Intersectionality Fail: Christian Feminism and Privilege
Apparently I missed the memo. According to this post on A Deeper Story, we feminists have won and can now relax and think less about gender neutrality and more about how God designed as women. My career is over before it started!
I’ll be honest: this post confuses me. It’s a bit of a disorganized mess – leaping from eating disorder to domestic violence in India to women here in America, then to an absurd unnecessary story about meeting a trans woman – I suppose the author was using that to make a point about gender? I’m not sure.
But what I did get was this paragraph:
i understand why women have risen up and fought. for awhile, we didn’t have rooms of our own. we couldn’t vote, we couldn’t speak and not be laughed at, we couldn’t work outside the home… we couldn’t, and we fought, and we won, and now we can. and i think this is good. (emphasis mine)
When did we…you know what, you know all this. Listing out the reasons we haven’t won is tiresome. Let’s go, shall we say, deeper.
“We won” is a shitty thing for white, middle-class woman living in America to say, especially about feminism and social justice. “We won” is exclusionary and privileged and unbecoming of people of the church.
The ability to declare “we won” is the domain of the privileged. It ignores the battles still being fought right here in the good ol’ U S of A.
Emily W, the author of the piece, leads in to her discussion of American-bred feminism of talking about an area, supposedly, where feminism is “still needed.” She talks of women in India stepping up and learning jobs and providing for their families because their husbands refuse to do it. She invokes sad tales of domestic violence, ostensibly in an effort to prove that it’s not all buttercups and beer for women in the global south. But juxtaposing that story with a “we won” statement about Western women and Western feminism has multiple problematic effects:
First, it “Others” the struggle of women in other countries. Emily W’s story flattens both the similarities and differences between women in the global south and women in the Western world. It turns a struggle that is a problem for every woman in every country into a narrative foil to show white, middle-class, American women “how good we have it.” Additionally, this buys right into a narrative that differentiates and separates us from our fellow women. Her use of job training and domestic violence in India as a story to admonish white American women uses women in the global south as objects, rather than recognizing them as woman with their own lives and identities and humanity. It invokes the manipulative guilt of “save Africa” advertisements, which function based solely on the Othering of impoverished peoples.
Additionally, as Sarah Moon pointed out on Twitter, trafficking and domestic violence are major problems in the United States, and casting it as a “foreign” problem erases victims in our own backyards. Emily’s invocation of “husbands drinking and beating their wives” as a problem of the global south ignores the fact that 1 in 3 deaths of women in the US are a result of an abusive relationship. It pins domestic violence as something out there, rather than something in here.
Second, this “we won” mentality erases the ongoing, intersectional activism of feminism here in the US, particularly that of women of color. The ability to sit back on one’s haunches and say “we won” excludes women of color, trans women, and LGB citizens from the conversation. Do you think lesbian women can say “we won” when they still can’t visit their loved one in the hospital and could get fired? Do you think women of color can afford to say “we won” when their pay rates are, on average, nearly half that of white men? Do you think trans women can afford to say “we won” when new voter ID laws in states all across the US disenfranchise them from their right to vote? Do you think women in general can afford to say "we won" when we're still fighting to be heard by our own pastors and leaders? When only 17% of the American Congress is women?
Feminism needs to be intersectional. Christianity needs to be intersectional. Erasing the struggles and battles still being fought in feminism on the basis that we need to think about God’s gender roles is obtuse and privileged. Having this conversation, even, is built on centuries of race, class, and religious privilege. In a world where women of all different backgrounds are still fighting to be heard, saying “we won” is tone deaf. Like, Dowager Countess level tone deaf.
White Christian women of America, I say this as one of your own: shut up about how “we won” when it comes to feminism and how we need to stop trying to “take over.” America is not that great, and your privilege does not erase the struggles of women. Hell, it even doesn’t erase your own oppression. Oppression manifests itself in complex and complicated ways, but just because your life looks pretty nice does not mean you have any right to sit back and say that the struggle is over.
If I may adapt a phrase from Flavia Dzodan, “My feminism – and my Christianity – will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” And if we are truly intersectional, then we know that we are far from winning.