Sometimes, as a white, heterosexual feminist, I feel I have no right to speak for LGBTQ or WoC issues. What do I know, really? I have not gone through the same kind of discrimination in society that a gay woman or a woman of color has gone through. But this does not mean I should reject people who are not like me. I recognize that there is discrimination. What I and other white feminists need to do is enforce the need for these issues to be recognized.
Particularly, in the media.
If you want to see a character who reflects yourself in a book, a TV show, or a movie based on your race or sexuality, it’s a shame that there is such a dearth of characters to choose from (proven in this analysis of 2011-2012 television characters).
Art should imitate the diversity of life but the media is perpetuating social inequality. I can’t say that this is mindful discrimination nor can I admit it’s realistic to have representation for the billions of women on the planet. But if we do nothing and let the media continue being white-washed, we will never reach true equality.
I think people are simply forgetful and we need to remind them that there is a problem, hoping this leads to actions being taken. The people who we should be reminding are the people who have the platform to speak out on these issues–mainstream feminists (who are not incidentally predominantly of Caucasian descent).
Recently, British feminist activist Caitlin Moran was asked about addressing the issue of the lack of diversity in the HBO series Girls, a character-driven show about 20-somethings set in New York City penned by Lena Dunham (another (white) feminist activist), on Twitter. Her response? “I literally couldn’t give a shit.” (Moran continues to misunderstand why people are bringing this to her attention by Tweeting, “That is simply not racist behaviour. That’s like saying I’m currently being racist by not having someone Chinese in my house.”) I wouldn’t go as far as saying Moran is racist, but she is clearly not understanding the necessity for representation and the importance of someone like her, a mainstream feminist, in recognizing it and thus influencing other white feminists and the world at large about the issue.
Then there is Naomi Wolf, who recently wrote a book called Vagina: A New Biography. In Jaclyn Friedman’s review of the book, she writes, “If Wolf had written a personal memoir called My Vagina, this self-indulgent tunnel vision could be, perhaps, excused. But she’s presenting it instead as a Universal Theory of Women, and that’s both offensive and dangerous.”
Jaclyn Friedman made the point, when she visited us and gave a fascinating presentation, that it would have been more apt for Naomi Wolf to claim that her book was her own personal narrative. Unfortunately, instead, there is a universality about her work that does not resonate with the whole of the feminist community that Wolf is so devoted to.
Reni Eddo-Lodge of TheFWord.org in the UK summarizes the situation best: “Until feminism is for everyone, it will work for no one. Those women who gain from it with power and a platform should do well to remember that.”
Those with the ability to speak out on minority under-representation in the media should do so. Not everyone has the opportunity to become a celebrity and Moran and Wolf should take it upon themselves to at least try and give voice to those who are constantly silenced.
Feminists are supposed to be inclusive, not exclusive.
So, fellow white feminists, I urge you to wake up and smell the intersectionality!!