On Feminism's Failures

By Kiyun 

I am not a feminist. I haven’t been one for one week shy of five months, as of the moment I’m typing this. In a world where many feminists are beginning to ask, “Why aren’t you a feminist?” my statement might seem odd, particularly when so much effort has been put into making sure the message of what feminism is really about becomes widespread. However, with all the talk of why people should be feminists, many are neglecting to address “legitimate” reasons, ones not based in gross misconceptions of feminism, why many choose to reject the feminist movement.

The feminist movement, at its core, is to bring about gender equality on a social, economic, and political level. And, to be fair, the feminist movement has done a lot of good in these areas. Feminism is working to dismantle rape culture, a culture in which rape and rapists are oftentimes excused , condoned, or simply not taken seriously. Feminism is working to end sexual harassment, from the street to the workplace. Feminism is working to demolish gendered stereotypes, giving both men and women greater freedom in how they live their lives. Unfortunately, the feminist movement, both historically and today, has failed to bring about equality for a vast majority of women. It has failed a majority of women in different ways, and it has failed some women far more than others. Feminism has failed because while it seeks to improve life for all women, it has not taken the diversity of women into account.

    Many things could be said on this topic, far too much to squeeze into one blog post. But, as race was the main issue that drove me from the feminist movement, that is what I will focus on. Women of color are often shunted aside in the feminist movement, whether through ignorance or outright racism. The same issues that affect white women don’t always affect us in the same way, and many of the issues that we face in terms of gender equality aren’t experienced by white women at all. This stems from the intersection of our race, which brings its own set of issues, and our gender. In this way, we battle the marginalization caused by being a woman, by being a person of color, and by being a woman of color. It is useful to break up combinations of marginalization in this manner, because it shows the overlap. Many of our issues are being addressed, in some manner, by the mainstream feminist movement or by the anti-racism movements. For example, the mainstream feminist movement is working to end sexual harassment, something that affects all women, and the anti-racism movements work on things such as racial profiling. However, neither movement always addresses everything that should be addressed, and they can oftentimes cause a rift.

    When feminism talks about the gender pay gap, where a woman makes 81 cents to a man’s dollar, it fails to take into account some very important things: one, that women of color generally make even less than 81 cents to a white man’s dollar, and two, that men of color also make less than 81 cents to a white man’s dollar.1 When feminism talks about how the constant representation of women in media as emotional and as love interests is harmful, many women of color are only half-agreeing. While almost exclusively showing one kind of woman is never good, our races have their own problematic representations that are entirely different. For example, many of us have rarely, if ever, seen a face like ours in really romantic stories, and would love to see more. Of course, none of us want that to be the only kind of representation we get, but those are the kinds of stories that, at least in America, really isn’t stereotypical for us. When feminism talks about issues such as sexualisation and sexual objectification, it oftentimes forgets about the ways women of color are sexualized and fetishized. And when feminists begin to talk about cultures that they don’t belong to, it oftentimes ends up sounding like they’ve decided to pick up the white man’s burden, or it really ends up offending the people within that culture. For an obvious example of that, Femen has repeatedly denounced Islam as being inherently more repressive, which many Muslim women, including Muslim feminists, object to.

    However, feminism doesn’t just fail us by not addressing our issues; it fails us by shutting our voices out entirely. When we bring up issues that are different between white women and women of color, we’re oftentimes met with statements like, “Oh, you’re being so divisive. We’re all women.” or “Stop making this about race. Race and gender have nothing to do with each other.” And, to be sure, other women who have been overlooked by mainstream feminism are met with similar statements. It hurts, being shut out of a movement that is supposed to be inclusive to you. It hurts to know that your issues aren’t even being considered. To be fair, it’s a common thing that happens in many activist movements– the most privileged section of the marginalized group has their needs taken care of and oftentimes forgets that not everyone is in the same boat as them. And, to be fair, feminism does have a lot to offer women of color, and many women of color do identify as feminists, and many feminists are beginning to realize that feminism has not been as inclusive as it can be. I have merely chosen to not label myself as a feminist until mainstream feminism is intersectional feminism. In the words of Flavia Dzodan2, “My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bull****!”

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