I was just reading An Open Letter to the White Feminist Community and was struck following arguments:
WE ARE ALL WOMEN FIRST and every one of these women who call themselves feminists seems to have forgotten that infighting doesn’t further the feminist cause.
This kind of divisiveness hurts us. And it drives away young women of all races and classes who feel that such discussions, with nothing more, serve little useful purpose.
The letter translates the real meaning behind how those arguments are used (“When you complain about racism in the feminist community, you cause divisions. So shut up and don’t complain.”), but I want to directly address how those arguments relate to privilege.
Privilege means not having to look past your own oppression to see the ways that you are oppressing others. It’s easy to see the ways that we’re disadvantaged because it affects us, but it’s much harder to admit that there are ways in which we are part of the problem. Especially if we believe that our oppression is the most important, or at least the most pressing, one out there.
In this case it means that you can use say things like “we are all women first” without realizing how dismissive that is to women who experience more than just gender-based oppression. Gender might be the most pressing oppression to you, but that’s not necessarily the case for other women. It also is a means for avoiding self-critique. By trying to force a certain amount of homogeneity in order to create a sense of harmony (eg. “universal womanhood”), then you never have to look at what you, personally, are doing to alienate women/feminists who aren’t part of the white, middle-class, straight, able-bodied (etc, etc) force that is the dominant voice of mainstream feminism.
Yes, infighting sucks and, frankly, I think we could all do more to educate ourselves on how to discuss differences in a mature fashion rather than engaging in the mud-slinging that happens on sensitive issues (and I’m not just talking about intersecting oppressions here). But, ultimately, when it comes to matters of intersecting oppressions, it is the feminists with privilege (whether it be white, heterosexual, cis-privilege, etc) are the ones who bear the primary burden of listening to those without, and from that foundation trying to create the kind of bridges that will help strengthen the movement.