Updated: Aug 22
The “Western Lens” manifests itself in how our media, foreign policy, and education systems broadcast an oppressive version of feminism. Our distinctly American concern for absolute “freedom” often goes hand-in-hand with white supremacy and violent capitalism. Furthermore, our conceptions of liberation for women in particular are used as justification for the loss of agency and violence toward women of color in foreign countries. How does this reframe our concern for the persecution of women in Iran who refuse to wear the hijab? Or our negligible response to conservative female leaders like Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni, or former U.K. prime minister Liz Truss? Writer Koa Beck outlines the goal of White feminism as not “to alter the systems that oppress women—patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism—but to succeed within them.” This erronious version of feminism has packaged white supremacy into empowering slogans and shiny hashtags that divert our attention from the ways that white feminism neglects cultural nuances and marginalizes the working class and women of color. While the term “intersectional feminism” has begun to populate various spaces, from social media infographics to our current lexicon in the classroom, it is also the only framework that can uphold the collective welfare of women everywhere by giving women of all incomes and races the agency to engage in all of the cultural and religious practices that support their wellbeing.
Gender Spectrum and Feminism:
This Western and white lens of feminism also ignores the complexity within the gender spectrum. These flashy hashtags and slogans like “girl power” ignore the fact that feminism is a movement for everyone, not just women. Everyone is impacted by the patriarchy, including men, who benefit the most from this system. There are also a multitude of other genders who are oppressed and marginalized by the patriarchy. With gender identities outside of the man and woman binary being frequently pushed to the margins of this conversation, when we use an intersectional feminist framework we must acknowledge this crucial complexity.
Neo-Fascism In Italy:
When Giorgia Meloni became Italy’s first female prime minister on October 22, her victory as a far-right politician was supported by the Lega, or League, and Forza Italia, two other conservative political parties that pushed for Meloni’s election through a unified approach. While she has worked to soften her rhetoric surrounding Ukraine and her opposition to the EU’s authority, Meloni’s politics are a product of Brothers of Italy, a political party she co-founded that is steeped in fascist ideas. Additionally, her pledge to advocate exclusively for Italian political interests is a point of tension with the European Parliament. Meloni’s election has nonetheless been labeled a success within the narrow lens of White feminism. Hillary Clinton, for example, has expressed her universal support for women in politics: “Every time a woman is elected to head of state or government, that is a step forward.” Despite her anti-immigrant, and homophobic rhetoric, Meloni is cited as a sign of progress for women everywhere. Progress, as it is defined by white feminism here, is characterized by how well a woman is able to mold herself into an authoritarian and oppressive power structure. Her womanhood can dilute any hateful policies and conceal her ties to Mussolini-era and radical nationalism. While Giorgia Meloni has shown that it is possible for assertive and empowered women to have a voice in politics, that very voice has only harmed other marginalized communities in Italy for the sake of “God, Homeland, and Family.”
Mahsa Amini Protests in Iran:
*Trigger Warning: Mentions of gruesome violence and police brutality
On September 16, 2022, the Iranian religious morality police arrested Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, in Tehran, for not wearing a hijab according to the strict veiling laws. She later died in police custody. While Iranian authorities claim that Mahsa passed away due to a heart attack, eyewitness testimonies prove that police officers brutally beat her to death. On top of being a beloved sister and daughter, Mahsa had just enrolled at the Sharif University and had aspired to become a lawyer to create real justice.
Her death cannot be forgiven nor forgotten! In cities across Iran, thousands of women took to the streets to fiercely protest her death, chanting “woman, life, freedom,” and “death to the dictator.” While Western media often portrays these demonstrations as efforts for Iranian women to remove their hijabs, this notion reflects the often Islamaphobic one-dimensional stories that white media perpetuates when covering news on the Middle East. In reality, these protests represent so much more. What white-washed Western media fails to acknowledge is that these women courageously put their lives at risk to fight for their autonomy and true democracy against oppressive policing, corrupt tyrants, and gender injustice. While Iranian authorities have arrested, beaten, tear-gassed, and even killed protestors, Iranian women continue to fight resiliently, inspiring people of all genders to join in protesting the tyrannical regime.
Iranian women need our help more than ever, but we must refrain from superfluous hashtags in social media posts and perpetuating white feminism. We need to divest from Iranian capitalist corporations, write to our government to demand support for Iranian women’s protests, and donate to women-led Iranian organizations, such as the Women's Organization of Iran and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center. Taking action requires educating ourselves, so it is crucial to continue reading about the state of the Iranian protests through preferably Iranian women-led news outlets and scholars. Reading books by Iranian women such as The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa, and Things I've Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter by Azar Nafisi is a great way to educate yourself on historical events pertaining to women’s rights in Iran. Finally, it is important to raise awareness. Attend demonstrations and protests closest to you, reflect on your internalized sexism, and hold our institutions accountable for its perpetuation of patriarchy. In order to create transformative change in our community and grapple with our collective complicity, everyone has a shared responsibility toward this advocacy!
Resources to Take Action:
Credit: Riverdale Takes Action Team