Olivia Turano: Feminists, enough about men. Let’s talk about women

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - 5:50pm

I am a proud feminist, supporting political, economic and social equality regardless of gender that has been absent for, really, all of time. I too wake up some mornings fighting the desire to throw on my pink pussy Women’s March hat, slap a new “Pro-Women, Pro-Life” frame on my Facebook profile picture, tweet “men are trash” and check “crush the patriarchy” off the “Feminist with a To-Do List” to-do list I bought for $10 at a feminist boutique before moving on with my life. 

Much of the recent outcry against far-right abortion legislation has been because men — usually white, straight and wealthy — continue to craft laws that are not only incredibly restrictive, but also ignore basic female biology and public opinion. Alabama’s new bill, which passed with the votes of 25 white, male senators, effectively bans abortion at six weeks — earlier than many women even know they are pregnant — and criminalizes abortion, even in cases of rape, where a woman and doctor performing an abortion face a stronger penalty than a rapist.

Almost 50 years after Roe v. Wade, we are still fighting for even the most basic access to women’s reproductive health. Feminists are quick to turn on men and, to be fair, the vitriol against them isn’t exactly unwarranted. The patriarchy has reigned for too long, and women have had enough. 

But, in order to truly tackle the “feminist agenda,” we can’t continue to blame our oppression entirely on the patriarchy and our patriarchs. We need to talk about, perhaps, feminism’s primary obstacle today: white women.

I am from the Upper West Side of New York City, which houses a less affluent but still fortunate breed of white New Yorkers. Moving from New York City to Ann Arbor — another upper-middle class, white, liberal haven — it was initially hard to conceptualize that, despite the persistence of gender inequality across America, white women, broadly speaking, are not allies of other marginalized groups. 

Amidst a flurry of condemnation towards the 25 male state senators attempting to control and legislate women’s bodies through the new abortion ban in Alabama, there is a smaller group pointing out that white women remain complicit in promoting these laws — women like Alabama state Rep. Terri Collins, who sponsored the bill, and Governor Kay Ivey, who signed it into law. While the law may be legally unenforceable due to Roe v. Wade’s federal legalization of abortion, this law was passed with the intention of challenging that decision, emboldened by the Trump-era right — and women played a role.

This is part of a much bigger issue. In the 2016 presidential election, 53 percent of white women voted for Trump. By contrast, 94 percent of Black women and 69 percent of Latinas voted for Hillary. Even more surprisingly, this wasn’t a unique 2016 nightmare phenomenon. In fact, this followed a consistent pattern of white women supporting the GOP nominee, as they did in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 elections. 

In the 2018 midterm elections, white women followed other demographic groups in moving towards the left, but only slightly. 49 percent of white women voted Republican. Meanwhile, 92 percent of Black women supported Democrats. 

You may be asking why I am so freely implying the association between being a feminist and voting for Democrats. Feminism is not confined to Democrats — in fact, feminism is undeniably stronger when it transcends party lines. Feminism should and can be for everyone. However, as long as the goals of feminism are supported by the left and largely neglected by the right, when white women cast their votes for Republicans they are shielded by the privilege of their skin color.

While white women walk through the streets each day carrying the societal implications of what it means to be female, we are also protected by the privilege that being white grants. White women stand at a crossroads of being female and white, and when they cast a vote, they must choose where their priorities lie. And while externally many of us may wear shirts that proclaim “the future is female,” we often fail to address our fellow white women who identify with their race before their gender.

More often than not in our current political climate, voting Republican is a privilege not all are afforded. In fact, 42 percent of women who had abortions in 2014 were under the poverty line. Wealthy white women will always be able to find a way to get an abortion if they need one. But for those with weaker economic prospects, the attempted new legislation is devastating.

Until we, as feminists — and especially as white feminists — hold white women accountable for failing to prioritize women’s issues in their votes, feminism will fail to truly take root in policy. Without the support of the most wealthy and powerful women in America, feminism falls short. Fair-weather feminism is no longer enough for white women. Feminism needs your full support, now more than ever.

Olivia Turano can be reached at turanoo@umich.edu.