Wednesday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day, a day celebrated in red across the globe. However, this year’s celebration was quite different than those of the past—as a day to celebrate women became “A Day Without Women”. This change was a call for women to take the day off work to show how much impact their presence has on society. Many women took part in this, and their absence had a clear impact. Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia closed on Wednesday due to the over 300 staff members requesting leave for “A Day Without Women”. While this certainly showed the contributions of women in education, it also caused many children to lose a day of classes, and left many low-income women unable to take the day off in protest with no one to look after their children. In a protest that was supposed to be a celebration of women, why did organizers ignore the family situations of those in the primarily minority-women working class?
Displayed in this contradiction is one of the many flaws of the modern feminist movement. While protests like these do mean well, they often fail to take into account that they only cater to specific types of women: white, and middle to upper class. These are women who can afford to take off work for a day to go to a march in D.C. (or to make a political statement at all). I, myself a middle class white woman, attended the Women’s March on Washington. I remember looking around in the crowd to find faces like mine, and having very little trouble. While it felt empowering for a moment to be amongst nearly a million women in D.C. celebrating feminism, the moment quickly faded as I started to wonder where all these women had been in the past, when the Hillary Clinton campaign needed volunteers, or when Donald Trump made nasty comments about women. I came to realize that most white modern feminists were only activists when convenient for them, like sharing a Facebook post or attending a march. But in action, women who look like me fall short. We tweet about how we need equal pay for equal work, we follow celebrities like Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift because their all-white girl squad shows “women’s empowerment,” and we take off work to show that we do not get paid enough; but when an issue does not affect us directly, we do little. We talk, but we do not act. This is the “white feminism” that has often plagued the progress of the women’s movement.
Feminism in its early days was created by and for white women. The first wave feminism of the late 19th century and early 20th century was focused mainly on women’s suffrage. Suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were critical for the movement, which led to the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919 that granted women the right to vote. While African Americans were granted the right to vote in 1870 under the 15th Amendment, voter suppression and voting rights violations for people of color were not addressed until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The earlier 19th Amendment, and the women’s movement that passed it, had ensured that all white women were granted the right to vote, but did little for the rights of black women. In theory, they could vote; but in practice, they had to jump over hurdles that white women did not, like literacy tests.
The definition of feminism in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” This should mean that the rights of all women, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status should be advocated for in the feminist movement. In reality, the rights of white women, especially in the United States, still outweigh those of minority women. In practice, the modern movement focuses more on bringing up those already at the top than bringing up those at the bottom. Modern feminism has become, for the most part, a place for white women to establish their dominance and privilege, and share Facebook posts about how women like Amy Schumer are changing the world; in short, a table where minorities have no place to sit. White feminism is not feminism at all—it is a mere extension of the white patriarchy.
The modern feminist movement needs to focus on equality for all, not equality for the few. A radically egalitarian is the only way that it can truly move forward. A feminist is someone who must advocates for all women; not by talk, but by action. Protests are important, but when you get home from the march and take off your pink hat, remember the cries of those for whom more work must be done. For starts, the modern feminist movement needs to think outside the white box of America and start looking to the plights of women in third world countries. At home, on average, a white American woman makes 79 cents to a white man’s dollar; a black American woman 60 cents. How can we fight for equal pay with men while we do not have equal pay amongst ourselves? The modern feminist movement puts these issues, especially those concerning minority women, on the back-burner. Until the movement ceases to be headed by white feminism, it will do nothing more than help white women. This cannot be feminism.