For years, I’ve considered myself a feminist. I’ve believed that feminism was part of a dichotomy where society is made up of two groups: women and men. Barring the obvious problem of ignoring nonbinary people, I hadn’t taken into account that feminism is concerned with many more than two groups. Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot reminds us that feminism is about much more than just white women paying more for razors and not being able to fit their smartphones in their pockets. Hood Feminism exposes the honestly terrible job that we white women have done in including everyone in this movement: especially women who are not cis, straight, and white.
Like most extensions of systemic racism in the United States, the depth of racism that is embedded into feminism was unknown to me until the Black Lives Matter movement reached its newest height last year. I had always assumed that the suffrage movement was about all women getting the right to vote, but come to think of it, I had never pictured suffragettes as anything but white. Even worse, when millions of women “won” the right to vote in 1920, Black women were still being discriminated against and disenfranchised in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. It wasn’t until the civil rights movement in 1965 that Black women could vote, but unethical disenfranchisement of voters of color is at a high even today.
If you’re white and you identify as a feminist, then I urge you to read this book. It is worldview-shattering and guilt-inducing, but that’s part of having your eyes opened to the suffering around you. It isn’t fun by any means, but you can’t alleviate suffering you know nothing about (even if many of us think we can). One of the biggest issues with white feminism is the centering of our feelings instead of the actual devastating suffering of marginalized women. Even people who think they are helping are really just putting on a show of performative activism, hoping for women of color to congratulate us for stealing the proverbial microphone and making everything about us. Meanwhile, the less privileged are no better off and can even be perceived by the self-proclaimed feminists and allies as ungrateful.
Of course, there are obstacles that all women have in common, obstacles that I’m slightly afraid of but definitely interested in learning more about in Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women. I don’t need to read books to know that women are oppressed, however. We have impossible beauty standards, we get paid less than men, we are often not taken seriously, we are abused, we are shamed for having sex, and what we can and can’t do with our bodies is regulated by men who will never understand our medical needs.
Poor women, women of color, and other marginalized women face all of this and more. Plus most of the things already listed are compounded for them. Black women and girls are often perceived as being more sexually promiscuous—and at a younger age—than white women. Their rates of maternal mortality skyrocket when compared to that of white women. Beauty standards rarely show the range of Black hairstyles. And abortion regulations disproportionately affect poor and marginalized women. (This is not to say that Black women are necessarily poor, but poor Black women from the “hood” were the focus of the book.)
These are commonly known issues for feminism. Kendall argues that we must exponentially widen the scope of the issues that feminism tackles. We should be making life better for all women, and it’s worth noting that we should not avoid uplifting some women if, by extension, men and other non-women marginalized people are uplifted as well. Intersectional feminism is about making life equal and just for all. That includes the women who are starving, who are homeless, who are seen as whores, who have to sell drugs just to be able to afford food. It includes Black, Latina, Asian, and Indigenous women. Immigrant, poor, queer, nonbinary, disabled, plus-sized, and Muslim women. Women without the tall, white, able-bodied, cisgender, conventionally attractive, educated, middle class privilege that I grew up with and Mikki Kendall did not.
When I resisted calling myself a feminist, it was because feminism had so often been confused with women wanting to overtake men in society. Women wanted everything men have and more, but I just wanted us all to be equal. I’ve since realized that true feminism actually is about everyone being equal, but even then, there is an element to wanting to be equal with men that has poisoned feminism. We white women are trying to be equal with our white men counterparts who for hundreds of years have oppressed all women (to varying degrees) and anyone else who wasn’t just like them. The problem is that in order to do that, white women have, it seems, assumed that to achieve that status, we must show that we, too, can oppress. So we turn to marginalized women and oppress them the way that white men have oppressed us for so long.
That’s not what feminism is. That’s not what allyship is. In fact, according to Kendall, being an ally is not enough because being an ally is often where a white woman will do something she thinks is helpful, pat herself on the back, and then feel resolved of any responsibility to actually do any continual work. What we need to do is be accomplices to Black, poor, and other marginalized women. As she did throughout the book, Kendall put it best:
“Accomplices do not just talk about bigotry; they do something about it. . . . [they] not only address the dangers of the normalization of extreme white supremacist views, they interrogate and challenge the cultural standards that underpin those views. . . . Marginalized communities have already developed strategies and solutions as they do their own internal work. Now mainstream feminism has to step up, has to get itself to a place where it spends more time offering resources and less time demanding validation. Being an accomplice means that white feminism will devote its platforms and resources to supporting those in marginalized communities doing feminist work.”Mikki Kendall, Hood Feminism, p. 258