By: Claire Armstrong
A few years ago, if you were to ask me who my feminist icons were, you would have thought I grew up in the seventies. Early on in my exploration of feminism, I read Gloria Steinem’s book, My Life on the Road, and it inspired me to do my research into second wave feminism and learn about the feminists who came before me. I was so inspired by women like Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Betty Friedan, and I would have loved to go back in time to join their ranks. I still think the work they did was incredibly valuable, but now I see issues with the second wave feminist movement as a whole.
My biggest problem with second wave feminism, and what I think most significantly distinguishes it from my own definition of feminism, is that, at the forefront, it often was not intersectional. There was a lot of debate among activists about the inclusion of Black and lesbian rights in the Equal Rights Amendment and in the goals delineated at the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. Some second-wave feminist leaders, such as Friedan (who authored The Feminine Mystique, which is often hailed as the work that kick-started second-wave feminism) felt that including explicit demands for racial or sexual equality would make the goals of second-wave feminism seem too radical and alienate potential supporters. It is important to note that there were women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and active allies of marginalized groups who did advocate for the inclusion of rights for women who were not cisgendered, white and straight. However, their voices were not at the forefront of the movement. The mindset that the feminist movement should obtain equality for cis, straight women before including the needs of any marginalized women made white feminism all too pervasive.
In 2020, we can make no more excuses for white feminism. We never should have, so now is our chance to draw the line. Feminism is inherently intersectional. It is connected to all issues of inequality. If white women want to fight for equity for themselves, they must also fight for equity for racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, the differently-abled, and all other marginalized groups. For too long, many women have not felt included in the movement that claims to champion equal opportunity for all. White women must remember that for so many women, achieving gender equity would still not place them on a level playing field, because they also face other forms of discrimination. Feminists must advocate for equal opportunity for all marginalized groups so that when we do at last achieve gender equity, women of all walks of life will be able to access the opportunities they deserve.