Illustration by Valentina Quiñonez.

 

For years, the definition of feminism has been the belief of equality between all genders. In a world and history characterized by the dominance of men, this movement strives to empower females. The original start of the feminist movement is unknown, for it reaches back over many centuries. However, the movement gained momentum after the French Revolution. This did not allocate voting rights to French women, but it set the foundation for twentieth century, or first wave feminism. The Enlightenment had a huge impact on feminists in the twentieth century. While the Age of Reason appears to be a male-dominated movement, feminists were inspired to challenge traditionally enforced laws that limited women.

First wave feminism was a movement to bring about voting and property rights for women in America, when the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. The momentum feminism was gaining did not end here. The release of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan catapulted a second wave of feminism into existence; one that focused on the social injustices faced by women in society. Similarly, both of these movements focused on cisgender, heterosexual, and white women while shying away from women of different colors, sexualities, cultures or religions. When intersectional feminists noticed the fault in this type of feminism, they spoke out against discrimination and racism, thus the onset of third wave feminism began. This wave included ALL women, regardless of their skin color, sexualities, religious beliefs or cultures. Coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality is a term that encompasses the nature of categories which have been divided in society. Women who reject this notion are labeled as “white feminists,” feminists who seem to only care about things that affect them directly. These numbers seem to be less important and less known than their “seventy-seven cents.”

White feminists will mention issues such as body shaming and the unequal seventy-seven cents a white female makes to every dollar a man makes. But, African American women earn 64 cents to every man’s dollar. It it is even less for Hispanic women, who make 54 cents. Racism and cultural appropriation, which do not affect white women, are overlooked as well. Intersectional feminism strives to eliminate white feminism by making feminists aware of the fact that these are their issues also. White women in general have a privilege over women of color. Discrimination exists in educational environments, the workplace, and especially in the media. Diversity is almost non-existent. The film industry casts mainly white males or females. Scripts involving stories about transmen or transwomen have roles that are being given to cisgender actors or actresses. Black women are slandered and belittled for their natural beauty features, even fired from jobs because of their natural hairstyles. Little girls are threatened to be expelled because of this same reason. However, when a white girl takes those features and flaunts them in vain while POC suffer, she is celebrated as a fashion icon. In the eyes of intersectional feminists, this is unacceptable. Feminism needs to be inclusive, while also accepting the great diversity of women.

The discrimination does not end at the appropriation of black culture. Many violent attempts on black lives have been committed because of their minority status in society. Racism and transphobia have fueled hate crimes against women of color to a point where these crimes have become a dangerous common reality. 2015 was a year of disgusting police brutality against transwomen and people of color. During the months of January and February of this year, transgender women of color were targeted and killed at a rate of about one per week in the United States. It was discovered by the NCAVP (The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs) that transwomen were the target of most police discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence. This violence takes a turn for the worse in most cases. Spouts of violence have fueled very high rates of suicide in the trans community. 41% of transgender and/or nonbinary people have attempted to take their own lives. These facts are infuriatingly saddening. People are willing to discriminate an entire community because of something they can’t control; someone’s gender goes to the core of who they are and it is not anyone’s place to tell them that what they are is invalid.

Over the years of becoming more socially aware, I have noticed how majority groups panic when the rights of minorities are recognized. In the eyes of American society, white cisgender heterosexual men are the “normal” and ideal human being. They have, and continue to be, the most powerful  group in society dominating the economic and political systems set up by this country. When the spotlight is shifted to women, men automatically tense up. They automatically think that because women are suddenly being empowered that men’s rights are deemed less important. Just because feminists want to empower women does not mean they want to shrink men. One woman’s progress isn’t a man’s downfall.  And the same goes for white feminists. When intersectional feminists criticize the ideals of white feminism, they suddenly feel attacked. The “oppression” that white men and women think they experience when people of different colors, sexualities, and cultures are given a voice does not actually exist. Reverse racism does not exist.  The oppressor cannot be oppressed by the victim. That paradox was created by white people to feel safe. When a group of people have been discriminated against for so long, it is not anyone else’s place to tell them when that discrimination is over.

As a cisgender white female, I recognize my privilege in society. However, I am not going to use that privilege for self-interested topics and issues that only affect me, but rather to speak out against injustices faced by ALL women. I am not going to push aside the problems of marginalized groups for my own sake. I’ve grown up around diversity, so it only makes sense to me to want more of it. Representation is one of the keys towards unlocking equality. White feminists are not aware of or do not care about the issues faced by WOC, women in foreign countries, and LGBTQ+. But Intersectional feminists strive to create a movement that is more inclusive of wide ranges of people, rather than focusing on the needs of the individual or a specific group of people. It is about equality for all regardless of subdivisions enforced by society. When misandrists and white feminists speak out and give false information of what feminism really is, it is then that our movement slows its momentum. The spotlight needs to broaden and shine its light on women everywhere. Only when we continue down the path of intersectionality can gender equality truly be achieved.