In the past few years, blockbusters featuring a female action hero have become mainstream. Media outlets have praised the trend, pushing the notion that girls across the United States will be able to look up to Katniss, Rey, and Tris, and realize that they too can aim to be the savior, rather than a damsel in distress.
It’s inspiring to see the shift toward accepting women for the strength they possess. It’s problematic to work out how eerily similar all these women are.
All three of the previously mentioned heroines are white. They’ve all been alluded to being straight, and they all identify as cis. Their similarity, and ultimately Hollywood’s diversity-lacking heroine trend, are all products of who in Hollywood is calling for more heroines and female leading roles.
Hollywood feminists are overwhelmingly dominated by white feminists. The term has even become unnecessarily gray, due to white feminists within Hollywood’s ignorance regarding what it actually means. And, for the record: feminism is about the equality of the sexes, regardless of whether that equality is referring to political, social, or economic divides.
White feminism is feminism that ignores intersectionality. White feminists assume others experience misogyny in the same way those who are cis, straight, or white experience it.
Not all feminists that are white are white feminists, but most white feminists are white. Which is why when we have white feminists in Hollywood call out for more heroines and females in lead roles, the response is the creation of these straight, white, cis characters.
It’s understandable why this has happened. As a society, we’ve always held white women to different standards than women of color. We’ve seen Demi Lovato and Nicki Minaj practically naked on both of their album covers, but call one a barrier breaker and the other provocative (among other, more vulgar terms).
We’ve clapped for Miley Cyrus on Jimmy Kimmel for talking about the ‘Free the Nipple’ movement, while she’s simultaneously appropriating culture by being in dreads. We’ve taken Patricia Arquette calling upon “all the men that love women, gay people, and people of color to help women as revolutionary, rather than what it really is: excluding.
This exclusion isn’t a perfect storm. It isn’t accidental. It’s a condition in our society that’s been building up for hundreds of years, in which we’ve conditioned white women as being the trailblazers in women rights, and excluded the contributions of women of color, trans women, and queer women.
This exclusion is perpetuated by our schools and our media. It is seen when high school students write a paper on Gloria Steinem’s popularization of the phrase, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” but those same students can’t recognize the name Angela Davis.
It’s hearing about the wage gap, but not hearing about the effect police brutality has on black women. It's watching white women like Amy Schumer, Tiny Fey, and Taylor Swift being praised as trailblazing feminists, while the voice of others are denied a platform because a cis, straight, white woman is more appealing to put on stage. It’s in this moment, when a white women’s privilege is providing her with more opportunities, which they must question their position and the conditions that allow them to be heard.
I believe it is OK to use your privilege to speak up about injustices around you. Being a white feminist does not make you a bad person, as long as you’re willing to listen and learn about the experiences of women that are different from your own, and then use what you’ve learned to drift away from being a white feminist. Ideally, the learning of the struggles of marginalized groups is a process that will never end.
With this in mind, white women need to recognize the differences between speaking out against injustices and dominating the conversation. A white women’s voice is louder because of her privilege. Others' tendency to listen to her voice over others is problematic for the feminist movement. It’s not about her silencing herself, but rather her learning when to step back from conversations, to allow others the platforms and voices they deserve.
This includes myself, considering there's some issues my upper-middle class suburbia background just doesn't give me the best authority to speak on. Discrimination is deeply ingrained in the history of our country -- feminism is ultimately a response to this discrimination, a movement to progress away from it.
In order to be a feminist, as opposed to a white feminist, it’s more than an optional responsibility to be concerned with the issues facing all factions of women, and how often those issues are talked about by those actually effected by it. It’s a requirement.