Katie Guttenberg holds a sign showing support of trans women that reads “Support your sisters not just your cis-ters” at the New York City Millions Women march. Photo by Jon Guttenberg.
Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes”. This definition shows how feminism is centered around sex, but lacks representation on the aspects of women that don’t correlate with their race, religion, sexual orientation, or age. Feminism is an amazing concept, but when it lacks intersectionality it can actually be extremely harmful.
Feminism created a safe space for like minded individuals who shared the same ideas about the equality of men and women. But over time we’ve seen how some self-proclaimed feminists have been more exclusionary to any other person in the movement who don’t fall under a certain demographic.
Non-intersectional feminism favors straight, white, cisgender women and lacks representation of trans, non-straight, and women of color. This exclusionary form of feminism takes what was supposed to be a unifying cause for these women and further alienates them, making them feel excluded even without the oppression they face outside the community.
A recent example of this would be the Millions Women’s March. The march was created to empower women, and all genders could attend to show their support of feminism. The march was incredibly successful and made a lot women feel welcomed and supported through the the tough political climate that seems to be attacking them right now. However. it was trans exclusionary, with many marchers wearing pink hats with cat ears representing a vagina, and bringing signs that equate having a vagina to being a woman. This is not the case.
Not every woman has a vagina and not everyone with a vagina is a woman. This might seem small to cisgendered people because they come from a place of privilege where they don’t have to worry about that type of normalized discrimination, but for a trans woman at the march, seeing these signs and hats could erase her identity, and make her feel discriminated against and unwelcome in a space created for her.
Women of color are a primary group excluded by this kind of ‘feminism’. This exclusionary brand of feminism is popularly known as “White feminism”. White feminism can be defined as “a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of color. It is ‘one size-fits all’ feminism, where middle class white women are the mold that others must fit.”
Comments like,“that’s not a women’s issue, that’s a race issue” or “why do you have to bring up race?” are examples of this sort of subtle exclusion. My race and my being a women are both a part of me, I identify with both, so shouldn’t my feminism protect both?
If our feminism isn’t intersectional then it fails to protect us from the oppression we face as more than just women. Each part of our identities intersects with the each other, as should our feminism. If we stop at protecting only our own identities, the movement is no longer about equity and equality, but becomes selfish and only progressive for oneself.
True feminism will not promote that. Feminism is about supporting all women; Women of color, trans women, gay women, bi women, differently-abled women, and all the other diverse women in our world. White, cisgendered, straight women are not a mold all women fit, and as a society our ‘feminism’ needs to learn that.