Privilege and womanhood

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With International Women’s Day approaching, I am already dreading opening social media. How many pink Instagram posts with cute typography reading, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” or “Girlboss,” will I find? How many times will I care?

That came across pretty harsh, but it is time to get harsh. If those perfectly designed graphics and all-too-shareable Facebook posts are what motivates you, makes you happy or makes you feel good about what you do/who you are, I support that. Genuinely, sincerely, I support that.

My issue is that we — and by we I mean white women – are speaking over marginalized voices to reiterate the same unoriginal phrases we shout out each year. International Women’s Day represents an acknowledgment of hurdles women have overcome and pride in being a woman. I am absolutely behind that idea, and that’s why I beg of you to contain your sparkly quote blocks.

This March 8, instead of posting another Marilyn Monroe quote — no disrespect to Ms. Monroe — take time to reflect on why it holds meaning to you. Ask yourself if all women have the opportunity to see themselves in that post or photo or quote.

I’m glad that my ancestors fought for women to vote. I’m also disgusted and ashamed that they did not fight for all women. While white women celebrate the anniversary of succeeding in getting the right to vote, we ignore and often speak over other women who were excluded from the movement and did not get that same opportunity until years later.

I challenge other privileged women to honour International Women’s Day by uplifting and fighting for other women. Our stories have been prioritized for entirely too long. This doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of yourself and the work you’ve done, but it does mean you have a moral obligation to be responsible about the space you occupy.

As I write this, an image is burned into my mind — a sign from the Women’s March in the United States that read, “If Hillary had won, we’d be at brunch.” This epitomizes the selfishness of occupying space in activism without fighting for anything. Seriously, what are you fighting for? Brunch?

It represents a shameful and long-standing tradition we have as white women of only fighting for causes that directly affect us. We assume that womanhood means white womanhood. We’re (justly) angry about the wage gap we face, but somehow fall silent when someone discusses how folks of colour face an even greater disparity in wages. We dominate conversations about the wage gap with our whiteness and leave no room for the valid concerns of those facing far greater systemic oppression.

Also don’t get me started on those hats and equating womanhood to having certain genitals. Women and folks of differing gender identities have a place in feminism and that place is wherever they want/need it to be. Gatekeeping and choosing which women you’ll support while excluding groups who already face enormous systemic oppression and violence simply for existing is in and of itself violent and unacceptable.

What I’m saying is nothing new. These are the same issues that women with marginalized identities have been fighting for far longer than I’ve been alive.

If you feel hurt or angry or defensive reading this, acknowledge it. Feel what you feel. But address it. Reflect on why this hits so close to home. Maybe you would never actively exclude a trans woman from an event for women, or literally talk over a woman of colour, but you know you still contribute to a culture in which this is accepted and those affected are demonized for their all-too valid responses.

Volunteer your time supporting initiatives and businesses run by women of colour. Support them financially if possible. Do research. Remain cognizant of the things you say. And most importantly, stop listening to some random white girl over the people who have been speaking out against this for generations.

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