So if feminism is supposed to be a movement of solidarity, why then is there still such a division amongst women? We are quick to recall Susan B. Anthony and Rosie the Riveter when we think of feminism, but often forget about Audre Lorde, Dolores Huerta, and Julia de Burgos. As a Latina, I have fought the struggles of both sexism and racism and feel that it is important to recognize that the two are very much interrelated. If as feminists we are going to fight for equality, it should be equality for all people– not just that of white women.
Being a woman of color, it has been difficult to “pick a side,” so to speak, when defending my rights as a woman and as a Latina. It is disheartening to me when I see and experience division between each of the movements. I’ll admit I was even a little discouraged at signing up to write for this blog when I went to the first meeting and was surrounded by all white females. I chose to stay to represent my underrepresented race, and am proud that I did.
Through some of my own observations of feminist culture, I have discerned some potential reasons as to why it may be difficult for more women of color to openly come out as feminists in the United States.
1. It can be more difficult for us to find confidence in a society dominated by white beauty standards
All women have to soul search for self-esteem and body confidence. We see advertisements all the time for long, shiny hair, soft pale skin, and ridiculously small bodies. Of course we don’t need all or any of these things to be beautiful. Many women find themselves perfectly content with no makeup and a short ‘do. But imagine none of these things ever being within your reach. Ethnic women generally have different hair, darker skin, and prominent curves. We can never have soft, sleek hair, whether short or long. Our skin will never be pale and subtle, with or without makeup. We might have 8% body fat and still have huge hips or a large bust, making a supermodel figure unattainable no matter how much time we spend at the gym. I know other Latinas who are intimidated by even the simplest, most modest of women solely because of the color of their skin. If we cannot find enough inner strength to combat white beauty standards and be comfortable in our own skin, then how in the world can we be expected to stand alongside other women and fight for women’s rights?
2. White women are often times our competition.
Most women in the United States have had their fair share of experiencing the wage gap and gender discrimination in the workplace. I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten passed up by a man when seeking employment or promotions. This is not a unique occurrence. I’m sure we all know women this has happened to, or perhaps are that woman ourselves. What also needs to be recognized, though, is that women of color very often are passed up for employment and/or promotions by white women, an occurrence that I have also experienced firsthand many a time. The statistics we usually see about the gender pay gap represent women’s salaries as a whole when compared to men’s. However, this can be further subdivided to show the gap between minority women’s salaries and white women’s salaries. When I finally reached a point in my life where I felt confident with my ethnicity, I found a new battle to fight: women. At a crossroads such as this, it becomes a question of fighting for your race or fighting for your gender. When fighting for race, issues of sexism still arise. Likewise, when fighting for women’s rights, there is inequality amongst women.
3. White feminists in positions of influence too often only advocate for the rights of other white women.
There is some controversy surrounding the genuineness of celebrity motives for advocating feminism, but I think the bigger issue at hand is how they portray the movement. A lot of young women look up to and even idolize their favorite celebrities, so it can be crushing when they only support white women. Take Patricia Arquette, for example. She used to be one of my absolute favorite actresses. I watched her show Medium faithfully every Sunday night growing up, and was disappointed when I heard her Academy Award speech earlier this year. In case you missed it, more information here. Of course, white women everywhere were cheering and applauding her boldness as a feminist, but as a Latina I was not impressed. Another example is Amy Poehler’s recent controversy regarding racial insensitivity. It doesn’t always have to be about running around with picketed signs that read “white power.” The absence of action shows enough of a lack of sensitivity to spread a loud and clear message: a lot of women still regard feminism as equal rights of white women only. Solidarity?
Feminism has a little bit of a varied meaning depending on who you are asking about it. Every woman has her own experiences that make the movement something special and uniquely hers. I grew up idolizing Frida Kahlo, Sandra Cisneros, and Maya Angelou, women whose battles are/were very similar to my own. I was an activist for racial equality far before I became an activist for feminism. I am an advocate for women of color, and it is an issue of feminism that not a lot of women like to talk about, but still very much exists. Fortunately, I found my place on this Earth at a young age and encourage more women of all backgrounds to step out of their comfort zones and enter the movement. It can be difficult being one of the only non-white persons at a feminist event, so ladies please join me! After all, we are in this together.