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'With the rise of check your privilege, who has the right to talk about feminism?'


Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's new column answering your questions on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. Send your dilemmas to stories@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand. 

This week's question:

"I'd say I'm a feminist because I believe in equality, but now I've got to 'check my privilege' too. Who has the 'right' to talk about feminism?"

Amy Everett

Feminist Amy Everett says:

Feminism is on the trajectory to achieving things its forebears dreamed of - there’s an unprecedented number of women in UK politics, celebrities are using their status to back female empowerment and as a result, the word’s getting more airtime than ever.

Phew! Good work, team. We’re nearly there. Shall we go home for a cuppa? Woman’s Hour’s on soon.

Um, not quite yet. While feminism’s recent foray into mainstream conversation can only be a good thing, it hasn’t come without controversy. In newspaper articles, TED talks, on the radio, we hear that catalytic (and confusing) word: intersectionality.

Coined by American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, the concept says this: yep, women experience oppression - but in varying configurations. Race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity have a major part to play and that can’t be forgotten when discussing this most sensitive of topics.

In modern discourse, intersectionality all too often translates into something unproductive. It becomes awkward, disagreeable - that notion of: ‘before you start whining about how bad you have it, check your privilege, love’.

Screw that, I say. That gets us nowhere.

UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson He for She

Should UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson check her privilege?

Emma Watson fronting the He For She gender equality campaign. Patricia Arquette using her Oscar win to rail against unequal pay. Lena Dunham writing an award-winning TV series that tackles abortion, existential anxiety, sexism and racism.

All women using the platform they’ve found themselves on (through a combination of luck, contacts, and yes, hard f**king work) to promote feminism.

All women facing backlash.

Why? Because they’re white, middle-class, cis-gendered and able-bodied. In other worlds, silly Western girls juggling awards, flutes of champagne and words they don’t truly understand.

Getting sidelined by semantics, we’re falling into petty discussions. This takes away from the task at hand, which is ending this sh**storm for everybody, of every background.

Misery competitions don’t help.

Annie Lennox recently denounced Beyonce and her contemporaries for practicing 'feminism lite'. Smart, moneyed, beautiful Queen B twerks her way around stage with a band of ace female musicians, telling us it’s girls who run the world - but names her world tour The Mrs. Carter Show.

It’s a confusing message, yet still a powerful one. Thanks to her, thousands of young fans of every background have been introduced to the concept of feminism; the way she catapulted it into discourse might be problematic, but at least it’s there.

As author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (whose TED Talk on feminism Bey sampled) says, "I’m happy that my thirteen-year-old niece calls herself a feminist - not because I made the speech, but because of Beyonce."

Annie Lennox branded Beyonce a 'feminist lite'

Annie Lennox branded Beyonce a 'feminist lite'

I could quote a hundred arguments for why Beyonce embodies everything that’s right with modern feminism, and a hundred for why someone like Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate, embodies feminism proper. My point is, they both have something worthy to contribute.

I’m not saying the Carrie Bradshaws enduring sexism in the city can (nor should) compare their experience to that of a teenager facing the horrors of FGM.

A woman sexually harassed on a London commuter train can’t hold her experience up to women living in the rural Indian province of Uttar Pradesh, where 10 rapes are reported every day.

We must be respectful of diverse experience, but remember we are all connected. The focus should remain on pulling together, lending support and ensuring these things don’t happen again, regardless of who they happened to.

We’re still building this big, beautiful thing called feminism, but cracks are appearing in unlikely places - what we need to focus on is working together to patch them up, lest the entire structure fall down.

True equality needs all hands on deck, no excuses. 

We want to know YOUR thoughts.

Is feminism a free-for-all campaign - the more voices, the better? Or does tokenism damage the cause? Do we all have the right to discuss feminism, or should we 'check our privilege' before jumping on the bandwagon? 

Scroll down to share your views in the comments section, below. 



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