Following the release of new Suffragette film last month, critics have complained of the lack of Women Of Colour represented on screen. The bemusement stems from the screenplay writer, Abi Morgan’s decision to create a “composite character” as the lead, and yet citing historical accuracy as a justification for the lack of diversity in the film.
Emily Wilding Davidson jumped in front of the King’s horse, green and purple suffragette stripes intact, Germaine Greer slut-shamed until she was blue in the face, and now we welcome The Guardian’s Laura Bates into the fold of formidable Feminist force with her Everyday Sexism Project, acting as a census of catcalls and unwelcome arse-slaps alike. Throw in Caitlin Moran and Emma Watson and we’ve created a Jamie’s 30-minute meal; all exterior pizazz and no real thought or preparation (neither may I say, will it be ready in 30 minutes). Our Feministas, our role models have something more than a womb in common – they’re all white.
“Is Feminism becoming the exclusive Bullingdon club of the few?”
At the Oscars, Patricia Arquette boomed; “we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights; its our time,” much to the delight of Meryl Streep. She was of course referring to female support of LGBT and race movements but perhaps what she forgets as a white successful actress is that, “race, gender and cultural issues are combined”, as Pavan Amara, a Feminist writer of Indian origin believes. Amara continues; “she’s coming from an experience where she’s affected by being a woman…but you’ve got to understand that globally that’s not the case, globally most women are women of colour…so in that way, most women are also affected by their race.”
“Women like Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie have become the unelected poster women for feminism.”
As Global Women FM suggest; “Women like Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie have become the unelected poster women for feminism. White feminists are given a platform that women of colour have no access to, and instead of using this platform to give women of colour a voice in their own issues, they always tend to speak over them in a very white savoury tone.” The plight of women is intrinsically linked with their cultural heritage, so, with our plethora of white middle class Feminists in the mainstream media, chucking back San Pellegrino in between guffaws at our Western pay gap, is Feminism becoming the exclusive Bullingdon club of the few?
Perhaps not; Caitlin has coveted working class Wolverhampton life as much as she has nigh on grovelled to the public, apologizing for her new red kitchen. As one of my Feminist society members has said, she may be, “writing about a working class experience through a middle class lens,” but that doesn’t make her call for “feminism for all” any less pertinent. It’s a similar story with ex-Hermione Granger, Emma Watson; the soft-blinking newly formed Feminist fighter. She’s probably not short of a bob, she’s most likely not been oppressed at the hand of race discrimination like most women on the planet, but Amara is keen to point out that; “there’s nothing wrong with being middle class and white, anybody who speaks out about gender inequality is perfectly valid to do so, the problem is that we don’t have a variety of role models.”
The London Feminist, as known by her thousands of Twitter followers, says she would go further; “and say that white middle-class women have a positive responsibility not to be silent, if you are born with the privilege…use it for the benefit of your sisters.” It seems Feminism is what you make it, and unfortunately Women of Colour have little voice to make it much; white middle class women are more likely to reach a position of authority due to continued societal stigma and race discrimination. All you need is inclusivity; all you need is complete racial equality and class acceptance for Feminism to become truly intersectional and truly relevant.
“My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”
In this way, Katie Glass of the Sunday Times believes; “class and race are bigger issues than Feminism,” and whilst Everyday Sexism retweet struggle after “get your tits out for the lads” struggle, perhaps we are perpetuating our own second-class status, through that dreaded word – moaning. And the moaning, the “twitter-feminism” is very much a white, western dominated sphere, because truthfully there’s probably worse things than being whistled at four times on your way to Clapham Junction’s newest gastro-pub. Think forced marriage, think rape as a weapon of war, think pure unadulterated poverty; you can’t laugh those atrocities off. Catcalling is undoubtedly annoying, the Everyday Sexism project is unequivocally necessary to highlight how degrading it can be, but it is possible to turn around and say something to the effect of “good luck ever trying to get this” or a disgusted look up and down will surely make his balls climb up the ladder he’s on independent of his body. And what Glass is so keen to address is how, as we continue to tell-tale, we may be missing the point entirely; “instead of Everyday Sexism, I wish there was an Everyday Empowerment,” to counteract our struggles. In the West, we are actually doing pretty well. Yes, Theresa May’s shoes may still get more press than her policy, which is appalling – that’s a sentiment for Everyday Sexism, but she’s also in one of the most powerful positions in the country, negotiating with terrorists on the political front line – surely that’s one for Everyday Empowerment.
White Feminism is no less valid; the fight to obliterate the glass ceiling, a need for equal pay and the sheer disgust at assumed and very much institutionalised male privilege is still very real, and very important. But as with any movement, Feminism must be mutable and it can’t be colour-blind; there is no single group of prototypal women with the same definition of empowerment. In this increasingly global society, it’s important not to alienate ourselves as Arquette may have done from the continuing racism, ableism and homophobia inherent in most of our systems of authority. Our fight is their fight, just as theirs is ours, it “is almost impossible to unpick” social movements. as The London Feminist believes.
So what now?
We do this by understanding social injustice, so Women of Colour and of every sexual orientation, of any physical ability, can rise to the top to have their voice heard. We have a gap in the market for diverse female role models, which is pretty embarrassing. As Amara has pointed out, most of the female population are from Latin America, Asia and Africa. In order to be real sisters to these women, we must talk about double and triple oppression and encourage women of every background to stand in support at the sidelines. As Global Women FM believes;
“We ultimately need to decolonize feminism. Dismantling white supremacy is as important as dismantling patriarchy.”