In August of 2013, blogger Mikki Kendall created the worldwide trending hash-tag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen to address feminisms’ lack of inclusion of the experiences and narratives of women of colour. The hash-tag erupted on Twitter, leading to heated and much needed discussions on the lack and need of solidarity among all race, class, and gender identities. #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen urged white women to stop talking over women of colour and to actively listen.
Although we must consider the various histories which have produced many social identities leading to different positions of hierarchical power, it is critical to examine how the experiences of women of colour have been neglected from mainstream feminist dialogue. There has been a longstanding history of silencing, erasing, and condescension of the voices of women of colour. Considering the socio-historical context out of which post-feminism emerged, solidarity has been constructed to exist predominantly within white feminist circles.
In her book, “Feminism Is For Everybody,” bell hooks (2001) explains that early movements of feminism focused on the experiences and knowledge of white women. White feminist worked on attaining equality between heterosexual white women and heterosexual white men within the existing system while disregarding the struggles of women of colour and other marginalized groups. hooks (2001) states,
…often individual black women active in the feminist movement were revolutionary feminists (like many white lesbians). They were already at odds with reformists feminists who resolutely wanted to project a vision of the movement as being solely about women gaining equality with men in the existing system. Even before race became a talked about issue in feminist circles it was clear to black women (and to the revolutionary allies in struggle) that they were never going to have equality within the existing white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. (p. 14)
Although white feminists were fighting against capitalist patriarchy, white supremacy was often overlooked at the expense of women of colour. As heterosexual white women made progress in a movement towards equality, women of colour and other minority groups across multiple race and gender identities were left behind. Solidarity was for white women when early feminists fought for the equality for white women while refusing to acknowledge the injustices that other marginalized groups face.
Several decades later, discussion on the lack of inclusion in feminism is still ongoing. A white supremacy capitalist patriarchy still exists and although mainstream feminism continues to battle capitalist patriarchy, white supremacy is still often excused by feminist circles. Mikki Kendall’s hash-tag, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen allowed women worldwide to address the lack of inclusion in feminist discourse that is still problematic today.
Shortly following the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen uprising on Twitter, freelance journalist, Rania Khalek @RaniaKhalek posted, “What does it say that a twitter hashtag is giving more voice to WOC[Women of Colour] than feminist orgs and media outlets? #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.” #SolidarityForWhiteWomen exposed the fact that solidarity still predominantly remains within white feminist circles and continues to exclude other groups across multiple race, class, and gender identities.
For example, SlutWalk, a transnational feminist movement of protest walks, has been largely criticized as being racist. SlutWalk began in April 2011 in Toronto, Ontario in response to issues such as rape culture and victim blaming. A significant motive of SlutWalk is to reclaim the term “slut” into a positive and empowering term. Many sex positive feminists sought to define their sexuality on their own terms, use sex as a form of empowerment and liberation, and challenge societal ideas on women and sex in reclaiming the term “slut.” (Leach, 2013)
Reclaiming the word “slut” however, is not inclusive of all women. Black Women Blueprint explains:
as Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves ‘slut’ without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is. We don’t have the privilege to play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bodies and souls for generations.
White SlutWalk protestors have also been photographed with signs bearing the slogan, “Woman is the n***** of the world.” Many feminists excused and defended the actions of the women who carried the sign despite the grounded protest from black feminists. Solidarity is for white women who call for the end of dehumanizing and degrading of female bodies yet continue to dehumanize and trivialize black and brown bodies.
On August 12, 2013, artist and writer, Solé @TheSolarium posted, “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when Rihanna is criticized for wearing a traditional carnival outfit bt Lena Dunham is praised for going topless.” Solé was referring to the constant ridicule, sexualization, and shaming that renowned Barbadian recording artist, Rihanna has received for donning a traditional carnival outfit in celebration of the Barbadian festival, Crop Over while White American filmmaker and actress, Lena Dunham has been praised as a feminist icon for her repeated nakedness.
American outlets published photographs of Rihanna celebrating the traditional Crop Over festival with headlines such as, “Rihanna gets drunk and twerks in the street,” “Rihanna twerks island style,” and “RiRi parades half naked in overly skimpy outfit!,” humiliating the Caribbean artist. Dunham on the other hand, has been praised and celebrated for her publicized nudity. In her article, “Stay Naked, Lena Dunham!” writer, Kate Spencer showers Dunham with praise writing, “when people come down on Lena Dunham for getting naked and having sex on HBO’s ‘Girls,’ they’re coming down on all women.”
Lena Dunham is the creator and star of the critically acclaimed television show, “Girls,” a comedy that is presented to be about the real-life experiences of average girls set in New York. “Girls” has been celebrated as a platform for feminist politics for its portrayal of women. The New York Times calls the cast of “Girls,” “the new shades of feminism.” “Girls” however, lacks the representation of real-life experiences of average women of colour. Despite being set in Brooklyn, a racially diverse area of New York, “Girls” has a privileged, all-white main cast. People of colour who do appear on the show have minor roles and are racially stereotyped and represented. “Girls” also poorly represents women across multiple economic classes. Voicing her frustrations with The New York Times’ calling the “Girls” cast “the new shades of feminism ,” writer, Ayesha A. Siddiqi @PushingHoops posted, “no NYTimes this is actually as second wave as it gets, white women thinking represent all women. #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.”
When the classism and racism in “Girls” was criticized by viewers, many white feminists ignored the concerns of feminists of colour and defended the show and Dunham. Hadley Freeman of the Guardian wrote a warm-hearted review of Dunham’s work, defending Dunham and “Girls” against lack of inclusion, and accredited Dunham as “precociously talented.” Although Dunham has stripped off her clothing to the bare minimum, Freeman ironically condemns successful black recording artist, Beyoncé, in her article “Beyoncé: being photographed in your underwear doesn’t help feminism:” Freeman convicts Beyoncé, stating:
I never fail to be amazed at the high profile, often A-list women who celebrate their professional success by posing near naked on the covers of allegedly classy men’s magazines, such as Esquire and GQ, and these covers are, to my eyes, becoming increasingly close to porn.
Feminist writer, Lily Bolourian of PolicyMic points out, “Freeman smears Beyoncé for committing the crime of being sexy while famous, an impeachable offense in Freeman’s eyes, while simultaneously advocating in favour of works that she should be in the streets protesting by her own logic.”
Gender, race, and class are largely underrepresented in the media. In the case of Dunham and her show “Girls,” feminist representations and narratives on gender is discussed. Representations and narratives on race and class however, are ignored and the racial double standards that afflicts women of colour are systematically erased. Jess Butler (2013) asserts, “when women of color are depicted in postfeminist representations, they appear as assimilated ‘equal’ beneficiaries of the same ‘rights’ that feminism has supposedly provided to white women, while the specific intersection of gender and race oppressions that women of color may face in the US is ignored.” Gretchen Soderlund also (2013) observes that “works that critique dominant representations of women provide useful fodder for anti-sexist struggles, but they tend to appeal to a kind of identity politics that ignores the experiences (and media representations) of women of colour.” (p. 11) Solidarity is for white women who call for inclusion of women into popular media yet do not see the need for the inclusion of representations of women of color.
In her article “Why ‘Solidarity’ Is Bullshit”, Tina Vasquez questions the divide between mainstream feminism and intersectionality. Valsquez asks:
How accurately can mainstream feminism reflect the voices and experiences of all women when the loudest voices with the largest reach are white, educated, cisgender, heterosexual women who rarely, if ever, lift women of color up with them?
The answer to Vasquez question is, it can’t. Mainstream feminism cannot reflect the voices and experiences of all marginalized groups when they only consider the narratives, experiences, and goals of white feminists. And if mainstream feminism cannot include dialogues of other marginalized groups, then the goals of feminism to abolish oppressive systems and establish equal political, social, and economical rights cannot be achieved. Intersectional feminism is crucial in moving towards equality.
Intersectional feminism is important for not only women of colour, but for all people across multiple race, class, and gender identities. Intersectionality dispels the silencing of oppressing systems and allows everyone to be heard. It allows us to integrate and intersect multiple social, political, economical, and environmental issues instead of solely focusing on gender. Isabelle Rigoni (2012) states, “…intersectionality theories bring women to the fore and gender and class into play in understanding the intersecting dimensions of inequality and discrimination that are constitutive of post-colonial state–citizen relations.” The way we perceive equality is very ethnocentric and we must make efforts to understand perspectives of marginalized women and other groups outside of our own values, standards, and experiences.
In regards to media representations, Isabelle Rigoni (2012) explains that intersectionality is particularly important as it “…provides an important framework for the analysis of complex interactions that shape relations of domination and resistance among migrant and ethnic actors, especially women.”
Examining existing personal privileges is also crucial to progress towards intersectionality. On August 12, 2013, feminist organizer, Shelby Knox @ShelbyKnox, urged white feminists to examine their privilege as white women. Knox posted, “Fellow white feminists: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen is not for us to defend, explain, protest. It’s time for us to take a damn seat & listen.” Not only do white feminists need to examine their privileges, all of us do. We must consider how we are in places of power and privilege in order to effectively decentralize power, voices, and media.
It is also substantial to consider the different histories which have molded different positions of hierarchical power as well as histories which have created intersectional theory among other theories. Intersectionality for example, was motivated by early feminists of colour who recognized the disparity in places of power and privilege. Rigoni (2012) notes that:
Unlike some hegemonic feminist streams, since the 1970s, black feminists in the USA have initiated research at the intersection of the categories of gender, race and class. Developing a ‘womanist’ approach, they aim to demonstrate that women are not all ‘white’. Bell hooks calls to deconstruct the category ‘woman’ as universal and critically examines the hegemonic tendencies of white and middle-class women that focus on claims related to both their ‘race’ and class.
Early intersectional feminists fought for the voices of all marginalized groups to be heard and it is our responsibility to continue the advocacy and struggle for intersectionality.
Solidarity has been and continues to be for white women but it does not have to be. In an interview with online news publication, Bustle, Mikki Kendall contends that solidarity is crucial for feminism. In order for feminism to progress in its battle to achieve a society eradicated of social, economical, political inequalities and injustices, we must actively listen to one another. Kendall explains that all narratives and experiences of all people across multiple race, gender and class identities need to be respectfully considered, examined, and most importantly- included. Kendall states:
…When we’re talking about solidarity and feminism, it means being basically being able to respect the fact that your issues are not the only issues. And I’m not saying that white women in the West just need to take a moment to step aside and get off the mic. I’m saying that we need to take turns at the mic.
That “mic” is not just for the concerns of women above a certain income level, of women of a certain ability level, women of a certain educational level.
Feminism has fought against the oppressive systems which have attempted to silence marginalized groups for centuries. In fighting to speak, we must always remember to listen to the voices of others and as Kendall proposes, “take turns at the mic.” If feminism is not inclusive of all people regardless of class, gender, race, or orientation identities, then it is not feminism at all. To make progress towards an egalitarian society and deconstructing white supremacist patriarchal systems, we must work together. Perhaps solidarity was, and is still, for white women, but if we listen, respect, analyse, and support the narratives and experiences of others across multiple class, gender, and race identities -it doesn’t have to be.
Butler, J. (2013). Slutwalk and Sovereignty: Transnational Protest as Emergent Global Democracy. APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, 1(1), 1-38. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from the Project Muse database.
Leach, B. (2013). Slutwalk and Sovereignty: Transnational Protest as Emergent Global Democracy . APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, 1. Retrieved November 20, 2013, from SRNN
Rigoni, I. (2012). Intersectionality and mediated cultural production in a globalized post-colonial world. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 35(5), 834-849. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from the Taylor and Francis Online database.
Soderlund, G. (2013). 5 Approaches to Gender and Sexuality in Media History. The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, 1(1), 2-15. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from the Wiley Online Library database.
Squires, C. (2013). 4 Race/Ethnicity in Media History. The International Encyclopedia of Media History, 1(1). Retrieved November 11, 2013, from the Wiley Online Library database.
Storey, J., & West, C. (2009). Black Postmodernist Practices. Cultural theory and popular culture: a reader (4. ed., pp. 383-387). Harlow: Pearson Longman.
hooks, b., Hobbs, M., & Rice, C. (2013). Excerpts from Feminism Is For Everybody. Gender and women’s studies in Canada: critical terrain (p. 14). Toronto: Women’s Press.