Jezebel has long been one of the most prominent names in the field of reporting feminist news, and too, long has it come under scrutiny for the perception that it only appeals to one type of feminist; one who is white, cis-gendered and middle class. Recently, they’ve been at the centre of a twitterstorm amidst claims that despite their huge platform, they are overlooking or actively silencing feminists who do not fit this mould; namely, women of colour (WOC).
Jezebel has come under specific criticism for supporting the incredibly controversial figure, Hugo Schwyzer, and giving him a platform. This is a man who has blogged about nearly killing an ex-girlfriend at the height of a drug addiction, having sexual relationships with his students, capitalised on sexually assaulting an ex-girlfriend and who has admitted to specifically targeting women of colour to further his branch of ‘feminism’ because they were ‘in his way’. He has also had a multitude of mental health problems, such as bi-polar disorder and borderline personality disorder. Mikki Kendall started the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen in response to the silencing of WOC’s voices – that the reformation and rehabilitation of Schwyzer is somehow more deserving of a platform than the women he has oppressed and silenced. When Jezebel reported on the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen trend, they completely neglected to mention their part in fuelling it, giving no credit to Kendall or giving any wider context at all.
The subjugation of WOC by White Feminists isn’t something new. Kendall noted the long historical roots of the lack of intersectionality in a Huffington Post interview, calling upon comparisons to conflicts between Ida B Wells and Frances Willard. Willard was an American suffragist in the 19th century, who depicted alcohol as a dangerous substance which incited black criminality, perpetuating the myth that white women were in constant danger of rape from animalistic, drunken black men, and she faced huge opposition from anti-lynching campaigner Wells. ‘These are not new problems’, says Kendall, ‘and this is not a new conversation.’
I recognize the horrible irony of saying this as a white, cis, able-bodied woman, but feminist spaces need to prioritise the platforms of marginalised voices; poor women, LGBT+ women, disabled women, women of colour, and so on. Propping up voices such as Schwyzer’s goes against this idea completely. Feminism is supposed to be a movement about equality and in that sense, if it is not intersectional, then it is bullshit. You can’t advocate equality without recognising your own privileges, and being a white woman comes with an enormous amount of privilege. It is a horrible but obvious truth that I benefit from the institutionalised marginalisation of people of colour. I benefit from racial profiling, from the knowledge that I can walk down the street without fear that I will be seen as a threat, in a way that black men like Trayvon Martin cannot. Equally, people don’t assume I’m oppressed, the way they might a Muslim woman in a niqab (I’m looking at you, Femen).
If we accept bodily autonomy as a fundamental tenet of feminism, then it has to be for everyone. A person of colour has as much right to bodily autonomy, free from the fear of being stopped and searched by the police as white women do to safe, accessible abortions, to not be raped and so forth.
If we accept equality as a fundamental tenet of feminism, then we can’t talk at length about the pay gap between men and women, without acknowledging the disparity in wages between race; in the United States, for example, white women earn more than Black, Hispanic and Native American men. It’s not good enough to say ‘Well I’m not racist/ableist/transphobic/homophobic, so it’s not my problem.’ It’s a system, a really shitty system, but a system that we are part of and a system we cannot accept. We need to do better.