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UBC Theses and Dissertations

White feminist fragility : from part of the problem to radical allyship MacIntyre, Tessa Mae


Feminism has a whiteness problem. Feminists of colour such as Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, and Kimberlé Crenshaw have been talking about this problem since the 1970’s, and the term ‘white feminism’ emerged to describe the predominantly white, upper-middle class, academic, heterosexual women who had taken control of mainstream feminist discourses. The problem being, after the early grassroots feminist consciousness raising of the 19th century, the feminist movement turned academic, an arena where radical feminists, lesbians, women of colour, and poor women were largely underrepresented. The result of this is decades of feminist theorizing, philosophy, and activism became focused on the problems of the privileged few. While feminists of colour started speaking out about this problem over 50 years ago, in 2017 the viral #MeToo movement brought to light the continued indifference towards women of colour and those who experience intersection systems of oppression. #MeToo was overwhelming focused on elite Hollywood actresses, and when it was later revealed that the phrase ‘Me Too’ had been in use by African American activist and community organizer Tarana Burke since 2007 to show solidarity to young, socioeconomically oppressed women and girls of colour, there were renewed calls to examine why the women in our society who hold the most privileged were also gaining the most attention for their causes. The purpose of this work is to define white feminism, understand the structures and strategies that support it, and explain how white supremacy functions to prevent advancement and maintain divisions between feminists. I will use concepts from writers like Audre Lorde, Layla Saad, and Marilyn Frye to analyse feminist discourses, past and present, in order to establish a pattern within feminism to centre whiteness. As a feminist who is white, I will call upon other white feminists to challenge institutional racism, decentre whiteness in feminist practice, and commit to radical anti-racism work as a main tenant of feminist activism.

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