By Celena Valentine, Bud Class of 2018
As feminist philosophy has moved from the fringes of society to the forefront of political discourse, the American public seems to have embraced the struggles of women like never before. Navigating this uncharted territory has at times been challenging and uncomfortable, but we are making strides. However, as the feminist movement has become more mainstream, it has also fallen victim to a level of commodification and white washing.
Popular culture’s attempts to embrace the ‘trendiness’ of feminism have created an echo chamber of sorts, drowning out the unique challenges faced by women of color, transgender women and non- binary women in favor of more palatable and appealing women’s issues. In American society, this tends to put the emphasis on young, white, wealthy and well educated women. This palatability makes feminism more accessible to the white majority and in turn, more profitable. From pink pussy hats to the tens of thousands of Feminist af and Girl Power tee-shirts that populate the clearance section of Forever 21; feminism has become old news. Nothing more than a symbolic gesture and a great hashtag. But for many women, in fact, a majority of women in the world, the fight is far from over. This perception of feminism fails to account for the implications that race, wealth, religion, sexual orientation and culture have on womanhood, thus limiting the scope of the movement. Women of color face gender inequality which is compounded with racial inequality. Sex positive advocates often neglect the social restrictions placed on marginalized women as well as the histories of abuse and exploitation faced by these groups. Similarly modest lifeways, such as those outlined by Islam, are not always embraced by the mainstream feminist community. Until all women are able to fully embrace their agency, we are all oppressed. Feminism cannot simply exist as a tool to further the privilege of the few, it has to be inclusive to survive and thrive. As a society, we are only as strong as our most vulnerable groups and discounting their struggles only serves to prop up the patriarchy and other forms of oppression.
By embracing women of all backgrounds and walks of life we give the feminist movement dimension and range which allows us to explore and dismantle the many ways in which patriarchy and misogyny manifest in society. But this first has to begin with ally-ship and solidarity between women of all walks of life. Those with privilege must use it not only to bring awareness to their own plights, but also the challenges faced by those who are too vulnerable to advocate for themselves. Ask yourself today “how am I privileged and how can I use this privilege to help advocate for others?”