Columns / Discourse / May 16, 2018

White women: Check yourself and your feminism

The annual Feminist Party at Knox was just this past weekend. I remember attending the Feminist Party my freshman year and I thought it was the best party of the year. I danced with just a bra on and I was drunk off God knows what. But this year was a little different. Since freshman year, my view on feminism and bodies in space has changed drastically. Consequently, my view on this year’s Feminist Party changed. This was the description of the party via the Facebook event:

“Come wearing whatever the fuck you want, Vogue-ing as hard as you want. Come unafraid to party it up and celebrate THE BEAUTIFUL THING THAT IS FEMINISM. It’s spring and we’re hot. Minimum amount of clothing is pasties, but be creative!”

When I walked into the house, scantily-clad white girls and femmes were “twerking” to “This Is America” by Childish Gambino. That song is super heavy and particularly controversial because the video depicts violence against black people. So it’s sensitive to me and other black Americans. I guess I’m asking why white people would ever think that twerking (rather poorly) to “This is America” could be deemed acceptable? Or, at the very least, why no one questioned that this may be an insensitive thing to do. I am asking the same question to the hosts of the party. Wouldn’t you know that Knox College is a predominately white institution and that the majority of your attendees would be white, cis and able-bodied?

So critical theorist Judith Butler says that gender is performative. Meaning that we communicate our gender through a symbolic language, i.e. the clothes you wear, how you talk, which bathroom you go to. According to Butler, this symbolic language is reiterated constantly through messages in our culture. If you are assigned male at birth and you wear a dress one day, no doubt you’ll get dirty looks thrown at you. So anyone who doesn’t live up to these expectations are excluded in order to reproduce the gender binary. But gender is inaccurate and unstable, which is why it has to be reiterated constantly. Anyone who doesn’t fit into the standard is violently excluded, humiliated and sometimes killed by individuals and institutions that uphold the gender binary.

So here comes this pretty little thing called Feminism to critique the gender binary and power relations. While women and femmes of color played important roles in the Feminist movement, white women were always deemed to be the founders and faces of the movement. Little do people know white feminists during the suffrage movement were racist as hell. Susan B. Anthony and other feminists of the time wanted voting rights for white women and white women only. Their logic was that white women gaining the right to vote was one step closer to realize white supremacy in the United States. Second-wave feminism during the 1960s and ‘70s discussed primarily middle-class educated cis straight white women and hardly ever collaborated with the Civil Rights or Gay Rights Movement (because queer women/femmes and women/femmes of color, or any one of those intersecting identities supposedly didn’t exist). That’s why black feminist Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in response to white women not paying attention to the interactions of race, class and gender. Black feminists reminded white feminists that they are the oppressors as well as the oppressed.

I’m sure the white feminists at Knox are fully aware of intersectionality (or at least I hope so). But while I was standing with my arms folded at Feminist Party, I couldn’t help but think that feminism promoted by white women helps progress systems of oppression. Feminism promoted by white women centers around the politics of all women existing in “we” Ñ “we” meaning the category of a “woman,” a category that exists because of the gender binary. We women, who are against patriarchy, in opposition of the abject other. “We” politics dismisses salient differences of individual people, those being differences in race/class and the varied experiences of womanhood. White women failing to recognize black, latinx, asian, lgbtq+ or any other identity other than white women is problematic. Historically, it’s been true. And it’s true for the white girls twerking to “This Is America” when they should damn well know that white women are oftentimes the perpetrators of racism. The person who called the police after seeing a black real estate agent enter into a house he was investing in? White woman. The person who yelled at the group of Middle Eastern men in Denny’s? White woman. The list goes on and on and onÉ

Feminism is an imperfect movement because it is run by people and people are imperfect. I firmly believe that we are all problematic because we have been conditioned into believing some things are the norm when they shouldn’t be. But I also firmly believe that we need to constantly check ourselves for any problematic behavior we may be exhibiting. We all have our oppressions but we also all have our privileges. I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I’ve hurt some people. But I learn from it and I change my behavior for the better from then on. I’m not asking you to cancel the party in years to come. I am asking you to really question the intentions of hosting a Feminist Party as a white person. Think beyond “unity” politics and consider the many identities of Knox and how the party may or may not exclude them. I challenge you to hold yourself accountable and do better.


Francesca Downs

Tags:  feminist party intersectional feminism white feminism

Bookmark and Share

Previous Post
Choirs provide communal space for musical education
Next Post
How to recognize the toxic people in your life

You might also like


May 17, 2018

if the point of the article was to promote a femenist agenda I really do not see why you felt the need to refer to a group of femmes as “scantily clad”. This seems a bit hypocritcal because you had said in the past that you participated in and supported this part of the event. Part of being a feminist is not tearing down people for what they are wearing and frankly it’s a pretty basic thing. In the future maybe try to make your point and point out what is the problem with someone’s actions without making a comment about what they are wearing. feminism 101.

    May 18, 2018

    Well, I was merely making an observation. The white femmes at the party were topless. That’s just what I observed. Also, this article is not really supposed to “promote a feminist agenda.” I am critiquing the very institution of feminism because it erases the experience of those who are not white women. If you read the whole article, you would realize that I am not trying to slut-shame the woman at the party. I am trying to articulate that the white woman’s body is deemed as the default in our white supremacist society and that all woman should aspire to the white woman’s body. Historically, white women dismiss and erase the bodies of marginalized identities, so a white woman’s naked body is not as radical as the party wanted it to be. it’s exclusionary. And I want white feminists at Knox to realize that and think critically about how they move their bodies in space and how power dynamics play into it. That’s all I wanted out of this article.

May 19, 2018

This is the definition of racism – that an ethnicity shares all of the same characteristics. You don’t get to talk about “white” people like they all know each other and expect to not be labelled a bigot. You are the oppressive racist in 2018.

    May 19, 2018

    Any leveled, rational, historically knowledged white person would understand that this article in NO way vaguely approaches racism or bigotry. They exist and I’m assuming you may not be one.

    May 19, 2018

    You are the picture of white fragility.

    May 19, 2018

    What you’re describing is reverse racism- a phenomenon that, unfortunately for you, isn’t actually real. Racism involves much more than just skin tones and generalizations (of which I don’t think Francesca made). Racism involves internalized power structures and systemic oppression. In American society, people of color are inherently given less power than white people, and we are actively discriminated against- therefore it is impossible for us to be racist towards a white person or groups of people. Francesca is critiquing the feminist movement for being exclusionary, and asking for a little bit of fore-thought to be put into these sorts of events.
    I’d like to challenge you to examine your white fragility. Ask yourself why you read an article written by a woman of color (an article that merely suggests feminism needs to be more inclusive and intersectional in order to really mean or accomplish anything), and felt the need to call her racist. Is it because you don’t believe that people of color are deserving of inclusion? Is it because you don’t like hearing her critiques on insensitive white women? Why?

May 19, 2018

People are getting shot in the streets by police officers because of their skin color and your definition of racism is talking about white people collectively?

May 19, 2018

You do realize people of all races are being hunted down in the video right? You have completely based your argument on your interpretation of the song, rather than accepting or thinking of any other views

May 19, 2018

The bigger problem with Feminist Party in my eyes is that rapist that was invited and received warmly by those hosting.

May 19, 2018

the host of the feminism party wasn’t a white woman… she’s biracial…

    May 20, 2018

    White feminism is an agenda that can be advocated for by anyone, regardless of race. It is (to give a super simplified definition) feminism that elevates white women exclusively or disproportionately, and although white people are typically the ones preaching it, white people have manipulated poc into preaching it as well.

      May 23, 2018

      the article mentions white feminism a few times, but references white people as being the problem vastly more times. in that case i think it’s an important distinction that the host wasn’t white, since white people were focused on more.

May 22, 2018

Host said that she didn’t invite that person, didn’t want them there. Someone was told to look out for them in case they were spotted again so they could be removed.

May 29, 2018

Thank you so much for this! We deal with a lot of suffocating whiteness here and I think other sometimes forget how dangerous white feminism can actually be to people of color. I often feel the same ways about parties in general here as well but I think it can hurt more to see these things done by people who share a marginalize/ social justice identity eith you and advertize safer spaces. You belong here as an intellectual and for the nightlife if you want! Own your space!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.