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'We need a multi-gendered, browner feminism for all women's needs': What does it mean to be a 'White Feminist' and how can we course-correct?


White Feminism might be a term you’ve heard but never used. Alternatively, it might be something you’ve deconstructed at length – an uncomfortable subject that you’d like more people to talk about.

Koa Beck is one of the latter. In her new book, White Feminism, Koa explores the history of feminist culture (past and present) and where it intersects with racism, challenging what we really mean when we talk about equality.

‘White Feminist’ is a term that Harry Potter actress Emma Watson had to confront back in 2015 after she spoke about gender discrimination at the UN. Critics argued that she hadn’t experienced half of the gender injustices that may befall a woman of colour, for example.

“When I heard myself being called a ‘white feminist’ I didn’t understand (I suppose I proved their case in point),” she later reflected. “What was the need to define me — or anyone else for that matter — as a feminist by race? What did this mean? Was I being called racist? Was the feminist movement more fractured than I had understood? I began… panicking.”

Koa’s new book continues the conversation of not just acknowledging White Feminism but overcoming where history has got it so wrong and here, for GLAMOUR, she explores how we correct the course.


If we are approaching the feminist movement as the suffragettes designed (simply as having access to what cis white men have), white feminism has been hurtling along at a pretty successful rate. When I vote, open a credit card in my own name, and secure birth control without written permission from my father or husband on my way to pursue a college education, I am actively inhabiting the world that many middle to upper-class white suffragettes envisioned.

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But if we want a multi-gendered, browner feminism where all women’s needs are addressed, we need to re-evaluate what we are pushing for in the first place. We need a courageous new concept, one that prioritises and tackles the systems that keep most marginalised genders in poverty, abuse, and incarceration.

If power is how we have traditionally understood the path to equality, we need to address that our current framework will not facilitate power broadly toward the most disenfranchised. We’ll always be speaking in anomalies: the single mother who managed to build a business, the gay woman who got to the top of this company. A domestic worker may never be a CEO, and that shouldn’t hinder her ability to live above the poverty line.

We need to build a more holistic, ambitious approach to inequality that doesn’t just isolate a single issue as definitive Feminism or ask that we aspire to that single issue.

Similarly, short-handing “feminism” with “ambition” — code for white-collar ambition — also successfully obscures the many marginalised genders who need a basic standard of living. It switches around an organised, systemic inquiry into fundamental human rights by answering with elite, exclusive high-end experiences and power. This tactic messages that marginalised genders, and those looking to interpret their realities, should aspire to white privilege — not equal rights.

Globally and nationally, we need a tiered movement toward gender equality that addresses the reality of people’s lives and that involves not only marginalised genders being seen but securing food and basic resources like clean water and housing. Then workplace protections, decent wages, and a reformed justice system. Finally, once basic needs, workplace protections, and our legal system are secured, women and nonbinary people need the opportunities to grow through education and small-business opportunities. White feminism has never been this movement.

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It’s when these foundational pieces are fragmented, omitted, or presented in an alternate order that progress for gender rights is stifled. Opening lofty educational opportunities to people who are food insecure will not help them. Opening industries with rampant harassment and assault on women will not advance them. But I often think of white feminism as an exercise in this exact strategy.

In the big, bright world of oppression, white feminism has often defaulted to choosing a flavour of subjugation and exercising all understanding of gender oppression from there. White feminism of then and now has demonstrated an unwavering dedication to focusing only on sexism and has deflected multi-generational attempts to expand this lens.

Sexism is not the sole arbiter of oppression; but when you review the canon of white feminism, you would think otherwise.

This very particular history has informed a lot of more modern efforts to mobilise. The truly clumsy execution here, though, is often to try and apply this simplistic “sexism only” framework to women who are not white, who don’t necessarily identify as women to begin with, who aren’t rich, who aren’t straight.

This is the turning point we are facing now. And this is the conflict playing out behind the scenes with the leadership of the women’s movement today.



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