What pops into your mind when you think of the word “feminism”? Do you identify with the word? Does it make you feel empowered or does it make you feel forgotten? Perhaps how you feel about the word “feminism” has to do with your privilege or maybe your experiences with a specific type of feminism.
See, as you may already know, we are all born with certain privileges. Your gender, race, sexuality, ability, age etc. all influences your experiences in the world. For example, a Caucasian male who is cisgender will have a different experience in life then a disabled woman of color (to learn more about privilege check out this youtube video or read this article about the different types of privilege). These experiences all are unique to who we are as individuals and they all give us a different perspective.
Where privilege fails to intersect with feminism is where feminists of privilege become blinded by their own privilege and forget to advocate for ALL, especially those who may be at greater risk of experiencing oppression. For example, while it is good to fight for equal pay between men and women do we recognize that women of color make even less than white women? Or to connect it even closer to the work we do at Umbrella, do we take the time to realize that women who have a disability are almost twice as likely to be assaulted by their partner? When we fail to be intersectional, we contribute to marginalization of important members of our community.
Is this marginalization intentional? Often times I believe it is not as the best thing that privilege does is blind us. However, there are those who have been informed of privilege and still live, do nothing and enjoy it, which is where oppression begins.
So how do we fight against privilege to make sure we are not unintentionally marginalizing groups of people? The first thing we can do is inventory our own selves. You can ask yourself some hard questions. There’s a lot of short quizzes you can find online but the best kind of quiz is to think through your own experience and what makes “you-you”. Start with questions about your identity like “What was your socioeconomic status growing up? What is your gender? Do you live with a disability that impacts your daily life? What is your race? What is your religion? What is your sexual orientation?”then ask questions about your experiences like “have you or someone in your family been ostracized for the way you were born or identify? Have you been denied access to a public facility for the way you were born or identity?” Asking questions like these will help us realize what kind of privilege we were born into or what privilege we have not been given.
Once we have established what kind of privilege we have, I believe one of the best things we can do is as this video on white feminism states (warning-this does include the f’word)-shut up and listen. Listen to the experience of marginalized people. Don’t question or blame them for what they’ve experienced and don’t try and compare your suffering with theirs. As tempting as it is to try and relate to their suffering with some form of our own (the whole oh you broke your ankle, I broke my wrist once)-comparing pain is rarely helpful, especially when it comes to privilege. While as humans, we all like to be heard, sometimes it’s just our time to be quiet.
We often want to “do” stuff and listening does not feel like doing enough. I like this quote from this article on Everyday Feminism however “You can be a perfectly nice person with good intentions and still do something that upholds oppressive structures, so focus on adjusting your behavior rather than saving face or exempting yourself from systemic oppression.” Simply, listen. If you’re feeling extra brave after you have listened and you’ve inventoried yourself maybe take the next step and ask for others input who do not share your privilege on how you can change your own behavior to advocate for them.
Most importantly, just do what you do well, I’m sure which is taking the time to care.