If you shop online at mainstream fashion stores like Forever 21, H&M or ASOS, you will find an assortment of clothing with “girl power” and similarly superficial feminist slogans emblazoned across the chest, all produced by underpaid garment workers in foreign countries.
Despite a large degree of backlash against feminism from misogynists and activists alike, the word and terms and phrases associated with feminism have been commodified as a marketing tool for companies and as a weapon for liberal women, especially white women.
Feminism is an ideology and theoretical framework to understand and encourage political and social action. However, feminism is also used to justify and shame women who did not enthusiastically support Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that Clinton is complicit in the military coup d’etat in Honduras and supported the homophobic Defense of Marriage Act.
No, it is not the responsibility of women to uphold blind loyalty to other women when they perpetuate classism, racism and other unjust structures. There cannot be sisterhood without crucial class and racial analysis, which recognizes the way in which women are complicit or even play an active role in subjugating other women.
Discussing feminism is becoming increasingly difficult as it becomes more mainstream and distorted, manipulated and rendered. Mainstream feminism maintains that it is men in positions of power that oppress women and this is true.
However, one cannot stop the feminization of poverty or the oppression of working class women by replacing male CEOs with female CEOs (something women in business conferences and similar programs do not seem to understand); replacing male positions with women does not necessarily dismantle the patriarchy.
Women are able to reproduce the same misogynistic mentality and actions. It is also not enough to have women in positions of power; these women need to acknowledge the ways in which capitalism feeds racism. Under the name of feminism, white women of economic and educational privilege have used their privilege at the expense of Third World women.
This current political moment showcases how the word “feminism” greatly loses its power when used by people who continue to benefit from the status quo reinforced by oppressive structures.
Anything liberal feminists dislike is characterized as masculine within the current political framework. There is discomfort among women, particularly white women, with notions of imperialism, colonialism, racism and capitalism and how women perpetuate those structures.
Labeling these structures as a result of the messy and impulsive actions of toxic male leaders allows women to absolve themselves of blame and not recognize themselves as beneficiaries of oppressive structures. Women are portrayed as more empathetic; thus they would be better world leaders.
However, as we know, with leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, who refused to improve the harsh working conditions of miners in Wales and banned the discussion or promotion of homosexuality in schools, this is not the case. For too many current feminists, the patriarchy and a lack of gender diversity in government is the reason there is injustice in the world. If women ran the world, they say, there would be no war.
This mentality blinds us to the ways in which women are also complicit in the structures we want to end. In this current election cycle, it allows women to be questioned and shamed for not supporting female candidates even when they are not making the same commitments to dismantle (or at the least reduce the effects of) capitalism and imperialism as their male counterparts.
Discussions of women’s liberation cannot exist only within the realm of gender but a deeper analysis into how race, class, sexuality, age, citizenship status and more intersect and shape the lives of women. Would this not benefit women, especially women of color? Is that not inherently feminist? It also shows true care and concern about all women, not just on a superficial level.
“It is an act of love to take someone at her word, to expect the most out of a woman who calls herself a feminist — to challenge her as you yourself wish to be challenged,” Chicana activist Cherríe Moraga wrote in “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.”
This article is not an attack on feminism, nor am I advocating for us to not value this ideology. However, there cannot be sisterhood without accountability. Feminism needs to be viewed through a lens that involves race, class, disability and sexual orientation. If not, it is only creating surface change. A congressional room full of Carly Fiorinas or Sarah Palins will not dismantle the systems that oppress women, especially the most marginalized among us.
Anais Rivero PZ ’22 is a political studies major from Miami, Florida. She is a big admirer of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. If you have read “This Bridge Called My Back,” please contact her.