On the Newsweek “All the Women Are White” Fail

The failure for mainstream feminism, as it is framed in the mainstream media, as in places like Newsweek, to acknowledge the diversity of feminism as it is, is something I have written about a lot. And so I guess it is frustrating to read this dialogue between Latoya and Raina Kelley about feminism at Newsweek depicted as white in this article.
Latoya pretty much lays out the arc of the interactions and all the different variables and considerations at play along with a justifiably frustrated chat with Thea Lim. I feel a couple of different things reading the different reactions, but one of them is definitely that they could do better. I can stand here from Feministing and yell until I am blue in the face until a mainstream outlet can utter the word intersectionality or at least recognize the problematic history that feminism has had with marginalized groups, instead of dominating the dialogue and fusing together once again, “white,” with “woman” and therefore with “feminism,” but somethings gotta give.
Here is an excerpt of something I wrote in 2008,

I think it is safe to say that an apt parallel is the women’s rights movement and its returning insistence of centralizing the voices of white women. Whether it is intentional or not, feminism frequently recenters itself around the needs and lives of privileged women, and I think this is a point to make. Feminism has dirty baggage in its tokenization of women of color and there have been many many conversations, anthologies and organizing efforts around displacing the white center for mainstream feminism. But those of us that work from the margins can only change the history and image of feminism, along with the way that it plays out in organizing efforts, so much. If the mainstream image of feminism continues to insist that feminism is for white women, how can we reclaim it for our own communities and break it down as something that is potentially useful across sectors?
What am I trying to say? That despite our attempts at including voices of color, mainstream feminism always comes back to revolve around the voices of white women and women of color are generally put in the position of token or an addition and after thought after the omission has already been made. This stems from internal turmoil sure, but it also is damaged by mainstream messaging, marketing and distribution of resources along the lines of privileged women being centralized. The theory being, well feminism has always been for white women, so isn’t it just going to be like that?

I recognize that the picture that corresponded with this article was a specific story about specific women who all happened to be white, but it is still a point of inquiry. What is frustrating to me is that new media boasts some of the most amazing outspoken women of color both feminist and not-feminist identified, often in leadership positions (!), which proves another feminist noise machine is possible! That is not to say mistakes have not been made in new media, but can feminism truly shed its baggage of white privilege if mainstream media outlets fail to recognize the rich and diverse places and spaces feminism is happening?
Shamelessly quoting myself again,

When my women of color sisters say that feminism has failed them, it is not just feminists that have failed us or just the movement, it is also the way the movement has been made popular, where women of color are rarely seen as feminists and feminism is rarely understood as something that speaks to or has the potential to change the lived conditions of women of color. Until we can break the inability for a mainstream dialog on nuanced feminism, the dialogue will continue to trap us.

Like Jessica Yee writes at Bitch. It is not about waiting for it to get better, it is about totally shifting what the center actually is.

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  • Comrade Kevin

    I think economic inequality is largely responsible for this. So long as capitalism rewards those at the top more than those at the bottom, it will focus on people who have the money, the class identity, and cultural inclination to focus on Feminist issues.
    An impoverished or at least less-than-middle-class African-American or Latina woman likely has no conception of what “Feminism” is beyond a very superficial definition. She hasn’t had the ability to go to college, take women’s studies courses, read all the books, and expand her understanding as a result. The movement reflects those who have the means to speak and contribute, but so long our system denies avenues of advancement, both to wealth and to education, it will always be this way. I wish it were not so.

  • Jessica

    An impoverished or at least less-than-middle-class African-American or Latina woman likely has no conception of what “Feminism” is beyond a very superficial definition. She hasn’t had the ability to go to college, take women’s studies courses, read all the books, and expand her understanding as a result.

    You know, as the daughter of a working class feminist mom who didn’t “have the ability to go to college, take women’s studies courses, and read all the books” I take offense to the idea that her understanding of feminism was somehow “superficial.” It wasn’t. Yes, educational opportunities come with privilege – but feminism is about far more than hardcore theory and one doesn’t need to go to college to understand that.