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  • Annya Pabial

Don’t Call Me Woke: A Short Rumination on White Feminism

Before I start this article, I’m writing in a disclaimer; this piece is not meant to be a generalisation of all white women/white people, it’s just about those who like to make it known how self-absorbed their activism is. This is also my personal opinion, not to be confused by JORE’s overall message.

Recently, I came across a tweet that sparked a LOT of ignorant discourse.

I didn’t realise we were reverting back to shaming people for their choice in non-offensive clothing.

This reply summed up perfectly my thoughts :

I shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of consideration some white people (yes, the person who posted the original tweet is white, and a woman!) have for cultures outside of their own but here we are. I could have sworn that a few years ago feminists were all like, “Clothing is a personal choice” and remember rhetorics along the lines of “Your body is your own to govern” growing in popularity so I’m left wondering where those ideas went.

The original tweet currently has 38K likes at the time of me writing this which is a little concerning because why are so many people hung up over some patterned dresses? Sure, you might not like the item but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful for others, as is the case with nearly every other piece of clothing ever created. As a wider society, we’ve started to move away from shaming women who wear short skirts, low-cut tops and skin-tight dresses because we’re aware of the harmful culture that it feeds into so do we not realise how singling out those who choose to cover up can also contribute to the same negative complexes? As a wider society, we’ve started to move away from shaming women who wear short skirts, low-cut tops and skin-tight dresses because we’re aware of the harmful culture that it feeds into so do we not realise how singling out those who choose to cover up can also contribute to the same negative complexes?

Who does Feminism include?

This brings me onto my main point which is that white feminists often forget to include ALL women in their activism. By all women I mean: women of colour, gay & transgender women, femme-aligned non-binary people who still experience misogyny (or any non-binary person who may present/appear as a “female”), women who don’t live in the west, working-class women, women in prisons, fat women, “unconventionally” attractive women, the list goes on.

It's important that we do not to deny their unique experiences and relationship with womanhood. Some white feminists, who insist on their being “woke”, have created a divide within the global community of women and have made it harder for some to come forward and share stories because a very particular version of femininity has been popularised, as the tweet above depicts.

We’ve reached a point where certain issues are given precedence over others; the struggles of cisgender women seem to be more important to some than those of transgender women. The disparity in figures of hate crimes against gay women and women of colour is very often negated by white feminism and even dismissed without much care.

White feminism and white performative activism as a whole has allowed for people to get away with doing the bare minimum in the advocacy of social reform in order to claim this title of being “woke”. Actions like posting a black and yellow square for BLM and Stop AAPI Hate on Instagram are good for raising awareness on the topics but not enough to invoke change or even really make a difference to wider society.

Without donating to causes, educating those close to you or being able to reflect on and alter your own prejudices, things like this only ease the consciousnesses of those who cling onto the title of “woke”. Frankly, it eases white guilt and does very little to actually help the causes of WOC and gay women who clearly need the most help within our community.

White feminism’s impact on body image

A sector of feminism that is often brushed over is the struggle of how women perceive their own bodies and how they are perceived by other women. For centuries now, thin and slim has been seen as the most desirable body type for a woman. We’ve seen this translated into the media with fashion, films, music videos, song lyrics etc, and it still hasn’t really stopped.

However, before change can be made in our world’s media, we need to break down the barriers that separate women from each other. Women’s appearances are constantly used to diminish their opinions, should they be fat or thin, their looks are often the defining factor on whether or not they’re deemed valuable by society and women are some of the cruellest critics of each other. Sometimes, a woman can lose all credibility just through the way she presents herself, fat women even more so.The female body is judged, critiqued, shamed, sexualised and dismissed by all of us, all the time.

Unspoken assumptions regarding the nature of a woman are made from the way she looks before she has even uttered a word; a fat woman is lazy; a thin woman is stuck-up; a brown woman is uneducated; a black woman is obnoxious. By no means am I saying that one singular woman should represent all women but she should be fighting for all women and everything that femininity can encompass.

Feminists shouldn’t feel threatened by the different ways a woman expresses her womanhood – it’s one thing to have an opinion on matters like religion but another thing to pull a Muslim woman’s hijab off her head in the name of “female liberation” just because you still hold ignorant prejudices. Some feminists cry for a lack of sisterhood with each other and say women don’t uplift each other more often but then find it too explicit or repulsive when a fat woman joins in with the body positivity movement. White feminism rejects society’s double standards that divide women and men but reinforce other double standards against WOC to keep them from being considered as equals.

If a person is truly progressive in their activism, they will understand that social issues are constantly evolving and changing to reflect the world and every single person who lives in it. If you claim to fight for all women then you will take the time to research, understand and adjust your stance on what it means to be a woman outside of your immediate experience.

White Feminism impacts us all on a subconcious level

As South Asians, feminism still has some catching up to do within our communities. Retrogressive practises like upholding domestic gender duties are still very common in SA households, as is presenting yourself a certain way to represent the gender you were assigned at birth. Many South Asian men claim to be “woke” or aware of women’s issues but will stay stuck in their misogynistic ways and use the traditions in place to their benefit.

I think most SAs are familiar with the idea that having a son is better than a daughter since he can carry on the family name rather than be married off. In the sub-continent, to this day, baby girls are discarded and rejected by families at birth just because of their gender. The sexist ideology of our ancestors from the East have been carried over to the West but have been sugar-coated with beliefs of education or an occupation being something to free women when they don’t, not when chauvinism is being survived through our relatives, both male or female. As with any cause, change starts with realising your own behaviour and making efforts to change.

White feminists have done a lot in the fight for real change, we owe women from generations before us a great deal of recognition for their campaigning. It’s a shame to see that the same sentiment hasn’t completely been passed on to their contemporaries, and that lots of the core attitudes and general inclinations of today’s feminism seems frivolous in comparison.

But we must be aware of the fact that white feminism permeates practically all areas of a woman’s life, especially one living in the west, so it’s hard to break away from certain aspects of it when it seems so ingrained in one’s day-to-day. Women of colour can easily become wrapped up in the small scope white feminists often promote so it’s important we can distinguish what benefits us, where we can help and what is harmful to us.

Intersectionality matters

Behind every woman of colour is a long lineage that suffered greatly from some of the cruellest enforcement of gender roles, prejudices and societal strifes, whether she acknowledges it or not, which is why I write this article in the first place. Remind yourself of who exactly you are and your particular needs as a feminist, because they are just as vital as anyone else’s.

To close, I want to reiterate that words like “feminist” and “woke” are thrown around so easily by people who don’t seem to understand their real definitions, especially so in younger generations. They have a different connotation to what I believed they were when I was first realising my stance on the world’s issues, and have been tainted by a select few who use those labels as a method of self-gratification and restoring self-righteousness rather than actually being an advocate for the oppressed so, please, don’t call me woke.

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