As a woman and a feminist, I believe that the increasing the representation of both women and feminism in Hollywood is a good thing; as a woman of color (WoC), however, I recognize that not every representation of women in Hollywood is good or progressive. When discussing celebrity feminists, the discussion is often centered around figures like Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer, who have both shown that they are White Feminists through their social media presence and other public appearances. Time and time again, WoC have found themselves criticizing and denouncing the feminism that Schumer and Dunham seem to practice. From racist tweets to insensitive podcasts, women like Schumer and Dunham do more harm than good for racialized folks.
In short, White Feminism lacks and even ignores intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw that rejects a “one-size-fits-all type of feminism.” Intersectional feminism is concerned with “cultural patterns of oppression [that] are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society” (Vidal, 2014). For example, White women can and will experience sexism, but they will not experience racism. So when Schumer and Dunham are referred to as White Feminists, it is because they ignore intersections of oppression and speak in a manner that implies that because they are women, they cannot contribute to other systems of oppression.
Recently, during a podcast, Dunham spoke about abortion and the stigma surrounding it. While an important discussion to have, Dunham managed to trivialize the seriousness of undergoing an abortion by instating that she wishes she had one. By making abortion seem like a milestone that needed to be achieved, Dunham ignored the very serious trauma that can be associated with getting an abortion due to societal stigma and shaming. This wasn’t the first time Dunham was criticized for being publically insensitive; she has been criticized for racist remarks that sexualize Black men and strip Asian men of their agency. Schumer has been involved in similar incidents. The most notable is a now deleted tweet in which she insinuated that Black men are more likely to harass women on the streets through some sarcastic and cringe-worthy use of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE).
With all their tone-deaf remarks, Dunham and Schumer are still able to thrive in the spotlight and are applauded as empowered feminists—which, I guess, they can be depending on the definition of feminism being use. However, where does this leave the issues of racialized groups and in particular, WoC? Are two White women, who do not seem willing to unlearn their racism, really the best we can do in terms of popular feminist representation? A very basic understanding of intersectionality will tell you that being part of one marginalized community does not exclude you from contributing to the oppression faced by another community. It is imperative that feminist organizers and groups emphasize that feminists can perpetuate racism and that they have done so. Recently, we have seen this through social media and the aforementioned comments but it has been a reality since early feminist movements that excluded topics concerning race and racial inequality.
Criticisms of Dunham, Schumer, and other White celebrities are important to voice because the views they have made public do not exist in a vacuum. Overt racism and microaggressions exist systematically and affect the individuals we interact with on a daily basis. Therefore, criticisms of White feminist celebrities are—by extension—criticisms of the White feminists in our lives who make the same remarks on smaller scales. Many of the platforms that should be accessible to WoC are taken over by White women, making it hard to voice concerns about the layered oppression we face. That is not to say White women should not have a place to talk about the issues they face, but that they should self-reflect, self-critique, and be aware of the spaces they are occupying. Gender-based oppression and proximity to racialized groups does not automatically qualify someone as the spokesperson for every oppressed group that exists.
By Sarah Noureddine
Vidal, Ava. “‘Intersectional feminism’. What the hell is it? (And why you should care).” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, Jan. 2014. Web. Jan. 2017. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10572435/Intersectional-feminism.-What-the-hell-is-it-And-why-you-should-care.html>.
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