People sometimes get the impression that feminism at its foundation means hating white, heterosexual men. I’ve discussed before how the patriarchal structure of our society tends to favor people with these characteristics over those without them.
Unfortunately, with this tiny bit of misinformation, people then draw the conclusion that I have it out for straight, white men in general.
This is wrong. I happen to be in a long-term relationship with a straight, white man. Many beloved friends and family members of mine are straight, white men. My problem is not with individuals, but with a system that benefits them at the expense of others.
People jump to less than nice conclusions when they hear I’m a feminist, because to many it’s an epithet instead of the name of a social movement. As Gloria Steinem said recently, the perception of feminists in the media is generally negative. The word has been “demonized by the right wing,” Steinem said.
“Every time I can bear to turn on Rush Limbaugh, he’s talking about femi-Nazis. It has been distorted, just as ‘liberal’ has,” she said.
Just because I vehemently disagree with the current establishment does not mean I believe the system would be better off if queer women of color (or any other group; take your pick) wielded power from the top of the hierarchy. My point in criticizing the patriarchy comes from my belief that no group should have a disproportionate concentration of power due to factors like sex or ethnicity or sexual orientation or financial position.
Let me be even clearer: this means also that I recognize my privilege as a white and (apparently) heterosexual woman. I know that I have certain characteristics that have given me advantages in my lifetime that many people do not have, my skin color not the least of them. In a white-centric world of fat-hating, ableism and discrimination of people with mental illness, I’m lucky to be who I am.
This is why I can understand and the support the Black Student Union, which held a silent protest yesterday at the MU. I understand the advantages I have as a white person; I understand the importance of what these students are doing as a feminist. While I do not hate my ethnicity or my heritage, I do hate that it has unjustly given me more power than other members of the population.
Acknowledging our broken system and one’s personal privilege are only the first steps of social awareness, but many people don’t even get that far. I have been challenged for my feminism by people who say I don’t give enough credit to the white people who struggle, of which there are many; that I am behaving like a victim without having any real reason to; or that I should grow a pair and quit whining.
But the patriarchy hurts everyone, even white people; activism does not a victim make; and sweeping injustice under the rug, or accepting it as unavoidable, is not proactive. If we don’t do anything, who will?
HALEY DAVIS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, unless you have bad news about her grad school applications.