Ani DiFranco's cancelled feminist plantation retreat just managed to squeeze into a year in which a debate raged within feminism over whether mainstream (white) feminists care about the issues plaguing feminists of color, or only upper middle class, straight, white women problems. A white feminist icon selling $1,000 tickets to a retreat on a slave plantation isn't the worst thing to happen in 2013, but it highlights a certain level of obliviousness.
Race, gender identity and sexual preference have divided feminists since before they were suffragettes, but this year all the tension and criticism solidified into a series of hashtags, #solidarityisforwhitewomen being the most famous, that were either cathartic of divisive, depending on your point of view.
In August, Hood Feminism blogger Mikki Kendall started the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag to vent her frustration over the reaction to Hugo Schwyzer's public breakdown on Twitter. Schwyzer, a blogger and former gender studies professor, admitted that he had slept with former students and used his position to silence women of color bloggers. Kendall and others felt that many of the prominent feminist bloggers Schwyzer had worked with — at sites like Feministing and Jezebel — didn't acknowledge his behavior towards feminists of color. "When I launched the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, I thought it would largely be a discussion between people impacted by the latest bout of problematic behavior from mainstream white feminists," Kendall wrote on The Guardian. The hashtag is still going strong:
And it has sparked other "airing of grievances" hashtags, including #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen and #NotYourNarrative, the latter started by Rania Khalek and Roqayah Chamseddine and covering Western media's portrayal of Muslim women.
We’re “biased” bc we resemble the occupied and colonized. They’re seen as “neutral” bc they look like the oppressor. #NotYourNarrative— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) December 18, 2013
In December activist and graduate student Suey Park launched #NotYourAsianSidekick an attempt to dismantle "white, hetero, patriarchal, corporate America.”
I'm #NotYourAsianSidekick when you assume sexual assault was less damaging for me because "Asian women are submissive by nature."— Sook Min (@doloresonthedot) December 15, 2013
Black celebrity controversies
The debate over Beyoncé's feminism — does the feminism of the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie verse on on "Flawless" cancel out the anti-feminism of the Mrs. Carter World Tour? — is maybe one of the dumbest things to happen in 2013. It led to its own hashtag, questioning the need for the onslaught of think pieces following Beyoncé's album drop this month:
American Whore-or Story: Why "Ghost" and "Haunted" are Hurting Our Young Women #beyoncethinkpieces— lauren ashley smith (@msLAS) December 18, 2013
But it also called to mind debates over whether Rihanna's "Pour It Up" video is empowering or "gross," or whether Lily Allen's "Hard Out Here" championed feminism at the expense of black women (it did). In a piece for The Daily Beast, Rawiya Kameir argued that Beyoncé isn't more or less of a feminist than Rihanna, or Nicki Minaj, or even Miley Cyrus. "The assumption that feminism comes in a neat, Xeroxable package is gravely outmoded and vacuous," Kameir wrote. "To minimize the possibility of pluralism is to do a disservice not only to these women and to their art but also to those of us who often model our notions of self on them. There are six million ways to be a feminist: choose one."
But pop stars weren't the only ones losing their feminist membership cards. In a November piece for Politico magazine on Michelle Obama, the "feminist nightmare," Michelle Cottle dismissed Obama's work with children as domestic and a disappointment to feminists. “Given how simplistic your piece is, let me make this very simple: you are wrong,” Melissa Harris-Perry said on MSNBC. She argued that by embracing motherhood, Obama rejects the Mammy stereotype. Harris-Perry added that, “Before we enter the 2016 election cycle and the feminists come asking black women for our support for your candidate, you might want to read up a bit on black women and our feminism.”
White feminist backlash
Some white feminists have been open to Twitter criticism, but others have felt attacked by the backlash. Earlier this month, Meghan Murphy at Feminist Current had this to say about it:
Twitter feminism is all about hashtags and mantras. We all compete to make the most meaningful, (seemingly) hard-hitting statement in order to gain followers and accolades. Invent the right hashtag and you can become a feminist celebrity. While I’m not excluding myself completely from this phenomenon, as I do participate from time to time, I find it all a bit empty.
Murphy acknowledged that the space can give women a voice:
But, for the most part, I haven’t found Twitter to be a positive experience. And I’m not just talking about harassment from misogynists, I’m talking about the internal shit. The mean girls-style popularity contest so many of those on feminist Twitter engage in. The take-downs, the bullying, the mocking, the defamation, the snide remarks, and the absolutely endless stream of hate.
In a piece for the Huffington Post this month, Adele Wilde-Blavatsky argues that hashtag movements are divisive and therefore help the patriarchy:
To 'blacken' the name of the work and efforts of white women in the feminist movement and to portray them as the 'enemy' of women of colour is a great disservice not only to white women but also to women in general. In addition, it only serves to further divide women and empower patriarchy and misogyny. Seeing women blame each other for issues related to patriarchy is tragic.
That "blacken" pun is not making her case, but Wilde-Blavatsky is right to argue that some of the attacks against her, and other white feminists, have been extreme and aggressive. But she also misses the point of the #Solidarity hashtags and others like them. "If we allow race and 'culture' to divide rather than unite women then the patriarchs have won." Some Twitter activists aren't convinced that unity was ever there, and history would back them up.