The Feminine Critique: Diversity Part 12 September 2016
As a White, able-bodied, heterosexual western woman, I am the most privileged form of woman that is to benefit from the feminist movement. This privilege has distracted me from one of the most important issues lacking in feminism today: diversity.
Since the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen went viral in 2013, there have been continuous concerns surrounding the marginalisation of diverse women at the hands of mainstream White feminists. The hashtag was created by Black feminist scholar, Mikki Kendall, in order to highlight the marginalisation of female diversity from mainstream, liberal feminist campaigns. The more I write about feminist issues, the more I question whether or not feminism is capable of representing and uniting women of colour, ability, sexuality and culture.
Lotus Ye, a Queer Officer at the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), refuses to identify as a feminist because they feel misrepresented. Ye, who identifies as non-binary, explains that mainstream feminist campaigns fail to recognise intersectional difference within the queer community.
“I’ve become really disillusioned by mainstream feminist campaigns because they don’t embrace diversity,” says Ye. “I’m not White and I’m not straight. I face a lot of challenges that White women do not.”
Ye’s views on feminism touch on Kimberle Crenshaw’s 1989 theory on intersectionality, which studies the overlap, or intersection, of discrimination in the forms of gender, race, class, ability or sexual difference.
“Feminism is very divided,” Ye says. “You find that heterosexual feminists don’t always align with lesbian feminists and then cisgender lesbian feminists don’t align well with the trans community.”
The lack of unification amongst feminists is not a contemporary issue. The splintering of feminist groups has existed since the first wave of feminism.
According to Dr Jessica Crofts, a Research Fellow at the Youth Research Centre, the historic roots of ‘Three Wave’ feminism has actually divided women between generations.
For those not sure about the three waves of feminism, here is a crash course: the first wave signifies the suffragette movement from the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the second wave dates to the 1960s and focuses on reproductive rights and sexual freedoms, whereas the third wave focuses on queer theory and diversity since the 1990s to present day.
“The wave metaphor assigns generations into antagonistic categories,” Dr Crofts says. “It excludes women who do not fit the particular model of feminism attributed to the waves.”
Although the ‘wave’ metaphor is used to identify stages in feminism, the categories have hindered voices of women that don’t fit the archetype of the cisgender, straight White woman.
“It perpetuates the backlash against feminism through harmful generation conflict,” Dr Crofts explains.
As internet rallies and social media protests dominate contemporary feminism, feminist advocates like Emma Watson, Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham are criticised for misrepresenting women of different sexual orientations, socio-economic status and race. Issues surrounding the lack of diverse representation of women in the UN Women’s He For She campaign, HBO’s television show Girls and pop video clips have labelled Watson, Dunham and Swift, amongst others, as ignorant of cultural appropriation and intersectional difference.
According to Ye, White feminism has fractured opportunities for reunification amongst feminist groups.
“Describing feminism as a ‘movement’ suggests there is cohesiveness among all women,” says Ye. “Feminism was never a ‘movement’ because there was never a shared goal.”
Not only are the rights of the Queer community underrepresented in feminism but women with disabilities are also discouraged because of their intersectional differences.
Jess Evans, one of two UMSU Disability Officers, says that her greatest motivation to remain in student advocacy is to prioritise the needs of disabled women. She is more than aware of the lack of disabled representation in mainstream feminist campaigns.
“You might be disabled, queer and a woman,” Evans says. “These levels of disadvantage add complexity to people’s identity, which is vital to learn in order to unify feminists.”
Unlike Ye, Evans identifies as a feminist and although feminism marginalises the voices of diverse women, she denies feminism is anti-intersectional, remaining hopeful about the progress that can be made.
“In the ’60s, women of disability were at a huge disadvantage because the matters of able-bodied women came first,” Evans says. “Now is a time for feminists to be an ally and focus on the disadvantages women of disability face.”
To be a feminist ally encourages solidarity between White women and women of diversity. To do this, it is up to the feminist to understand their own privilege before attempting to advocate on behalf of the other.
I remain the most privileged type of woman to benefit from feminism. However, I can be slightly less ignorant in realising that I need to sit back and encourage the voices of women of diverse gender, colour and ability to be heard first.