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White Feminism at Fordham and Beyond

social issues


Fordham University


- experimental

White Feminism at Fordham and Beyond

Why your feminism should be intersectional

Erica Scalise


Read time: 8 minutes
Photography courtesy of Annie Muscat

At the first annual 2017 Women’s March, I encountered signs that struck me. These were not signs depicting Beyonce quotes adorned in gold glitter, or ones held inside the promising hands of small children, rather, they were signs written with truisms intended to call-out white feminists.

“Where were you white women at the Black Lives Matter protests?” read one sign.

“Your Feminism Isn’t Feminism Unless It’s Intersectional.”

I proceeded to chant, “Women’s rights matter. Women’s rights matter. Women’s ri--”

Another sign: “Thanks white women.”

“Why are white women being called out so much?” I asked myself.

The answer is “White Feminism".

White feminism capitalizes on the struggles of white women and falls short when it neglects the narratives of women of color, transgender women and women lacking other privileges.

The concept of intersectionality and intersectional feminism is, in essence, the antithesis of white feminism.

USA Today writes, “If feminism is advocating for women's rights and equality between the sexes, intersectional feminism is the understanding of how women's overlapping identities — including race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation — impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.”

To me, the concept of intersectionality seems like common sense, almost intuitive and wholly necessary to having a feminist identity.

In attending Fordham, however, I quickly learned that it isn’t.

To my fellow white women, especially white women at Fordham, I am disappointed.

I expect more.

I’m going to be completely honest in saying that my feminism in a work in progress. I do not claim to be an expert, nor am I the be-all-end-all exemplar of what it means to be a feminist. While I like to think that I have a fairly comprehensive understanding of feminism, I acknowledge that my feminist consciousness was not shaped overnight, nor is it the only way to practice feminism.

The truth of the matter is that feminism existed long before it became trendy in light of the Trump era, Time’s Up and the #MeToo Movement. Feminists like Angela Davis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg existed long before activism looked like slacktivism and bandwagon feminism became the latest fad.

When I first came into my feminism in high school, my English teacher, at a meeting for our school’s club, “Voices of Women”, ushered, “You need to get educated before you just show up to things. A feminist identity is nothing without action. Feminism is more than just a noun; feminism is a verb as well.”

I remember tweeting about International Women’s Day my junior year of high school only to receive a text from a boy later that night.

“Why not International Men’s Day?” he questioned.

I recall walking into Voices of Women one day, feeling defeated, after unsuccessfully inviting girls in the hallway to join. One of them asked me if it was a club composed of “you know…a bunch of scary feminists and lesbians.”

There have been many phone calls and days spent arguing with my father who is still unsure that he wants me, his daughter, to identify with “all of it.” After the 2017 Women’s March, my dad found a photo on Facebook of me holding an anti-Trump, women’s empowerment, sign. I distinctly remember his voice on the phone that day.

“I’m all for women’s rights but please don’t hold up a sign like that. Leave the President out of this feminist stuff,” he plead. “He has nothing to do with it.”

My dad’s disappointment in my beliefs is something I’m still wrestling with today. Like many men, he argues in favor of women when it’s convenient for him and fails to see that “this feminist stuff” has everything to do with men like our president. While my father works to understand the values I hold, he actively undermines them every time he talks over me during our conversations.

It hurt me the most when he told me that he “didn’t send me to school a thousand miles away for [me] to be acting this way.”

External pressures like this have made identifying as a feminist both difficult and unpopular. Because of this, there have been times I’ve questioned why I believe in any of this at all, especially when it places me at odds with people I love.

Of course, these are small-scale struggles in the grand scheme of things though. I am 20 now. I am young and able-bodied, financially secure, I’m straight and I’m white. Though I’m still a woman and I still experience sexism regularly, I acknowledge that I am the picture of privilege among my fellow sisters and, therefore, acknowledge that it is my duty to do something about it.

Why am I up in arms about white women suddenly subscribing to a feminist identity? Because as a white woman myself, I know that we can do more.

This isn’t about policing another woman’s feminism--it’s about bettering a movement that needs work.

And truly, we could use some betterment here around Fordham.

When living in the Belmont community, it's difficult to defend other women if you're wearing a “The Bronx is Our House” or “Made in the Bronx" t-shirt. The Bronx is far from our house. We attend a gated university and are inherent contributors to the gentrification of the Belmont community, whether we want to believe this or not. If you are committed to lifting up women, this must include all women, especially women of color who live in the neighborhood. It is counterproductive to call yourself a feminist when you’re wearing a shirt that prioritizes yourself above an entire community in which you are a guest. Recognizing yourself as the privileged majority is the first step toward making a difference. In learning to be a better ally for all women, rather than ones who simply look like you, the scope of your feminism will reach more than just yourself.

This extends beyond being an ally for all women, much less all people identifying as female. We need to be aware of our discourse and actions involving every individual. Think before phrases like “made out with a local in La Cantina" or "I wish there were more light skins at Fordham” come out of your mouth. In the same way that we as women are more than objects of sex, Hispanic, Latin American and black men are no one's social experiment and should never be treated as such.

Integral to the movement also is how we spread its message. While I love Instagram just as much as the next person, I challenge you to look beyond it and any of the superficial reasons you may be posting on it. I myself am guilty of this. By looking only at ourselves and our immediate friend groups on days such as International Women’s Day, we fail to recognize that women around the world are still suffering.

With this, I urge you to seek to understand a narrative besides your own. It’s wonderful to love your mother, your sister, aunt and best friends, but you are not doing your part by solely posting an Instagram story. I understand your excitement in hoping to incite passion and change the minds of others, but the only real change occurs through concrete action.

This concrete action comes in the form of participation. Anyone can partake in dropping a post for International Women's Day; ultimately though, it's where we are every other day of the year that counts. Direct action cannot happen from the comfort of our dorm rooms. There is a difference between signing up and actually showing up.

In college, staying informed about the university you attend is priority. At Fordham, this ranges from the good, such as events put on by the African Studies Department, and the bad, such as Dean Rodgers’ failure to properly instruct student RA’s on sexual assault. Read on-and off campus publications and be cognizant of the student body around you.

Consider picking up a class or adopting a minor in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department. After accumulating a bland course load freshman year, I learned how to make the core requirements actually enjoyable when I tailored them to my interests this past school year. I’m currently enrolled in Queer Theory as well as a Digital Media Advocacy course where I am entrenched in topics that expand beyond my personal scope and equip me with the skills to be an advocate and defend my beliefs through direct action.

Beyond this, I urge you to learn more about the adversities women face in the Bronx by immersing yourself in the community. Attend events spearheaded by Campus Ministry and the Dorothy Day Center as well as clubs such as Women’s Empowerment and ASILI.

And by all means, take advantage of the fact that you are in New York City. Instead of contributing my usual, monthly donations to Planned Parenthood, I’ve decided to push myself out of my comfort zone by canvassing for PP this summer in the city. Though donations are always welcomed, I want to spend the extra time to work my way up in an organization that I care about and that cares so much for women.

I also encourage you to attend events led by women speakers, to immerse yourself in art, film and literature created, produced and written by women. Support local businesses owned by women.

Consider donating and/or volunteering to the following organizations and shelters:

And finally, ask yourself if what you’re doing today is getting you closer to where you want women to be tomorrow.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Rival Fordham staff.