social location — gender, sexual orientation, race, ability, socioeconomic status, religion, etc.
This definition is starkly contrasted to Swift’s work, which is particularly problematic because it overwhelmingly embodies young, white, heterosexual women.
Her failure to recognize the complexity of intersectionality — where multiple social categories and identities make it harder for many to climb up the social ladder — creates a deeper problem than merely rejecting feminism. She creates an empire of success that is only accessible for white, cis-gendered, straight, upper class women: a perfectly carved keyhole that only a handful of people fit in. By disregarding multiple social factors that may hinder a woman from succeeding in life, the purpose of feminism is lost.
Examples of this embodiment of selective female empowerment are obvious, from her record-breaking song “Love Story” — and many others — that perpetuated the damsel-in-distress stereotype, to “Blank Space,” which addresses the double standards women face. Swift has earned millions from selling girl culture” through her music and persona—ballads of young, heterosexual love, which are centered around the demand for romance and attention from attractive cisgender men.
Granted, she’s not the only artist who has made money from stereotypical girlhood stories, but being the top-earning celebrity of Forbes’ 2016 Celebrity 100 and a self-declared feminist, she can do more than just talk about women’s experiences while overlooking the overlapping qualities of social spheres.
Of course, the reiteration of sexual positivity for young women is necessary, considering double standards regarding sex and relationships which continue to be portrayed in popular culture. But, considering the influence music has on generations, the refusal to be more self-critical and open to more radical activism as subject matter is the burden of popular artists like Swift.
Furthermore, Swift’s failure to recognize her own privilege is a problem in itself.
Swift manifests all of the conventional qualities associated with being a straight, cisgender woman – she had the tools to become successful right from the get-go. The societal structure was built to her advantage: work hard and get there. In reality, social, political and economical factors overlap and affect each other, which unfortunately many women still face today.
If young women buy into what Wood calls the “can-do” attitude, which is the idea that women can do everything through hard work, it creates a false female agency that heedlessly neglects other social issues like racism, homophobia, heterosexism, ageism, etc.
It seems contradicting to tell a woman how to perform feminism when it is founded off of fighting for women’s freedom and choice. However, it is more contradicting to advocate feminism for only a fraction of society.
Concedingly, she’s not the only celebrity who embodies white feminism – i.e. Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler — but having such a huge following of young teens creates profound repercussions for the future of feminism. Fortunately, celebrities like Zendaya and Amandla Stenberg are young pioneers for popular intersectionality—advocating for the diversity of communities and speaking on issues such as gender, sexuality, race and class.
It’s time to hold Swift, and many others like her, accountable for branding the word feminism on themselves, but failing to perform its true purpose, which is celebrating the abundance and variety of life and fighting for everyone’s equality.
Indeed, Swift has come a long way from writing about women obsessed with romance to women learning how to shake off other people’s judgement. But, pretending that other social factors affecting gender do not exist is simply unacceptable.
The march was a symbol of unity for everyone to come together and fight for those who are silenced and marginalized . Her absence signified more than just refusing to attend a crowded protest, but also rejecting to hold hands with what she’s supposedly supporting, regardless of one’s social categorization.
There’s a huge difference between talking and walking. And I am proud to live in a community where we call people out and make them aware of their (non)actions. Through the women’s march, people of all color, age, social class, gender, status, etc. have come together in solidarity to intersectional feminism, without leaving anyone behind.