In November 2016, the United States became shell-shocked by the results of the election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Many expected the glass ceiling to be broken, but were instead left dumbfounded as to what could have happened to have caused such an outcome as Trump’s success. “What happened?” was the question of the hour, and while many people turned to low voter turnout as the reason to blame, it became apparent once statistics were released that 53% of white women voted for him, and were at the forefront of Trump’s female supporters.
In this photo essay, we selected images that portray a dissociation between white female empowerment and good feminism. We chose to focus on the Women’s Marches that occurred all around the United States on January 21st, 2017, because they were in a direct response to Trump’s election and to fight back against the blatant sexism that he preaches. However, while many believed that the marches were empowering and a symbol of revolution, the majority of those involved with the marches were white women, and were therefore participating in a politically problematic event due to their exclusion of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 2016) from their feminism.
We believe that the following images contribute to a larger understanding and portrayal of “White Feminism” as a societal occurrence that views itself as inclusionary and progressive enough. By focusing on basic issues and ignoring the intersectional layers of privilege relating to race and sexuality, western ideals of feminism have become extremely limited and exclusionary to others. Below, we can see a story told through images from the Women’s March that became extremely famous and were circulated in popular media, to reflect this imbalance and gap in necessary intersectionality (Crenshaw, 2016).
53% of white women voted for Trump and many of these individuals still uphold traditional, conservative values as the reasoning behind their choices. These values are in direct opposition to almost all modern-day feminist views, and while many parts of the world were shocked by this turn-out, at the end of the day, a fundamental problem is still present and ingrained in many white American women. In the image above, we can see a group of white female supporters, who believe that supporting Trump is empowering; however, their choice shows a blatant disregard for minorities that will be directly impacted in a negative way by Trump’s administration.
Hundreds of thousands of photographs were taken at the various Women’s Marches across the country, but only a few rose to a high level of popularity. These select images were held up as symbols of feminism and a fight back against patriarchal power in the White House by the media and were circulated online as such. Crowds of faces as shown in this picture were a very common trend in the media portrayal of the women’s march. However, these pictures seem to be missing something — people of color, disability, and other minorities. Whiteness was the norm and the reaction from law enforcement was generally positive, something that is not always the case in other potentially racially-motivated protests.
Even though the Women’s March was majority white, there was still internal controversy, due to many white women only protesting for issues that directly affect them (and them alone), and other white women speaking out for intersectionality in feminism. While the above image shows a young person holding a sign critiquing the Women’s March, at the end of the day she is white passing, surrounded by white people, and the march is still being run by white individuals. If we are going to start engaging in these conversations, that’s great, but there needs to be representation of the people being marginalized and they also need to be in positions of power at these events.
As we can see in this image, children were also present at the Women’s March due to the fact that many families attended the event together. Our children are the future and the people and ideals that we surround them with will ultimately shape their ideas and actions in the future. In the image above, it is clear that the sign the child is holding includes a derogatory remark against the appearance of Trump, which is not the major issue at hand. By stooping to his level and by not focusing on the real societal issues and problems that will affect future generations, we are setting these children up to continue the cycle of white feminism, which is interesting because the child is obviously white.
Between 91% and 95% of black women voted for Clinton, a stark contrast to the number of white women who voted for Clinton (47%). While many people were moved by the images of women and men marching in response to the election, it is clear that there needed to be a larger self-awareness that white women were a huge part of the problem — and why he was even able to be elected. This woman in the image clearly understands that problem, and is not trying to upset or offend anyone — just state facts. She is bringing attention to the problem without being offensive or derogatory, something that not everyone was able to do at these marches.
Another popular protest in the United States that has gotten huge traction in the media recently is the Black Lives Matter movement. Many people who saw the hundreds of thousands of people marching against the Trump administration were fighting against the patriarchy and racism. Most of the white women at these events would agree that Trump engages in racially motivated hate speeches that instill fear in the current black American community. As we can see in the above image, it became apparent that the Women’s March was more important to these people than Black Lives Matter, and it goes to show that many feminists are selfish and not intersectional because they don’t recognize the various layers of privilege that interplay with white feminism.
It has been more than three years since Flint, Michigan has had clean water, a horrific event that has been pushed aside by the government, due to the low income of most Flint residents, and by the media, due to other “bigger” stories coming along. These women shown above attended one of the many Women’s Marches, showcasing not signs against Trump or his policies, but shirts, signs, and postcards begging others to help Flint. This issue has been shoved to the side, and that these women felt they had to attend a Women’s March to get their message across to so many of these individuals who marched is astounding and devastating.
Another issue present at the Women’s Marches was the focus on gender binary and physical differences between men and women. Many of the signs held exhibited signs like “Pussy Power” and “If you don’t have a uterus, you don’t have an opinion”, which can be interpreted as trans-exclusionary and cis-exclusive. In the image above, we can see a young girl holding up a sign that asks people to recognise non-cis individuals as part of their feminism and support system. It’s important that our fight against the patriarchy doesn’t fall into an easy pattern of excluding trans women, who are in fact one of the most targeted minority groups of violent crimes in the USA.
Rowan Blanchard is a 16 year old actress and activist that has formally and loudly spoken out against white feminism. In a Huffington Post article, she proclaimed that “unfortunately, a lot of white feminists forget that feminism means equality. It means equality for trans women and equality for black women” (Huffington Post, 2015). Blanchard spoke out against white feminism when she was only 14 years old, and was a participant and activist at one of the Women’s Marches, as seen above with her sign. Her consistent and outspoken feminist views is a good and strong example for young girls to look at and be led by — she advocates for equality for all, not just white cisgender women.
With the rise of popular feminism, it’s easy to see how we can become comfortable with the slogans and arguments that have been made in the past. However, if we wish to stay current and engage it forward thinking, creating a feminism that is intersectional and recognises the various layers of privilege that overlap and interplay in society. In this last image, we see a sign that denounces any feminism that isn’t intersectional as white feminism, and this is certainly true. By choosing to ignore issues and minority groups that don’t directly affect and individual, that individual is being selfish and only cares about societal gender issues that are linked to their identity. Whiteness is the norm, and if we don’t challenge this notion as we move forward with feminism, it remains as a form of white supremacy.
At the most recent American presidential election, 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. While many women who fall into this category (white women) were extremely against Trump and expressed their anger through peaceful marches and protests, as demonstrated through the above images, the depiction of the Women’s Marches by the mainstream media focused heavily on cisgendered white women.
The decision to focus on the Women’s Marches was a result of their portrayal, and it became clear that there was a big dissociation between white female empowerment and good, intersectional feminism. Roxane Gay talks in depth about the idea of “bad feminism,” (Gay, 2017), and this directly intersects with white feminism — individuals are considered to be “bad feminists” if they are not perfect in every way; if women still listen to rap music, they cannot be a feminist, because there are often derogatory lyrics in that music. Gay argues that bad feminism is a reason why individuals, and often people of color, are so afraid to proclaim that they are feminists. White feminists are constantly able to get away with this, almost exclusively due to their race. Thus, white feminism is an issue that plagues the word “feminism” and as a result, the Women’s Marches were seen to be white feminism-heavy.
White feminism at the Women’s Marches cannot be rectified, as the deed is done, and the marches have occurred. However, by taking a look at the media portrayal of the Women’s Marches, and examining in more detail how feminism was seen at the Women’s Marches, we can hopefully do better in the future, by including intersectional ideologies and putting women of color in positions of power for these types of protests, rather than just relying on the white feminism that is seen so widely in the media.
- Crenshaw, K. (2016, October). The urgency of intersectionality. Speech presented at TEDWomen 2016.
- Gay, R. (2017). Bad feminist: Essays. New York: Olive Editions.
- Bronner, S. (2015, October 28). Rowan Blanchard: ‘White Feminists Forget That Feminism Means Equality’. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/rowan-blanchard-intersectional-feminism_us_5630f63fe4b063179910582a