White female privilege

We come from the position that it absolutely exists, and then we work from there.  Read this post over at Racialicious:  Go after the Privilege, not the Tits:  Afterthoughts on Alexandra Wallace and White Female Privilege.   Then go read the post on Feministe.

Make sure to read the comments.  Usually I try not to read the comments because everything starts hurting and itching simultaneously and mostly I want to stick my head in the oven.  But there are a couple of folks over at each site who make reading the comments worthwhile.

One more time:  White female privilege exists.

White female privilege example:  When a discussion about white female privilege does not talk about intersectionality or the kyriarchy but instead is regressed to the position that white female privilege does not exist. 

When we talk about racism, we see this position regression all the time.  Can’t talk about any issue with any kind of nuance, because you first have to get past all the people who want to tell you that the racism just isn’t there.

In the discussions about white female privilege, you can see that many of the (white female) commenters talk about how this is really “benevolent sexism” or some such.  You know, kind of like those positive racial stereotypes.  Without any acknowledgment that any kind of -ism always functions best when there is buy-in from everybody concerned.

This is why I have never been able to feel any kinship with white feminists, and why I stopped reading white feminist blogs a long time ago.  It’s always felt to me like white people who say my kind are okay, it’s just those pesky black people.  And I could go along with that, and talk about how I hate black people too.  Asians being the honorary white meat and all that.

But if I position myself above another group, I have to remember my own position.  It will never be at the top.  I’ll just be reinforcing and reinscribing the hierarchy as the good little model minority.  Complicit in the system.

The term “white feminism” seeks to describe a belief system that does not include all women but instead privileges white females.  In so doing, white feminism furthers a hierarchy in which white men are at the top.  As Audre Lorde says, it’s when white woman ignore privilege and define “woman”  solely within the white female experience.

Here are just a few examples of white female privilege as evidenced in the Racialicious and Feministe discussions.

White female privilege:  When white women attribute issues to racism, specifically racism as perpetuated by white men, and fail to acknowledge their part in the system.

White female privilege:  When white women patronizingly explain to women of color why race or class are determining factors but white women  suffer from sexism alongside women of color.

White female privilege:  When arguing that white female privilege does not exist is not satisfying enough on a white feminist site, so the same damn argument has to be brought over to women of color in their own space.

White female privilege:  When white women feel free to explain the experiences of women of color to women of color.

White female privilege:  When white women don’t realize that it isn’t just that women of color struggle to be seen as women, they struggle even to be seen as human beings.

I have more to say about Alexandra Wallace, white female privilege and the video by Jimmy Wong.  Which felt like sexual harassment to me.  But right now we’re talking about the existence of white female privilege.  And everything hurts and itches so I’m going to bed.

24 thoughts on “White female privilege

  1. It seems to me that anytime one tries to diplomatically approach such privilege it’s usually responded with outright denial on so many levels. Always with the starting line “I don’t see race.” or my favorite (absolutley hated) a variation of the black friend defense. A losing battle at times.

  2. aww man. now I’m itching. I didn’t need to read the comments at Feministe. ::shudder::

    Back to not reading the comments again…

  3. How many fucking times do they need to have that argument over there? I remember at least two iterations of it at Feministe so far, and so many more throughout the blogosphere. Agh.

  4. I am a white female and I believe that white male privilege certainly exists in this country and so how could anyone argue that white female privilege does not exist? The system is hierarchical and to be white is to be privileged regardless of sex. Certainly white females in many situations are below white men, but as a white female I would never go as far as to say that I understand how it feels to be a Black woman. I think it is undeniable that most Black women have a harder road than white women even if we may have similar experiences as women.

  5. Yep, I am she, the woman who wrote the original post at Racialicious. Just wanted to drop by and say thanks for the post love! In regards to the post, I thought I was stating the obvious about the Wallace mess–and you’re right, Katie, it’s not like this particular advantage hasn’t been called out before. IIRC, it’s been the major cause of many blow-ups in the feministophere. The whole “I want the ‘right’ phrase for it” or the other parsings just seemed to me to be another way to obfuscate–and, therefore, deny–the privilege. I guess seeing white female privilege all out there in big-and-bold black and white got folks a bit gobsmacked.

    At this point, I just giggle at the gobsmacked, thank those who’ve supported the post, and keep it moving.

  6. “White female privilege: When white women patronizingly explain to women of color why race or class are determining factors but white women suffer from sexism alongside women of color.”

    I think this one quote really sums it up very well as the entire core for all the reasons why white women deny white female privilege. Excellent article and links.

  7. I’ve been following some of this flap on white female privilege, as a white feminist. It seems most of the complaints are about the name, which many white feminists see as erasing the reality of their female oppression…they think the “female” part should be somehow left out of it, or something. But there’s really no better way I can think of to name this phenomenon where being white-plus-female is the only (or most) “acceptable” way to be a woman in society, and the “benevolent sexism” given to white women is given almost exclusively to us and used as a kind of kyriarchical cookie to keep us content in our “second best” role as we ally with those above us in oppressing women and men of other races. And it’s been that way since before voting rights were legalized for women or guaranteed for blacks. I would think or hope that people who read anti-oppression literature on the internet would be more self-reflective of how quick and reflexive so many people with only one or two marginalizations tend to be to deny the importance of their privilege over people with more marginalizations. And some are more self-reflective. But an awful lot aren’t.

  8. oops…I just realized that maybe I shouldn’t have said that voting rights were ever “guaranteed” for blacks…there are still ways powerful people try to keep large numbers of them from voting. It’s just that the more effective “Jim Crow” methods of doing so were made illegal.

  9. I’m a woc, and I’m bothered by the term “white female privilege”. Maybe it should be “white-female privilege” or “female white privilege”?

    Reason: I’ve run into a lot of men’s rights activists (MRAs) lately on the Internet, and they keep talking about “female privilege” as things like having the door held open for you and “being served first in restaurants”, which they allege balances out the gender gap in wages. (Scott Adams is not a MRA, but MRAs agree with those arguments.)

    Of course, when MRAs talk about “female privilege”, they are usually talking about white women, or even upper-middle to upper class white women, so they don’t include us women of color in the “women” category either. I’m not served first in restaurants because I don’t go to upscale restaurants, yet some MRA (or maybe just misogynist) told me that my perception that I’m not served first is because “the privileged do not notice their privilege”.

    I just think the term “white female privilege” will be perceived as women of color affirming misogynist (white-majority) MRAs who don’t recognize our humanity either.

  10. Hi Andrea Plaid! So nice to see you. <3 <3 <3

    Restructure!, I guess the intersectionality of the term seems clear to me. And generally speaking, any term you use is going to engender hostility and resistance. The use of these parsing arguments by white people seems to be in part about a way to redefine and reconceptualize something else that we are talking about.

  11. I’m not talking about white women’s parsing argument. I was talking about my parsing argument.

    The term ‘privilege’ is often confused for class privilege, and I think the adoption of this term in the past has wasted people’s time in the future, where they had to make 101 FAQs to address this particular confusion.

  12. Marcel, why do you ask? I’m not sure how you got that impression from my post, but I’m glad you asked because it made me think about it and honestly I don’t have a clear answer for you. I do think that there are times when it may be more advantageous to be a Black man than a white woman (for instance interviewing for certain jobs) but overall I think being white in our society is most often more advantageous than being male. While it may be true that a white woman may be more oppressed than a Black male in something like politics, in our society I think that Black males are more oppressed than white females without a doubt.

  13. resistance,

    We’re talking about that thing that allows white women to benefit from White Women’s Tears and Missing White Girl Syndrome.

    However, some people argue that femininity is a privilege, which confuses me, since some white men stereotype Asian wives are more feminine, submissive, and fragile than [white] wives, and that doesn’t seem like a privilege to me.

  14. as a white woman, i fully acknowledge white female privilege. i see it a lot in the context of being a poor person, getting called first in the waiting room at the free clinic, etc. i find it curious that so many white women are loathe to accept that white female privilege even exists. i have been thinking about why that is, when it is so obvious to me and so obvious to others who have observed it as women of color. i wonder if maybe it is a knee-jerk reaction, white women feeling like they are being accused, people who are not used to feeling that way. probably the same way a lot of men feel when encountering feminism for the first time. like they are being accused of personally being an oppressor. it is hard to realize and admit you are part of a system of oppression, as a man, or as a white woman, or any number of other privileged positions. i am saddened by this whole discussion (which sounds like it has been had many times before i ever arrived on the scene) because it separates women who, i believe, are really working toward the same goal- for everyone to be free from oppression of all kinds. the only way we can work together is to first recognize, understand, and apologize for the ways in which we oppress each other. so for what it is worth, thank you for this post and for the links, and as much as one person can do, i will continue to work toward consciousness-raising and justice for all women, with the understanding that those things may look quite different for white women and women of color.

  15. Anna, I am also a white woman and I completely agree with you that white privilege does exist even for us females. I think you really summed it up well when you said “it is hard to realize and admit you are part of a system of oppression.” I also agree that so many discussions seem to seperate us further when there are people out there trying to work toward the same goal- Freedom from oppression!! Exactly! I know as a white woman I will never truly understand what it is like to be a woman of color but I do believe that there is so much that I can learn from openly sharing our experiences and biasses.

  16. Please help me understand the argument more. I can interpret it in one of two ways:

    * (Some) white feminists seem to think that their status as females make them not subject to white privilege. Therefore, raising consciousness of white female privilege is tantamount.


    * White women experience a *unique* privilege, separate from white privilege, that they must be aware of.

    The former seems intuitive and obvious to me, but some of the discussion makes me wonder if it isn’t the latter that is being discussed. That one is a little harder to wrap around.

    When I think of white privilege, I think of being pulled over by the cops. It is my privilege as a white person that I rarely get pulled over, and if I do, it’s because I actually broke a law. It’s *also* my privilege as a woman that I’m less likely to get pulled over and, when pulled over (for a legitimate violation) less likely to get a ticket. My impression is that the race factor is a more powerful influence on the chances of being pulled over than the gender factor is, but I haven’t looked at the research recently.

    Perhaps the issue is that some people think that gender and race bias stack in a linear fashion, rather than being two separate dimensions that interact in unpredictable ways. White women and black men similarly have a “single” count against them; however, it’s not as though that creates a level playing field between them. Each group will have an advantage over the other in some cases.

    Ultimately, interracial conflict has done more to set back feminism than most anything else. We do need to understand how this all works, so that we can work together to get around* racism and sexism.

    * My experience and understanding is that tribe identification and exclusion, at least, and possibly also gender differentiation, are innate human characteristics. We can’t “transcend” racism or, possibly, sexism. But we can gain awareness of how those things influence us, and through conscious action, neutralize them. When the tri-gendered aliens arrive to subjugate us all, we’ll transcent. ;-)

  17. These articles are really interesting. I think the same stuff goes on in Japan. People need to communicate more to stop racism!

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