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Feminism is only for middle-class, white women, apparently

(41 Posts)
legosaurus Tue 06-Nov-12 09:20:18

Long-time lurker here but have decided to finally post.

I have been belatedly following the twitterstorm surrounding Caitlin Moran's hasty and dismissive tweet about how she ''literally couldn't give a shit about it'' when a twitter follower asked her whether or not in a recent interview she had questioned Lena Dunham about about the absence of non-white characters in the TV series, 'Girls'.

So far, so ignorant for Moran's brand of pop-feminism. However, Vagenda editors, Rhiannon and Holly, recently wrote a defence of Caitlin Moran's position that sweepingly claims that ''feminism has always been a white, middle-class movement''.


And feminism that uses big words like 'intersectionality' is too confusing for women so better not to bother with it.

It is seemingly too-complicated to include other underrepresented groups into mainstream feminism. I see....Let's just carry on as usual, then...

namechangeguy Tue 06-Nov-12 10:13:18

But surely this is true for some brands of feminism - i.e. those written about by white, middle-class feminists?

As a man I cannot identify as a feminist (apparently) because I am a man. Fair enough. How could I therefore know what it is like to be a woman? Therefore, if most of the writing and analysis within feminism is done by white, middle-class women, surely they can only write about their own experience?

You can certainly wish to include other groups and minorities, whether they are identified by skin colour, religion or sexuality (amongst others), but you can't represent them, can you? You can't write or discuss how it feels to be them, any more than I can represent white working-class women who may have grown up in the same environment as me. We have some stuff in common, but not enough for me to be able to say how society treats them.

Have I understood your point, or missed it completely?

StewieGriffinsMom Tue 06-Nov-12 10:47:24

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

EldritchCleavage Tue 06-Nov-12 11:16:10

But the article does also say: "What feminism needs is more voices - a whole chorus of them. By all means, we can criticise those already at the top, but we should be combining that with a real desire to listen to women from all walks of life and their experiences: to actively seek them out, rather than waiting for the lucky few to claw their way into our ranks."

legosaurus Tue 06-Nov-12 12:06:19


I understand that you cannot represent everyone but when you have a platform for yourself, which in this case is Caitilin Moran's is as a high-profile journalist who has now sold loads of books as a feminist, you can acknowledge that there are others in your group, like non-white women who also have plenty to say and who should not remain invisible.

When you say you do not give a shit about whether or not they are featured in a hit TV show, you are in fact not giving a shit about a large number of women in the group you claim to be identifying with: other women.

Eldrich- yes, feminism does need a chorus of voices. I totally agree.

StewieGriffins- I have been fascinated by the debate surrounding this and I have learned a lot, as well. I never knew what intersectionality was, either but I have in fact been living it all my life. Good things have already come out of this if mainstream papers and publications have been covering feminism and race.

It is only a shame that the response of Vagenda was so disappointing. Moran is in the stages of the D's. Dismissing, defending and derailing.

There is a really interesting you tube clip about race:

I think it applies in this case, as well. Separate what the person did from what they are. Focus on the person's words and actions and why they are unacceptable.

KRITIQ Tue 06-Nov-12 19:08:53

In my experience, many feminists do leave a lot to be desired in terms of their willingness to really effectively engage with racism and other forms of oppression at both the radical and the liberal ends of the spectrum.

Both ends will cite political reasons as to why multiple and intersecting forms of oppression many women experience can't be "top of the pops" for feminism. In reality, it boils down to the fact that both strands do tend to be largely made up of women who don't have to deal with the realities of multiple and intersecting oppression in their own lives. They don't actually have to think about it if they don't want to (but don't always see that in itself as a form of privilege.)

That's not of course to say that all white and otherwise relatively privileged women who are feminists have no time for an intersectional understanding of oppression and privilege. I think though sometimes, we may have "high hopes" that people with whom we share ideals, values and a commitment to social justice will also share some of our other ideals and values. We may also believe that commitment to justice for one oppressed group means an understanding of how similar mechanisms of oppression impact on other groups. This isn't always the case though, which can lead some times to confusion, misunderstanding and frustration.

Grab anything you can find from bell hooks or Patricia Hill Collins on women of colour and Feminism. Some of it's a tough read, but a very, very important read.

ILoveSparklers Tue 06-Nov-12 20:52:17

Love kritiqs post.

KRITIQ Tue 06-Nov-12 22:58:26

Why thanks! smile I don't think though this is just a "thing" with feminism. It seems that most social/political movements concerned with tackling oppression DO seem to focus on one aspect of identity as the "big 'un," when the experience of oppression isn't quite that straightforward for most people.

bell hooks talks extensively of how working class African American women have felt let down both by the feminist and civil rights movements - each expecting them to prioritise one aspect of their identity over the other. In reality, their experience of oppression is never an "either or," but actually something quite unique as result of being at that intersection. And, they experience the painful dilemma of people who want them as allies and SHOULD be their allies (e.g. white feminist women, Black civil rights activist men,) still wielding privilege over them - and often being completely oblivious, or at least in denial about that fact.

It doesn't HAVE to be that way, but it does mean alot of serious examination both the mechanisms of oppression we suffer under AND the mechanisms of privilege we benefit from. Perhaps we fear that acknowledging our privilege will somehow undermine, even negate the significance of our oppression, but no, it doesn't have to be like that.

Leithlurker Tue 06-Nov-12 23:31:17

In terms of disability activism, I do not think you are correct kritiq to say that we have struggled with identity. Indeed it is because we are split by our identities be it medical, born with, or aquired, physical, learning or mental health, or indeed the vast numbers of support and advocacy groups, that we have had to embrace diversity as we have failed to even come up with a common language.

I would suggest that part of the issue is the "one size" fits all feminism that you allude to that is promoted in some camps. No one size ever fits anybody and diversity must be at the root of a common understanding. I am pleased that intersectional is being used more on mn as a way to think about feminism and I agree absolutely that unless people are allowed to see how they need to change identities depending on location and role, and that at times they are several identities at the same time which cannot be a competition, then people get used to thinking of themselves in one or two dimensional boxes not as full human beings.

legosaurus Wed 07-Nov-12 09:06:47

Thank you all for adding to this post. I am opening my mind to new ideas and it is really great to have people to discuss this stuff with.

KRITIQ- I will seek out the books you recommended as I really want to keep thinking about this stuff. It has made me question myself and many of my assumptions.

Leith-I agree with you about diversity, although I fear that unfortunately it has become tainted in mainstream consciousness because of the association with ''political correctness gone mad''. What do you think diversity is all about? Could we say it is inclusiveness?

PrincessSymbian Wed 07-Nov-12 09:12:15

Perhaps they would like to tell that to Pearl Clege( Reasons to Riot)?
Also, I really don't know much about Caitlin Moran but the title of her book has seriously put me off wanting to find out more. I am a women and I don't need someone telling me how to be one!

KRITIQ Wed 07-Nov-12 10:32:11

Leith, perhaps I didn't express what I meant particularly well. I do understand that the disability rights movement has had to contend a range of lived experiences probably much more varied than can be found in any other social or political movement.

What I meant though is that disability activists aren't necessarily better at addressing racism, or homophobia say than feminists or anti-capitalists are. The civil rights movement isn't necessarily that clued up on homophobia or sexism. The gay rights movement doesn't automatically deal well with class privilege/oppression or sexism.

What I mean is it's not ONLY feminists who, at least in some quarters, struggle to fully grasp the impact of multiple and intersecting oppression on many people within their own identity group.

Does that make a bit more sense?

MamaMary Wed 07-Nov-12 10:34:14

namechangeguy, I know several men who are proud to call themselves feminists. It is a real shame if you feel you can't identify as a feminist: of course you should.

KRITIQ Wed 07-Nov-12 11:08:01

Mama, there are many women of colour who acknowledge the existence of patriarchal oppression and agree with the principles of feminism. However, they do not adopt the term "feminist," because they feel historically and politically they have been marginalised within and from the main body of feminism. They prefer to use the term "womanist."

Even if I agree with the views of womanists, as a visibly white person, I do not feel I have the right to call myself a "womanist," if women of colour believe the term should be reserved for women of colour. I would be content to say I am womanist-supporting or support the ideals of womanism, without the need to exert my racial privilege in saying that I have a "right" to define myself as a womanist if I want to.

Similarly, I would be sceptical about a man who states that he agrees with feminist principles, but insists he is entitled to call himself a feminist, knowing that some feminists believe that term should be reserved for those who both experience the impact of patriarchal oppression and are at the forefront of the movement to tackle that. Surely, one should be content enough to use the term "feminist supporting" or "pro feminist," to make clear what one's position is.

MamaMary Wed 07-Nov-12 11:43:20

Kritique, that's a very interesting point and I and I can see what you mean. However I feel that the term feminist is problematic enough (e.g. lots of young women nowadays run a mile from it) without trying to ban some people from using it because of their sex. Why can't it be inclusive? I personally would welcome any man who calls themselves a feminist.

Xenia Wed 07-Nov-12 12:02:58

CM is from a very working class left wing background, very pro benefits claimants etc.

Feminist is really simple. It is ensuring men and women are treated equally, allowing men to stay home, giving men children half the time after divorce, forcing men to wash the floor, allowing women to go to work etc etc. It cannot also seek to lobby for no racism although it can intervene in issues where races damage women or men eg killing of baby girls in India and China, FMG in Somalia and Egypt.

Of course men can be feminists.

Although many feminists disagree for example with my stance that capitalism is wonderful and I like power and money and want more women earning a lot more than men, we all agree on the fundamentals - that people should not be discriminated on the grounds of sex whether they are male or female.

I have read about but not watched Girls. I presume eveni ts title is pernicious as they are women.

legosaurus Wed 07-Nov-12 13:52:40

Xenia, I think you may have missed a point here. You are looking at feminism with the view of women as a homogeneous group but: If you are a woman AND you are poor then life is even harder. If you are a woman AND you are gay, then you might have to fight discrimination on both fronts. A woman who is black will be unlikely to experience discrimination in the same way a white woman would.

Feminism and race are linked IMO and for me it is impossible to separate the two.

I am not sure about your view on race, either. It is not ''races'' which damage women. It is opressive regimes, patriarchal systems and cultural practices that do. I am no expert on sex-selection and infanticide but it is not the ''Indian race'' that kills baby girls. That occurs because of cultural value placed on males and the pressure put upon couples by society to have a boy. In the case of China, it is not the Chinese ''race'' that damages women, it is the Chinese policy of only allowing one child per family in order to place demographic control on the country's population, combined with the additional value placed on males that contributes to selective abortion. It is not possible to see things as simplistically as ''races damaging women therefore feminist intervention is required''

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 07-Nov-12 14:10:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Xenia Wed 07-Nov-12 14:16:54

Yes, but as soon as you break any lobby group down into too many bits you lose all your power. The basic measure whether you are black woman or white who wants to be prime minster or working class or posh is that you may face sexual discrimination just as a man might face that when he says to his new wife you work for 10 years and I will stay at home and mind the babies.

The basic message is really simple and that's all people have to get across.

I agree that different groups then in addition have other difficulties.

And of course it is not a genetic race thing which damages women. I certainly did not mean to imply that. It is culture. It is not because they are blonde that Norway and Sweden do better for women than much of Africa. It is not a feature of blonde hair which means men and women operate more evenly it's just culture in the countries concerned. It is just that those cultures are well behind us.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 07-Nov-12 15:51:52

I don't agree at all that splitting a group into bits has to mean losing power.

I think that the patriarchy is successful precisely because it lumps all oppressed groups into one. That's what othering is, isn't it? It's defining all of us who're not straight, white, Western [etc. etc.] men as 'the other' and therefore not worth space.

You can see the effects in really small things - if you look at a standard panel show, for example, there often seem to be 3 spaces unquestioningly taken by white men, and the fourth reserved for the 'minority of the day' - whether that's a woman, or a non-white person, or whoever.

In reality there should be immensely more spaces for the 'other' group as there are masses of different groups and, together, we make up a far larger proportion of the population that straight white men. But that will never happen while people insist on shouting down smaller voices within the marginalized group, or insisting our differences are not important or valid in the face of shared prejudice.

Leithlurker Wed 07-Nov-12 20:01:38

I accept your general point Fritiq as it would be silly to claim all disabled people are not racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. On an individual level we are just as bigoted as other groups. I do though think that as a result of all the differences that are presented by and about us, disabled activists and organisations are less likely to tolerate and turn a blind eye to any form of discrimination. One simple commonality is enough to reduce us all to the same level, and that commonality is the limitations placed on our daily lives by a non impaired world. Simple example, the most racist anti homophobic white supremacist in a wheelchair stuck at the bottom of a flight of steps at least will share the frustration of a black, lesbian woman also in a wheelchair. This in it's self will not give them anything like a shared world view, but it is a site of common struggle.

What might be more profitable is to ask how good individuals and groups are at recognising not just difference but multiple diffrence and that each person may need the support and help of many different people. I would definatly say that disabled advocacy groups are not good at knowing how to react to that.

Darkesteyes Wed 07-Nov-12 23:12:33

Feminism is only for middle class women?
Yep according to Xenia it certainly appears that way.

XeniaWed 07-Nov-12 18:30:00

Oh yes, we can see his class as soon as we hear him speak. He has not changed classes even if he likes rubgy. It is as plain as anything. He's one of those men who has done rather well for themselves but certainly not changed class or left his working class behind. It is there in how he looks and what he says. I am not criticising him for it and of course to get to where he has on £4m a year or whatever from where he came from is great although let him make his board more female than male and then we might like him more. However he is not middle class. Also it is a good thing he is working class as he leads a brand which is very down market. He fits in well. Laughing as I type.

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SauvignonBlancheWed 07-Nov-12 18:30:56

Rugby League is seen as a working class sport up north, Amber.

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XeniaWed 07-Nov-12 18:33:41

Yeah we announced a ... " says yeah, not yes. The type of words he uses too are working class.

Here he is again

He even has an index the mumdex so is sexist to the core.

He says "boodgets"

He uses the word "you know" a lot.

He was brought up to think women do domestic stuff. I bet his wife is a housewife. If his wife earns more than he does I will donate £10 to charity and eat my hat.

I am not saying he isn't a nice man although it slal coming over as if the asda board is chocabloc with sexist men but he certainly has stayed true to his class.

Darkesteyes Wed 07-Nov-12 23:13:19

Copied and pasted from the thread about the Asda advert in AIBU.

mignonette Wed 07-Nov-12 23:17:24

Plenty of criticism that third wave feminism is far too focussed on issues pertaining to developed world women and neglects the struggles of women in developing countries - You may not agree with her views but Ayaan Hirsi Ali has spoken at length about this.

StewieGriffinsMom Thu 08-Nov-12 09:51:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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