You know, I should be feeling pretty damn good about all the mainstream press young feminism has been getting in the last couple days. First, a long, thoughtful, and brave article written by three young Newsweek reporters, calling out their own publication for a kind of lingering sexism that’s hard to pinpoint. Then, yesterday, one of those writers posts a well-written follow-up article about why feminism should matter to young women, which read like a more polite version of Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism (Jessica’s quoted in the article).
It didn’t bother me that most of the points made in these two pieces were just scratching the surface–I am thoroughly ensconced in feminist culture but understand that most Newsweek readers aren’t. And you gotta start somewhere! I get this.
It also didn’t bother me (well, maybe a little) that the three journalists who wrote this story were white. After all, I know many white feminist writers who understand that race and gender and class and geography intersect, and they show that in their writing. If I thought white people could only write about the views of white people, I wouldn’t have written an entire book with another white person displaying just how multilayered young feminism really is. There is certainly a diversity problem in mainstream media–92 percent of television news directors are white, most major newspapers’ staffs are 80 percent white–but white people can be accurate and informed reporters as long as they seek out a range of voices.
Which leads to what did bother me–a lot: In the 3500 words total that Newsweek devoted to the future of feminism this week, amid the 10 people who are quoted in these pieces, not one woman of color shows up. Seriously.
This happens constantly when the mainstream pubs try to cover feminism. It happened in a CNN news segment last June, where the network’s definition of feminism was Angelina Jolie, Hillary Clinton, and Gloria Steinem. It happened at a highly publicized Planned Parenthood event a few months ago called “Voices on Feminism,” which consisted of, yep, three white women.
Some might argue that this is more a reflection of the kinds of women calling themselves feminists rather than the fault of the mainstream media. And it’s true, to a point–although there are millions of bad-ass feminists of color, many women of color do feel marginalized by feminism–these women in Girldrive, for a start. But guess why? Because articles, TV clips, and events like these continue to marginalize them even as they attempt to widen the conversation about feminism. They ignore the young women of color doing feminist work nowadays like Stacyann Chin, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and Rinku Sen, to name a few. Not to mention the ones who paved the way for women writers and journalists (Ethel Payne? Alice Walker? Marcia Gillespie? HEL-lo.) These three women at Newsweek didn’t even bring up the issue of race, much less seek out the voices of non-white feminists. This is a huge. Fucking. Problem.
What really gets me is that the majority of young feminist activists do think of feminism in an intersectional way. Just look at the blogger rosters at blogs like Feministing, Feministe, or Racialicious. Just look at the staff at organizations like WIMN or INCITE! or the ladies in Girldrive. Young feminists are trying not to make the same mistake that some Second Wave white feminists made of being blind to race issues. But places like Newsweek, CNN and other mainstream outlets make that a frustrating uphill struggle by painting a whitewashed, monolithic picture of feminism.
UPDATE: Jezebel’s Irin wrote a post riffing off Anna’s post on how the picture is all white women (which, in my opinion, isn’t as important as getting the words and names of feminists of color into the piece, since the photo is of the writers and the women who filed the original Newsweek suit.). But yes, regardless of “how much sense” the photo makes, perhaps the editors should have thought twice about visually representing feminism with these women rather than a cross-section.
UPDATE #2: The authors’ blog, Equality Myth, wrote this in response. I wish I could just call them up and talk to them on the phone. It’s not racism–it’s colorblindness. It’s failing to realize the bigger picture of what feminism means today. It’s choosing to interview Ariel Levy, Rachel Simmons, and Gail Collins–who are all amazing but not representative by any means. There’s also such a thing as constructive criticism, which I think Irin gives.