The Trouble with White Feminism

The Trouble with White Feminism

American sociologist, Jessie Daniels, has an excellent series that examines the problems with second-wave feminism which took off in the 1960s. In large part, feminism was brought into mainstream culture through Berry Friedan’s book, “The Feminine Mystique.” Her book helped women see that they could be more than housewives forced to stay at home and raise children. The problem was that Friedan did not consider what this might mean for women of colour. Daniels reflects on her own upbringing to illustrate this point.

Families require domestic labour. If men refuse to do it, and women want to do less of it, someone else needs to take over. Friedan’s feminism conceived of gender liberation in a way that could only be achieved by White, middle-class women, while denying the oppression of poor and working-class women, especially women of colour. Daniels notes that Friedan paved the way for her own liberation as a White woman, but this did not disrupt the status quo for other women of colour. Daniels reflects on her mother (pictured below):

“Shirley, my mother, was certainly one of those women who ‘longed to be a housewife.’ When she married my father (her second husband), she achieved that goal, gave up her career and never worked in the paid labour force again. But she imagined something different for me. When I would ask her to teach me something having to do with housework – how to do laundry, for example – she’d shoo me away, with a dismissive ‘you don’t need to know how to do that.’ And, for the most part, she resolutely refused to teach me such things.

“When I would press her on why not, she would answer that: ‘you can hire someone to do that.’ You see, in my mother’s vision of my upper-middle-class, white (heterosexually) married future, she imagined that I would employ a woman of colour to do the housework. While certainly not a feminist, my mother’s vision for my life was certainly consistent with Friedan’s vision of feminism.”

Read more about the problems with White feminism, which still influence the struggle women of colour face within various feminist movements in the present day.

Photo by Daniels: