Writing on the Wall: From White Feminism to Intersectional Feminism

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Words || Amanda Matthews 

My name is Amanda, I am 31-years-old, a law and psychology student at Macquarie University and External Relations Director of the Macquarie University Women’s Collective. I want to start by taking accountability for my actions. I am embarrassed to say that I used to be a bigot, an elitist, a homophobe, and a white feminist. 

When I was 7, my neighbour invited me to a baptist church. I continued attending throughout my adolescence and into my early twenties. The church provided a sense of unity, family, and an escape from the bullying and loneliness at school and domestic violence at home. For a bible college course I went on a mission trip to Fiji to “reach out” to “unsaved” tribes and villages. I cringe because I realise now what we were doing was trying to colonise the people. We were being classist and elitist in going into these peoples homes which were huts made of coca cola signs and acting as if we had something they needed and we were going to be the ones to save them. We were white saviours. 

I didn’t leave the church because of the white saviorism though, which I am ashamed and embarrassed to admit. I left because I realised that the patriarchy dictates that women are subservient to men. Marriage is put on a pedestal as a status symbol so people continue to uphold the tradition. Once you are married the church teaches wives to “obey” their husbands and husbands to lead their wives because God ordained that there is a hierarchy in the family where the wife and children are led by the husband who is led by God. So basically, from birth, women are always subordinate to men, just as Eve was created after Adam to be his “helper.” Women are the property of whichever man is in charge of them (father/husband). This is illustrated in the marriage ceremony where the woman is to be walked down the aisle by her father and given to her husband. I am ashamed to admit that if people asked me what I thought about homosexuality, I was taught to say that I “love the person but do not support their lifestyle.” I was THAT Christian. A bigot. A homophobe. Ironically the church teaches that to understand the world better, you just have to look at nature (Romans 1:19, 20), but ignore the animals who choose same-sex mates.

It was one day in the women’s room that my friend and former WOCO president, Lydia Jupp taught me that being a feminist isn’t the goal, being an intersectional feminist is. I have learnt that white feminism is someone excluding themselves from racism because they have some proximity to people of colour. It is a refusal to acknowledge their white privilege in a conversation about oppression. It is assuming the race of people in a conversation and taking it upon themselves to whitesplain terminology as if they are an authority. It looks like asking people of colour to perform emotional labour in explaining concepts instead of taking personal accountability for their own education and recognising the need to come to discussions only after they have done the research.

One of my biggest personal challenges in my intersectional feminist journey this year has been recognising that western society socialises us to believe that the person who is the most calm in a conversation is the most rational and the person who gets emotional is unhinged. In my law and psychology studies, I have been taught to think that aggression is to be avoided in a discussion because it is uncivilised. The more I reflect on it, the more I realise that this is just another tool of respectability politics that ignores the experiences of people of other cultures. When people of colour become justifiably angry or frustrated about their oppression, rather than listening to the person of colour, white people who feel fragile take aim at the tone of the comments and not the content of the comments. Tone policing is used to disarm the person of colour in order to bring the conversation to a more palatable “safe” place for the white person. I have learnt that performative, virtue signalling allyship in the form of hashtags and sharing social media posts like the black tile for the Black Lives Matter movement to “raise awareness” is harmful if this is where your activism starts and stops. I have learnt that it is more effective to share anti-racism resources, post about businesses owned by people of colour, sign petitions, and donate money. I learned these things from women of colour performing emotional labour on social media; the threads in the Shameless Podcast discussion group, It’s a Lot with Abbie Chatfield podcast discussion group, episodes of Here’s the Thing Tho, with Soaliha Iqbal, and the lives of instagramers @dancingwater_ and @8983aj.  

Presently, I am fortunate to be undertaking a placement with Anti-Discrimination NSW where I am developing a tool kit for staff about best practice for inclusivity with an emphasis on unconscious bias, written, spoken and body language, stereotyping and workplace culture. I am using the placement as an opportunity to reflect on my vocabulary and communication and replace inappropriate language with sensitive, inclusive language. I plan to read Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, Ruby Hamad’s White Tears Brown Scars, Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women White Feminists Forgot, Robin Diangello’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race. I also recommend listening to the Bobo and Flex Podcast. 

Moving forward, I want to see an executive made up of predominantly people of colour and the LGBTQUIA+ community and women who are disabled, and I want to see the entire collective take ongoing personal responsibility and accountability for our ongoing education and activism wherever and however we can.