Suggested Actions for White Feminist Allies from Katie

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This post is several years old and may not reflect the current opinions of the author.

On my blog, I had just linked to an excellent and common example by BrownFemiPower of white women getting credit for helping women at large when they’ve actually done a lot of harm to women.

How did they do this harm?

By forgetting to ask themselves whether women in a population group would be disproportionately hurt (compared to men in the same population group) by whatever actions they’re advocating (be they immigration actions, medical funding actions, military funding and policy actions, etc.)


Today, BrownFemiPower saw another instance of white women getting credit for helping women at large when they have, by forgetting to apply their feminist knowledge to all their advocacy of various policy positions, done a lot of harm to many, many women.

Short summary:

  • White feminists were getting mocked by conservatives for not criticizing misogyny conducted by non-whites against non-whites strongly enough.
  • White feminists wrote a nationally publicized letter saying, “We do too! Hell, we FOUND that misogyny and were the first to tell the non-white perpetrators that they should stop it!”
  • BrownFemiPower retorted (unfortunately, in a venue that isn’t nearly as highly publicized) that
    1. they shouldn’t even worry about whether they’re criticizing misogyny conducted by non-whites against non-whites until they’ve spent a heck of a lot more time criticizing misogyny conducted by whites against non-whites (usually through foreign policy) and
    2. they did NOT find the non-white-on-non-white misogyny mentioned by conservatives and they were NOT the first to tell the perpetrators of that misogyny to stop it–the VICTIMS did both.

Quotes from BFP’s post:

her little list of wrongs that “American feminists” stand against was the most irritating…

Hm. Who could Ms. Pollitt *possibily* be talking about here?…

Do you think it’s the U.S. government that is currently enforcing horrific immigration laws that are degrading and violating women and their families–-IN KATHA’S OWN DAMN COUNTRY?…

Why the particular emphasis on “Muslim countries?” Does Ms. Pollitt think that “Muslim countries” are particularly hostile to women’s rights for some reason?

Even as her own country imprisons 8 year old girls and deports their mothers?

Fact: it’s feminists who first identified atrocities against women around the world–female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage, spousal violence, rape– as violations of human rights, not family matters or customs of no state importance.

Actually, Ms. Pollitt–it was the women who *experienced* those actions that first identified the violence being committed against them.


Please, please, please, please, please–if you’re a white feminist, consider my suggestion for action instead of signing Ms. Pollitt’s letter:
Next time you’re around white feminists who are upset that the right wing is saying, “You don’t do enough to stop non-white violence against non-white women!” STOP them from retorting with a, “Look at all we’re doing!” and, worse yet, a resurgence of interest in taking that kind of action.

Tell your white feminist peers only to tell the right wing commentators, if they must retort at all:

“I’m sorry, but you’re wrong to assume that that is our job. Our job is to stop white violence against white women and white violence against non-white women. And we will work on those issues in the proportion that they exist today.

“Though we may lend time and resources when and to the extent that they are asked of us by non-white women, we refuse to claim that it is our job to ‘stop’ non-white violence against non-white women.

“Thank you for listening, and please follow our bulletin for the amazing work we are doing stopping white violence against white women and white violence against non-white women in the coming months!”


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4 thoughts on “Suggested Actions for White Feminist Allies from Katie

  1. Thanks – that’s what was nagging me about that post. I kept reading the manifesto and thinking, “Yeah, okay, only I don’t know that much about these issues. I really don’t.”

    Which was embarrassing, but then I thought about it: can I ever hope to be expert about What’s Ailing People Who Aren’t Me? I can barely sort out my own problems. So maybe the more realistic solution is for me to focus on my expertise (i.e., the problems I’ve experienced firsthand) while giving nods to the problems I’m aware of other people experiencing and trying to somehow encourage them to share what life has taught them.

    I waver between thinking it’s my job to champion others and thinking it’s entirely narcissistic and presumptuous to think I can. Right now, my approach is to stick to the issues I know firsthand and point out the ways in which I can see that issues affecting others are not being addressed by people like me. If that makes any sense.

  2. If that makes any sense.

    Well…actually…I have to say I’m a little confused. 🙂

    Are you saying that, to put it in my terms, you think white feminists are best off sticking to fighting against bad things that whites are doing to women (whether mostly to white women or only to women of color), or that you think white feminists are best off sticking to fighting against bad things that whites are doing to white women?

  3. Actually, I wasn’t saying what “white feminists” should do, I was speaking only for myself. That’s why I put it all in first person – because I don’t presume to know what white feminists or anyone else should do.

    That said, I think the only two things I’m qualified to judge are what white women need and what white people, male or female, are doing to anyone, white or any other race. As for other issues – for example, atrocities against women in the Middle East – I would be lying to say I can give any serious analysis of what’s going on or what the answer might be. So, for example, I can give meaningful analysis about the White House’s policy on not distributing condoms to Africa, but I don’t feel qualified to say what internal changes Africa should make to improve its own lot. I mean, I can form opinions, but I’m not the one who’d have to live with the results if they were implemented, and I can never have the experience of growing up there and having the understanding one develops by living the problem.

    That’s just my approach. It may be wrong; I may even change my mind. That’s where I’m at now.

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