When reading the title of The Nation magazine’s latest article, “Striking on International Women’s Day Is Not a Privilege”, I was immediately struck by how perfectly that title represented so much of what is wrong with the feminist movement. How disconnected the mainstream feminist movement seems to be from the vast majority of women and their realities and experiences. Of course, this is nothing new. For sixty years, there has been this disconnect between the privileged, primarily White and affluent women, and the experiences of Women of Color. The former, have had a larger platform to speak on women’s issues, and the latter have been largely ignored and marginalized. Nevertheless, I reserved judgment and dove into the article hoping to find something more valuable, inclusive, and insightful to buffer the insipid tone of the title. Unfortunately, that was not what I found.
For example, the authors implore women to stop asking what it “means” for women to strike and instead ask, “How can we make it possible for more women to strike or keep striking?”. They assure us that women who cannot afford to strike are already doing so, without really discussing just how risky that is for a great many women. They ask us not to focus on what it “means” to strike when what that means for many women is devastating. It could mean the loss of their job and loss of needed income. This article does not seem to address the low-income jobs so many women work, and how that affects their ability to participate. The authors seem to disregard the fact that women in undervalued professions face challenges and risks that are far greater than those of upper and middle-class women in nearly every aspect of their daily lives.
So, what does it mean when privileged women refuse to acknowledge their privilege? What does it mean for all women, when women with platforms simply choose to defensively argue that all women should just see things their way? It’s simple; it means that only those issues that are most significant to White and affluent feminists become the first priority. Or worse, the only priorities pursued and promoted by the movement. Instead, there should be an honest and sincere analysis of subjects that prevent many women from participating in the International Women’s March. Poverty, discrimination, a lack of opportunity, lack of access to a quality education, lack of childcare, and lack of access to health care are all important quantifiers.
Feminists have cut their teeth on toppling patriarchal “truths” and the individuals and institutions that seek to uphold them. They have done so because the dominant group egoistically represents social phenomenon from their perspective alone, and only as it pertains to promoting their interests. Moreover, the dominant group always avariciously misrepresents those interests as analogous to the interests of all. How is it that our modern day mainstream feminism does not see that this is exactly what they are doing? While mainstream feminism promotes the significance of “breaking glass ceilings” and putting more women in boardrooms, gains that have little to no effect on the lives of average women, they ask all women to simply disregard their own concerns in pursuit of what they consider to be “good for all”. While they concede their limitations in representing all women to some extent, there is a failure to acknowledge how significant it is for women to represent social phenomena in ways that expose the truth of the system from unequivocal knowledge of their own individual oppression. Instead, the “lean-in” bloc of modern feminism continues to ask us to disregard what it “means” to us. Through the pursuit of their agenda, they ask us to swap what were formerly male hierarchies, for class hierarchies and implore us to follow along for the good of all women no matter the risk.
Also, there are striking parallels between what lean-in feminists ask of women with regard to how they conceptualize the Women’s Strike and the line of thinking behind the idea that ALL women should have voted for Hillary Clinton. It was claimed that voting for Clinton was what was best for all of us. Women who profess to be feminists claimed that those who refused to do so were just shitty human beings and not “true” feminists. The argument for solidarity made in the article is repackaged for a different venue, in this case for the International Women’s Day Strike, but it is the same mentality that drove the message during election season. Disregard your experiences and values, in lieu of ours, and all will be well. No amount of spin will convince women on the “bottom” that women on the “top” are sincerely looking out for their interests. No underprivileged person believes that what is good for the dominant group is intrinsically good for the rest of us. Feminism is diverse and complex, but it is also conflicted and often self-contradictory. Therefore, many women find they are not only neglected by facets of feminist thought, they are also offended by it. As Patricia Hill Collins notes in Black Feminist Thought, “No one group possesses the theory or methodology that allows it to discover absolute “truth”, or worse yet, claim its theories and methodology as the universal norm for evaluating other groups experiences”.
There is no universal idea of womanhood. Different women’s individual oppression is altered by, and contingent on, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, and so on. While women with privilege consistently refuse to acknowledge their privilege and use their gender as a cudgel to deflect valid meaningful discourse. What is missing is the understanding that the vast majority of us believe that real change starts from the bottom up, not the top down. With that, it is not the rest us who will need to come around to their way of thinking. People with privilege will need to do some perspective-shifting. Unfortunately, this cannot occur if they are unwilling to take the first step; to simply stop denying their privilege.