White Feminism: Is ‘Leaning In’ for all women?

From the ‘Lean In’ comments forcing comedian Jessica Williams to replace Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, to Patricia Arquette’s tone-deaf comments on how everyone (men, gays, people of color) needs to support women, White feminism is “winning.”

These are two examples of how women of color have always felt unwelcome in the feminist movement. There’s a reason why Womanism was birthed out of the Women’s Rights Movement. Because as black people were fighting for their rights during the Civil Rights Movement, black women were also trying to find their footing between both of these worlds.

Jessica Williams became a correspondent for the Daily Show at the tender age of 22. She has proven in her three short years that she has the true potential to become a host of her own talk show. Of course, it would be amazing to see a black woman hosting her own late night talk show. Although there’s more black women on TV in recent memory, there is still a lack of women on the late night talk show circuit. However,Williams herself has said she’s not ready for the big move. So why can’t we all respect this?

This idea that just because you’re not “career hungry” and pushing yourself to move quickly up the ladder doesn’t means you’re not “real” feminist.

One blogger gives a patronizing critique on Jessica Williams’ decision:

 How modest! How self-effacing! You can almost hear all the old white people who benefit from the status quo nodding their approval. We did it, they whisper. We have succeeded in instilling in yet another competent, confident young woman a total lack of understanding of her own self-worth! We didn’t even need to undermine her; we gave her the tools and she undermined herself. Well done all. Good show. Let’s play eighteen holes and then hit up Hooters for lunch.

The rest of the piece is filled with ‘Lean In’ comments and even diagnosing Williams with Impostor Syndrome.

There are legitimate grievances on how the mainstream entertainment business is not inclusive enough of people of color. Hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite exist for a reason.Comedy, like most artistic endeavors, needs to be fined tuned. Williams would rather improve her craft rather than be someone’s token of success, take on an opportunity she’s not ready for with the potential to completely bomb it. Look at Conan. He took the job on The Tonight Show before he was ready and was consequently fired. Now he’s doing a pretty killer job over at TBS.

Jessica Williams weighed in on the controversy:

“Are you unaware, how insulting that can be for a fully functioning person to hear that her choices are invalid? Because you have personally decided, that I DON’T know myself- as a WOMAN you are saying that I need to lean in. Because of my choice, you have diagnosed me with something without knowing me at all. For the world to see.”

Now Patricia Arquette’s equal pay speech at the Oscar’s has been getting a lot of love, but it’s her comment backstage that’s being heavily criticized, especially by women of color.

“It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

We always hear the phrase, “For every $1 made by a man, a woman makes 77 cents.” We scoff. In reality these numbers are a lot different when you factor in race. A black woman makes 64 cents for every dollar paid to a white man and a Latina woman makes 55 cents for every dollar paid to white man. The numbers also change when talking about the wage gap for Gay and Transgender women. According to a study by University of Chicago and New York University, Trans women make 32 percent less than they did pre-transition.

So when Arquette asked people of color and gay people to fight for women, which women is she talking about?

The issue with ‘Lean In’ is that assumes all women want the same thing. It assumes that because a woman doesn’t go after a big promotion, it means she’s ‘broken’ or indoctrinated to believe she doesn’t deserve more.

‘White’ feminism has mostly pandered to middle to upper class woman who want to be on the same playing field as a [white] man. It alienates women [and men] of all kinds of backgrounds to join a movement that is supposed to support everyone.

One thought

  1. Right, and the very act of demeaning this woman for choosing to go at her own pace in her career goes against the basics of feminism. Also, lean in may be great for some people, but it again calls for the oppressed to take away their own oppression, when that is just not logical.

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