This week, self-proclaimed male feminist and progressive writer, Hugo Schwyzer had quite the Twitter meltdown in which he admitted to a number of vices including addiction and teaching feminism with no personal specialized education in the field. What you’re more likely to have seen of the situation, however, is the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. The hashtag, created by writer Mikki Kendall, was in response to years of disrespect suffered by women of color (WOC in Twitter-speak) at the hands of Schwyzer whenever they were found to be “in the way” of his personal ambitions. During the meltdown, Jill Filipovic reached out to Schwyzer, suggesting that he get off of Twitter and seek his therapist, thus continuing what seems to be a lengthy and on-going trend of ignoring slights against WOC in order to ensure the mental health of an abuser. #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen has been trending internationally for about a day now, as feminists have taken to Twitter to detail the validity of the claim that mainstream feminism appears to represent and serve the best interests of white feminists and no one else.
Schwyzer admitted during his meltdown that he had used “sex and charm and whiteness” in order to further his own ambitions as a teacher and writer for publications such as The Atlantic, Jezebel, The Huffington Post and The Guardian. His relationships with these publications often came at the expense of feminists of color.
In an interview with HuffPost Live, Mikkel explained specific instances of Schwyzer’s abuse in which he used relationships with white feminists to discredit feminists of color, going back as far as 2004. He is noted to have used his spheres of influence to keep feminists of color from being published. When grievances regarding racism within the feminist community were brought to prominent, white feminist personalities, they were shrugged off as unimportant, effectively giving Schwyzer a platform and setting FOC at odds with white feminists in only the most recent example of exclusionary feminism. “There is something anti-feminist about a solidarity movement that prioritizes the abuser above the victim” Mikkel stated in her interview. Those who sought to comfort him and not confront the way his behavior impacted women of color essentially created this hash tag. But enough about that Hugo. He’s got demons to battle on his own.
The hashtag is being taken a number of different ways, depending on the reader’s sensibilities, but it’s origin is simply this: white feminists (historically, and by no means in all cases) do not operate in the best interests of feminists of color. They operate in spheres of race more than those of gender solidarity. Women of color are viewed on a level plane with white women only insofar as it benefits white women. Rebecca Latimer Felton, remembered as a prominent early feminist and the first woman to serve in the U.S. senate, was also notoriously racist and advocated for the lynching of black men by “a thousand a week if it becomes necessary.” Ida B. Wells challenged women’s suffragist Frances Willard’s perceptions of African-Americans as childlike and incapable of self control when it came to alcohol consumption at best, and dangerously animalistic at worst. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, also a feminist, was classist AND racist, (“American women of wealth, education, virtue and refinement, if you do not wish the lower orders of Chinese, Africans, Germans and Irish, with their low ideas of womanhood, to make laws for you and your daughters … “). These assertions are not new. The indignation over the re-emergence of the discussion marks historical illiteracy.
There is excitement about this conversation. For the most part, people are (or were in the first 24 hours) enthusiastic about hearing those who want to speak. It is viewed as an educational experience much more than those trolling would have you believe. The topics being discussed via Twitter are worth examining beyond a 140-character limit. I’ve outlined the point trying to be made by a few of the talking points below, but I’d encourage everyone to read through the stream with an open mind and the knowledge that internet trolls do not accurately represent the views of those taking this seriously:
The Hijab and the Savior Complex
Historically when colonizing brown cultures, white people have sought to assimilate natives. Sometimes it’s for manipulative purposes, other times, as in cases of religious conversion, it is in the interest of “knowing what is best” for the culture in question. The newest pet project for western feminism has become the assimilation of women in Muslim countries. Religious clothing is viewed by outsiders (non-theists and Christians alike) as oppressive, and it is assumed by western feminists that all Muslim women secretly want to do away with the burqa and hijab. The fact is that while Sharia law has its problems, the hijab is widely regarded as a symbol of modesty and respect outside of extremist Islamic factions and is a significant part of Islamic cultural identity. If anything, a global feminism that respects cultural diversity would be fighting to keep these motivations in the forefront and fight the other behaviors within Islamic societies that perpetuate the view of women as second- and third-class citizens.
Miley Cyrus and Cultural Appropriation
Not that anyone is defending Miley Cyrus’s new “image” aside from the usual “I have nothing of value to say, but you’re a hater” crowd, but she’s the latest example in cultural appropriation illustrating yet another racial double standard. Cultural appropriation is defined as the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. Miley’s now-infamous “twerking” dance videos have been an issue for as long as they’ve been on the internet. The problem is that she is comfortable adopting behaviors for which black women are judged negatively because she acknowledges that her privilege allows her to be viewed as “just exploring” or “just being a kid.” She is just “playing at” blackness, and is therefore no real threat.
Lena Dunham and “Girls”
I’ve never watched Lena Dunham’s HBO series “Girls” but I’ve followed its award-winning buzz for a while as it has been touted as the voice of new feminism. I watch enough shows and chickish things don’t much appeal to me, but an underlying factor in my not-watching is simply that as a woman of color, I see immediately that the chances of the cast being able to relate to my experiences is pretty slim. For a series set in New York City, could it have been that difficult to find a brown cast member? Dunham has been targeted for her socioeconomic privilege and the hand that has played in her ambitions in entertainment (her $3.7M book deal for a first-time author is 370% more than the standard author’s advance) and the casting of similarly privileged women in her show. There’s a lot going on here that is out of touch with the the real and global picture of feminism and people are upset about it.
Finally, if you are using #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen this way, you are doing it wrong:
Women who are content to dismiss the concerns of other women based on perceived cultural insignificance are in themselves the problem. Identifying privilege is not racism. Privilege is a social construct that spans race, age and socioeconomic status. It is a system comprised of shades of grey, and the closer to white one falls on the spectrum, the more privilege afforded. IT IS OKAY to admit privilege. It can be used to give voice to the voiceless, and if a global feminism that represents all women as equals is really what we are trying to achieve. IT IS NOT OKAY to pretend it doesn’t exist and insist that it is a figment of the collective imagination of marginalized peoples. It is not okay to mission creep on the hashtag for bitter, counter-productive dialogue. If your mission is to ensure the death of the conversation and further division in the movement, then by all means, continue down that rabbit hole. But if you are sincere in what you want out of universal feminism, it is important to ask questions when you need to, but even more important to listen.