I’ve recently noticed a significant amount of discourse surrounding the topic of “bad feminism” and the lack of inclusivity within many brands of feminism. Taylor Swift and her girl squad comprised of female singers, actresses, comedians, and models always find their way to the forefront of this discourse. Ms. Swift is one of the many White women who’ve earned the position as the face of what is referred to as “white feminism”. White feminism is a brand of feminism that ignores the intersectionality between race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, gender identity, and other characteristics when devising ways to combat the oppressive societal systems impacting men, women, and non-gender conforming individuals. Given the fact that this feminism doesn’t include, well, anyone besides cis-het, middle class, white women it is no surprise that so many people are trying to expel these exclusionary beliefs from the feminist movement. Unfortunately, even though this feminism is inherently and explicitly toxic, it is still harming the marginalized groups that this movement should be uplifting and fighting alongside.
One of the reasons why white feminism hasn’t been eradicated and its toxic, exclusionary agenda still has room to thrive is because the people who try and talk about this issue are constantly dismissed and disregarded, especially women of color. Whenever women of color enter the discourse, we’re met with extreme hostility, claims that we’re trying to be divisive, and accusations that we’re being petty because we aren’t Taylor Swift fans. An example of women of color being met with hostility and anger for drawing attention to a white feminist disregarding other issues when analyzing the plight of women would be the fake beef between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj.
Following the 2015 MTV VMA nominations being released Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to tweet about the fact that “when the ‘other’ girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination”. Ms. Minaj went on to tweet about the fact that when a music video celebrates conventionally attractive women, it receives praise. Twitter user @KingCaleb elaborated on the issue Nicki Minaj was addressing and tweeted “it’s not even any shade…it’s just that Nicki is getting snubbed for doing the same thing they’re winning awards for”. Predictably, “feminist icon” Taylor Swift read Minaj’s tweets as personal, petty, jealous attacks because Anaconda and Feeling Myself weren’t nominated rather than as the critique of what is society deems worth of recognition and the under-appreciation and repudiation of Black women’s contributions to popular culture that it was. Then, like clockwork Ms. Minaj was painted as an aggressor and magazines were writing article after article about a beef that was solely Taylor Swift. Even though the “beef” ended once Taylor Swift admitted that she misinterpreted Nicki Minaj’s tweets and as a result misspoke, the discourse that came out of Ms. Swift and Ms. Minaj’s interaction continued. Women of color continued to talk about the fact that though Black people contribute so much to fashion, music, art, literature, and the like we are often not given the same amount of praise as men and White women are. A virtual mob of white feminists emerged and the white tears began to flow only slowing down each time the words “b-but not all white feminists” were muttered. After a few days the discourse came to end because, well, how are we supposed to fix something that no one will even admit is broken? (It’s really hard and we haven’t figured it out yet.)
Another reason why white feminism continues to thrive and what I believe is partially responsible for the dismissiveness of white feminists is that people are far too caught up on the players and not focused enough on the game. Many white feminists viewed the interaction between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj and the resulting discourse as petty, personal attacks, which is just not the case. Nicki Minaj’s tweets were about a problem that has impacted the careers of black artists that came before her and an issue that will surpass her own career and that issue is misogynoir, a simple term coined by Moya Bailey for the complex concept that the bigotry Black women are the targets of is stems from both racial and gender biases simultaneously, not Taylor Swift, a pop star. We do not have problem is not “Taylor Swift and her girl squad”. The problem is the ideas, attitudes and actions that “Taylor Swift and her girl squad” encourage. Taylor Swift and the members of her exclusive friend group exemplify a brand of feminism that is not inclusive of everyone and ignores how the multiple identities a person has influences how they navigate in the world. Taylor Swift and the members of her exclusive friend group depict feminism as a club with an extensive application process that requires you to abandon the parts of you that they deem inconvenient or as ‘too much’ in order to gain membership, too. Feminism should not be this way and cannot dismantle the patriarchy if it continues to exist like this.
Listen, I understand why these conversations result in many white women who identify as feminists feeling as though they need to defend themselves. I really do. These conversations put you in a position you’ve never been in before, force you to acknowledge things that may have never even crossed your mind, and to reflect on how your negative impact did not align with your seemingly good intentions. However, intent < impact. What do I mean by that? Well, think of it like this. You and I are playing catch. I intend to throw the ball to you so that you can catch it and throw it back. Unfortunately, I threw the ball a little too high and it hits you in the nose and you start to bleed. “Ouch”, you yell. “You hit me in the nose!” Instead of apologizing, asking if you’re alright, and grabbing you an ice pack I say “I didn’t intend to” and keep playing. Does it matter what my intent was? No because you now have a bloody, potentially broken nose and you need someone to drive you to a hospital. (Some)We know “not all [insert privileged class here]….”, but that does not matter. White feminists may not intentionally exclude women of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, disabled folks, and other underrepresented groups, but they do and they need to apologize, make the effort to understand what it is that they did wrong, and then do what they can to ensure that their feminism is intersectional.
There is nothing wrong with female friendship, don’t get me wrong. Female friendship and sisterhood are undeniably powerful, beautiful, and beyond necessary. There is strength in sisterhood. What Taylor Swift and other white’s only feminists fail to acknowledge is that everyone is your sister, so to speak. Even though I disagree with many aspects of the feminism Swift and her friends exemplify in many of the things they do, these women are still my sisters. I don’t hate my sisters; I hate her feminism. So, when Taylor Swift or her “gal pals” are attacked with whore-phobic, sexist language and are slandered on the internet, I defend them because that is what sisters are supposed to do and that is what feminism should empower others to do. Feminism should not be divisive or encourage women to form exclusive squads.
Feminism should, as I’ve said a billion times, be intersectional. Intersectionality in its most basic form is a concept used to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions such as sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism and xenophobia intersect and must be analyzed and addressed as multi-dimensional issues. An example of intersectional identities would be blackness and womanhood as I stated earlier. Black women experience oppression rooted in biases towards both their race and their gender, which is why when analyzing the oppression of Black women we must acknowledge misogynoir because both their gender and their race impact their experiences. This does not make the obstacles White women face less valid. Of course, both White and Black women are confronted with barriers rooted in misogyny, but there are other systems working against Black women besides patriarchy and that is what misogynoir addresses. White women are not targeted for both their gender and their race while black women are, which directly impacts how their work and they as people are perceived. As a result, Black women have a much harder time getting their feet in the door than White women do. Those who understand this concept and whose feminism is centered around intersectionality upgrade from white feminists to intersectional feminists. Intersectional feminism is a brand of feminism that takes this concept into account when combatting these oppressive institutions.
This does not mean that intersectional feminists cannot sometimes be exclusionary or problematic; what this does mean is that intersectional feminists make the effort to understand intersectionality and prioritize inclusion and equal representation. As long as humans remain to be flawed beings, everyone will have problematic moments. The only thing we can do is to respond accordingly because it is the response to the outcries of an underrepresented population and the oppressive institutions working against this population that defines who you are as a feminist and what feminism is as a movement. Your feminism must be intersectional or it is just oppression lite™.
*This piece was featured on Affinity Magazine.