Feminism is for white women. Feminism is for cisgender women. Feminism is for straight women. Neurotypical women. Bourgeois women. Able-bodied women. Western women. Feminism was always this way. Feminism never tried to be anything else.
When intersectionality was gradually introduced into the broader feminist vocabulary, I like to believe that this became less fully the case. As a queer, not-quite-cis, differently abled, neurodivergent woman, feminist spaces are more accessible to me now than ever before in the history of the movement. But this formative period of social intersection, transnational discourse, and identity politics has brought about its own host of problems. Foremost among them, at least in my mind, is the casual treatment of feminism as something amorphous: an identity to which all women are universally entitled.
But unlike so many feminists before me (hi, Betty Friedan!), I am not arguing that feminism is not for queer people, people of color, trans and nonbinary people, working class people, differently abled people, or First Nation people. Instead, I am arguing the opposite: that feminism is no longer a movement for the women whose opinions and language dehumanize and disenfranchise the aforementioned groups, and that the label of “feminist” should no longer be so easily accessible for racist, transphobic, homophobic, classist, and ableist women.
This line of thinking is a tedious one, though: in an effort to help make the movement as inclusive and supportive as possible, privileged feminists run the risk of worsening the problem through logical and dialectic fallacy. In 1975, British philosopher Antony Flew wrote:
“Imagine [a Scotsman], sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the “Brighton (England) Sex Maniac Strikes Again.” [He] is shocked and declares that, “No Scotsman would do such a thing.” The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen (Scotland) man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that the Scotsman was wrong in his opinion, but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says: “No true Scotsman would do such a thing.”
This type of inconsistency, casually known as a “No true Scotsman” fallacy, is a vital one for feminists to keep in mind. In the rising tides of feminism’s third wave, it is all too easy for people like myself—relatively privileged feminists who often oppose transphobic, homophobic, racist, classist, and ableist views without directly experiencing the dehumanization that these views entail—to dismiss the women who hold these views as something other than “real” feminists. But in doing so, we fail to address the deeply rooted flaws within the feminist movement. We disregard the fact that if people with racist, transphobic, classist, or ableist views still consider their opinions acceptable or even welcomed within the broader sphere of feminist thought, then the movement has not done enough to publicly challenge and renounce these views. It goes without saying that we are nowhere near where we should be in our efforts to make feminist spaces safe and supportive environments for trans* and nonbinary people, queer people, people of color, First Nation people, differently abled and neurodivergent people, stateless people, and people of the working class. The “No true Scotsman” fallacy is what allows us to maintain the delusion that the copious levels of bigotry, oppression, and supremacy within modern feminism are anybody’s fault but our own.
This is, in fact, another one of the most pervasive flaws in contemporary feminist thought. For far too many women with genuine intentions of allyship (myself included, many times over), the notion of “intersectional feminism” has, instead of promoting actual growth and discourse, caused us to dismiss the racists, homophobes, transphobes, classists, ableists, nationalists, and Eurocentrists within our spheres as anomalous problems—as “not true feminists.” For me, this has always presented quite a paradox. How can we address both the interpersonal and broadly political? How does feminism denounce racism and bigotry, and create an environment of support and solidarity for people with marginalized identities, while simultaneously remaining always cognizant of our own history as a deeply racist, classist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and Eurocentric movement?
This is not an easy piece for me to write. Mostly because I do not have many answers, however deeply I wish I did. But as a feminist and a person, I do know this: I am no longer willing to help empower the women who disempower me and the people I love. Please understand that I am all too aware of how imperfect I am, especially in terms of my feminism. I am constantly guarding my own humanity, preserving my own physical and mental well-being, and generally just doing what I can to carve out a healthy and worthwhile existence in a world that does not seem to have been built for people like me. I make a lot of mistakes, but I am always growing, learning, changing, and I do hope to stay that way.
So I want to say that feminism is for everybody, because that sounds so damn appealing. And let’s make one thing very clear: if by saying “feminism is for everybody” you mean that feminism helps everybody, then still I believe that you are correct. Because in this sense feminism is, and always will be, for everybody. Until the day I die, I will believe that feminism can help everybody, including (or perhaps especially) the white, cisgender men who feel so deeply victimized by it. In some ways, then, my title was misleading, and feminism is still for everybody: for men, for women, for trans and nonbinary people, for people of color, for queer people, for straight people, for white people, for all classes, genders, ethnicities, cultures. I sincerely believe that we can create a better world than the one we live in now, and that feminism can help us all get there.
But if you are a feminist who silences women of color, who believes that trans women are not “really women,” who opposes a woman’s right to choose, who does not respect gender pronouns, who regards queerness in women as a sexy trend to be appropriated at will, or who votes against legislation that supports working class women, protects stateless people, or defends the remaining territories of First Nation peoples (and yes, I am looking at you, American “Republican feminists”), then I am sorry, but feminism is not for you. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. Not my feminism. Not anymore.
Because if your “empowerment” does not include educating yourself and admitting your own bigotries, then you are doing a disservice to the very notions of solidarity and sisterhood. Because I will not prioritize your feelings or opinions over the people and groups whose humanity you are invalidating—including, quite often, my own. Because whatever quality allowed me to do so in the past (whether it was ignorance or resilience I genuinely am not sure) has clearly been beaten out of me. Because if this is what it means for feminism to be “for everybody,” then feminism (or at least, feminists) might not always be for me.
Flew, Antony (1975), Thinking About Thinking: Do I Sincerely Want to Be Right?, London: Collins Fontana, p. 47