5 Reasons Why ‘First-World’ Feminism Isn’t Actually Trivial

All forms of discrimination and violence, big or small, are tied to larger issues.

  • By Patricia Valoy, Everyday Feminism
  • June 30, 2016

This post was originally published on Everyday Feminism.

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“Why complain about the wage gap when women in this other faraway country can’t even work?”

“Oh, please. You think your reproductive rights are being trampled? In this other country, people die from childbirth because they don’t even have hospitals!”

“Again with the gender-neutral bathrooms? In this place, people who identify as trans are murdered!”

We get it. There are a lot of horrible things happening all over the world, including the United States.

But the issue here is that trying to tell people they can’t be angry about their oppression because others may be more oppressed is not activism. This is derailing.

I personally think it’s a positive sign when people are aware of human rights injustices and are invested in changing them. But when that comes at the expense of belittling another person’s personal struggles, I no longer think that’s useful.

As humans, we love to categorize things and then put them into hierarchies — and feminism is not exempt from that. I find that whenever I discuss topics that seem trivial compared to extreme acts of violence, well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) people often remind me that there are terrible things happening elsewhere.

And this is true.

But I want to shed some light on the false idea that there is any such thing as a “trivial” feminist cause.

Because while there may be causes that affect some more than others or that are more explicitly violent than others, feminism isn’t about taking a stand for every single cause. It’s about allowing marginalized people to dictate how issues relating to them are discussed and addressed — and recognizing that all forms of violence, big or supposedly small, are tied to the same larger issues.

So here are five reasons why, whether it’s an issue you consider valuable or not, “first-world” feminism is not trivial.

1. Feminist Activism Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All
Feminism isn’t a movement with one single goal, but rather, a series of movements dealing with different types of oppression across many identities.

In fact, treating feminism as if it were only about women results in the deliberate erasure of women who are oppressed due to race, ethnicity, class, and/or sexual orientation, among many other identities, including trans women. This also erases non-binary people.

The reality is that it’s entirely plausible for one person to write about an important and life-threatening issue or experience, while also writing about dating and makeup.

That’s what it means to be human: It means our lives aren’t one-dimensional, and we’re allowed to be really pissed about one thing and mildly annoyed about another.

And because all of those issues affect our daily life in various ways, we absolutely have every right to talk about it.

I’ll use myself as an example.

As a Latina who is also an immigrant and was raised in poverty, I am disproportionately disenfranchised in a society that caters to white Americans of means.

But I’m also college educated, light skinned, and able bodied, which puts me in a privileged position. Kat Lazo breaks this idea down really well in this video.

Because of my personal intersecting identities, I can write about serious issues like immigration reform and gentrification, and also about sex and relationships.

It’s perfectly fine to be very passionate about one issue — or to want to cover many issues in your feminism. But it’s not okay to pretend that one issue is beyond another for everyone.

Also, trying to police what is a feminist issue and what isn’t is oppressive — which brings me to my next point.

2. Patterns of Oppression Dictate Who Gets to Talk About an Issue

“But what about women in Saudi Arabia?!”

Oh, if we only had a penny for every time that question came up!

I get it. Dealing with street harassment during your commute sure beats not being able to leave your home, but what problems are solved by pointing out that there are women living under other types of oppression?

Derailing a conversation about street harassment in public spaces to talk about how Saudi women can’t even leave their homes without a male guardian does nothing for those of us dealing with street harassment on a daily basis — or for women who are infantilized by their government.

Moreover, derailing is always done at the expense of supposedly more oppressed people, who are usually Black and Brown.

This reinforces white supremacy and the status quo, and sets up a hierarchy of us (the liberated modern people) and them (the backwards and oppressed people).

It dismisses the person sharing their own experiences and results in the silencing of those most impacted by not being able to share their own stories.

Whether or not one believes that there are more important issues, only those affected by them directly should be spearheading any conversation on that topic.

For example, it wouldn’t be proper for me to talk about Muslim women and the veil.

I don’t practice Islam, I was not raised in a culturally or religiously Muslim household, and I have never worn a head veil. There is nothing about my identity, upbringing, or lifestyle that makes me an expert in the lives of Muslim women, except that that we identify as women.

What I can do is listen more than I talk.

My opinion is not valuable when it comes to marginalized groups that I do not belong to. But I can use my privilege and platform to direct the conversation toward promoting the writing and activism of other feminists.

I can promote and support causes that affect others without centralizing myself in the conversation.

Using the lived experiences of others to play devil’s advocate is dismissive and angering.

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