Becky Inc: The Elaborate Business of White Feminism

The sad truth is mainstream feminism doesn’t care about everyone. But you probably already knew this.

Collage by Sara Shakeel

Collage by Sara Shakeel

“Only a hundred years ago, women couldn’t even vote. The progress to this point in just a few decades is nothing short of stunning, and I think we forget that.” Shauna Shames, assistant political science professor at Rutgers University, pointed this out quite succinctly in response to Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. This is nice. I love the fact that women are getting to actually do shit. Taylor Swift got album of the year again at the 2016 Grammys, during her speech (surrounded by an all-male cast of producers), she reminded all of us women out there that “if you just focus on the work, and you don't let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you’ll know that it was you, and the people who love you, that put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world”. Again, this is lovely. Women winning shit and taking the time to tell other women that they too, with hard work and perseverance, can win shit, is just what we need.

Three years ago this would have gassed me up: it was around the time I was first exposed to ‘feminism’. I remember going to listen to Sheryl Sandberg speak at Sciences Po Paris. I was so excited. The sheer badassery of being a woman in an extremely top position in a male-dominated field made me think: ‘I want to be her.’ It was like watching Beyonce. Well not quite, but I did really enjoyed listening to her. She talked about how women have to ‘lean in’, how we have to demand more from our partners, and demand more from work. I was nodding and hmm-mming and smiling, and at a point I almost stood up and cheered her on. I had caught the feminist holy ghost.

I set about spreading the ‘lean in’ gospel, telling everyone with a vagina to just lean in. Until I realized that leaning in is for white women. This was awkward. Realising that mainstream feminism has an invisible prefix was painful but also liberating. I believed so strongly, and so blindly, in the feminism that Sheryl introduced that, at the time, I didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t ask who this feminism championed. So I couldn’t see that it championed solely those with privilege: in order to ‘lean in’, your foot had to be in the door, and you had to be in the building. Just like that, I had to contend with what I labelled ‘Becky Inc’. In this very elaborate nexus of racial and gender inequality, Becky Inc is a subsidiary of white supremacy HQ, churning out your Hillarys and your Taylors. And it would be very helpful for all of us to start to recognise this. These white feminists want change; they want equality; they want equal rights. The small caveat is that their fight neatly envelops white women, and perhaps women of colour with resources, and cancels out everyone else.

 
Djali Brown-Cepeda at the Women's March 2017

Djali Brown-Cepeda at the Women's March 2017

 

On the one hand, we have the white feminists that use their respective platforms to discuss issues that are solely within the confines of their privilege, effectively hijacking the space from a wide variety of women from different backgrounds. On the other hand, some take a leaf from the White Saviour Complex playbook, and make it all about themselves, speaking for women of colour, erasing their experiences and just being nuisances to the general feminist discourse. Both of which are quite problematic. Take Lena Dunham. Lena has this wonderful thing called Lenny Letter. I’m subscribed to it, and it’s equal parts informative and diverse. Women from all kinds of backgrounds write about politics, fashion, and culture, among other things. It’s a space for a wealth of voices that routinely go unrepresented in mainstream media. Then outside of Lenny, Lena opens her mouth and makes a very irritating comment about Odell Beckham, completely discounting the painful, complex history that lies between black masculinity and white femininity in America. She then goes on to trivialise abortion– a brutal, devastating reality for many. Lena’s voice is a shrill whine indicative of her own inability to move beyond the confines of her white feminism (and privilege), despite the fact she runs something as diverse as Lenny.

I think my main issue with Becky Inc is the inability of these white feminists to move over and give credence to women of colour in matters that seriously affect them. You are quite clearly not speaking for all, so please make space for those who can and will. We have women like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi who brought the #blacklivesmatter movement to the forefront, who stay fighting for men, women, and children of colour. We have women like Issa Rae, portraying black women in their diversity on primetime TV. The list goes on and on. Yet, we also have those, who shall not be named, riding the coattails of intersectionality, pretending to want everything for everyone. But the truth is, they really just want to be as comfortable as the cis-gendered able-bodied white man, without deep concern for how women of colour get on.

It’s painful to say out loud, and it’s a bit painful to read, but white feminists, please indulge me. Try it. Think, what can I do that others can’t do? You are woman, which is largely inconvenient at times, but you are, at the same time, white. This is an intractable privilege that is often kept silent. Please do not feel guilty, just be aware. Understand and recognise. You are woman, but you are better off than many other women. Having a platform that allows you to bring gender issues to the fore is a gift. Please use it to highlight, along with your own personal grievances, that there are many other women of colour who lack this opportunity, and then pull them in. Make a reference, share a link, listen. If all this is too much, don’t forget to remind people that your particular message is sponsored by Becky Inc, a subsidiary of white supremacy HQ.

Ronke Peters