Feminism and white privilege

Yaa Asantewaa in her battle gear, with gun. Th...

Yaa Asantewaa in her battle gear, with gun. This image is in the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is something not quite right about the massive amount of time and effort devoted to the question of white privilege in relation to feminism: I’m not 100% sure what yet, but I’m working on it. Maybe together we can get to the bottom of it, maybe I’ll work out what the issue is for me as I write. You may agree or disagree, we shall see.

I’ve been watching and engaging in various dialogues lately. I’ve read some brilliant articles and some awful ones. All the while something hasn’t been sitting right.

The concept of “white privilege” as a framework is constructive in the modern context, however it whitewashes human history for all women and I’m not convinced this is a good thing. Intersectionality (we HAVE to find a new word for that) is perhaps a better, more inclusive term.

White privilege implies allows conclusions to be drawn from* just those two words a) women of colour have forever been oppressed and, b) white women have never been oppressed. We know in the history of the human race neither a) nor b) are true.

There have been many powerful women of colour throughout history. The Ashanti Queen of Ghana, Yaa Asantewaa, who lead her people against British rule is just one example of so very many. Yet every time I hear or read “white privilege” I feel Yaa Asantewaa and others like her fading further into oblivion. What of the Amazons of Dahomey? Are they too forgotten? Whitewashed out of our modern view of women’s history as if these women never existed?

White women were legally chattels in many legal jurisdictions until very recently.

Under the doctrine of coverture, a woman was legally considered the chattel of her husband, his possession. Any property she might hold before her marriage became her husband’s on her wedding day, and she had no legal right to appear in court, to sign contracts or to do business. Although these formal provisions of the law were sometimes ignored—the wives of tradesmen, for example, might assist in runing the family business—married women technically had almost no legal identity.


In 1864 the Contagious Diseases Bill was ….. a horrendous piece of legislation.

Do we whitewash the oppression of white women out of history too? In Victoria this year domestic violence statistics rose dramatically: is any woman, of any colour, being beaten or raped and killed, really so privileged?

But it goes deeper than that. While I understand women of colour from places like the USA and Australia seeing white privilege as a relevant framework to illustrate how mainstream feminism has in many, many ways failed women of colour over the years, I also see it being worn as a badge of honour by white women. In an almost “Of course I’m privileged, I’m WHITE, but I will now lift up my coloured sisters” kind of way.  Charitable: that is it! To me it sounds like a charity. I don’t want a charitable act for my daughters, I want unity and solidarity. Not so long ago the white woman was a mere chattel, while the Ashanti Queen was leading an army.

Many societies of people of colour were matriarchal. Rarely societies of white people.

White colonial men, perhaps in an attempt to reduce women of colour to the same legal status as their own white women had been prior to women’s suffrage, ruled women of colour minors in at least one jurisdiction:

Prior to British rule, African women could own property and had legal rights. In 1927, British law declared them legal minors, dependent on their spouses.


White women should have fought against this, but having so recently gained their own rights it is doubtful they would have had the political power base at that point. I haven’t researched that aspect.

I don’t want my daughters looking at Western feminism and getting some impression we consider women of colour to have always been oppressed. I want them to know about the Ashanti queen, or any of the other powerful women of history who were not white.

We also seem to keep looking at feminism through this prism of Western society and that prism distorts our perspective of women in other societies, for example Yemen or Saudi Arabia. We need to remember the three main religions have subjugated women for centuries, irrespective of colour. Thankfully, that is something many women of colour were not subjected to until their lands were invaded.

Yes, there are issues historically. Yes, I can’t see Haraway’s cyborg manifesto helping many at a grass roots level today. Yes, I very much like Eleanor Robertson’s article on intersectionality. We must learn from the past mistakes and move forward for the betterment of all women.

As trite as it may sound, the truth is, united we stand, divided we fall. Golden rule of battle: divide and conquer. Women do not want to be defeated.

* From further discussion with readers, I have changed the wording slightly.

Edit December 28: Further discussion is taking place on Only The Sangfroid where Mark wrote me an open letter on this topic. For the sake of clarity, I am taking the liberty of reproducing most of my response here.

I’m a little confused how you determine I am in any way framing an argument AGAINST intersectionality. I think it is great! I think it is very useful. We should be expanding it and building on it. I think it is a MUCH MORE useful concept than white privilege. I just don’t like the name of the concept – it sounds like a traffic direction instruction rather than being related to women’s rights.

You ask what does white privilege mean beyond the USA? That is exactly my concern, but perhaps I didn’t make it very clear in my own article, or perhaps my article, written to open dialogue (which it certainly has done) is too open to interpretation itself? I am concerned that without the USA context, the meaning can and will be “morphed” into other meanings.

Interestingly, as I shared in a reply to a comment on my article, when I was describing the whole article and subsequent fallout to my daughter (who is black), funnily enough, before I even got to the charity concern bit, she chimed in with the word. You could perhaps say she is being influenced by living with me, or, conversely, perhaps I am being influenced by living with her. You are, I believe, familiar with my piece on “How does a racist hide racism?” and while I am not convinced all the white women running around being so proud of checking their white privilege are closet racists, from what I have been reading, I am concerned it will become another such tool. “Oh, I’m not racist, look, I check my white privilege every day”. Now ask them to rent their negatively geared investment property to an Aboriginal family. That came from a conversation I had earlier this evening, but I believe the other participant in the conversation prefers to remain anonymous so I will not name the person.

For women of colour generally, racism is a far bigger problem than feminism. So while white women are running around feeling so good about themselves for checking their privilege, are they doing REAL things about the eradication of racism? I am just asking the question, not passing judgement.

Mark, as for the terminology around the globe – please don’t ask me. I’m as confused as you. Generally I ask people what they want to be called, although I always think “people” is good.

I never suggested women of colour were excluding white women. It has essentially been the other way around – white women have focused on their own “world”, ignoring the very aspects Eleanor’s article raised. No life experience in those demographics.

If you have reached this point and think I am saying white privilege doesn’t exist, please re-consider. I have not said that nor is that question the topic of this article.

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48 comments on “Feminism and white privilege

  1. […] There is something not quite right about the massive amount of time and effort devoted to the question of white privilege in relation to feminism: I'm not 100% sure what yet, but I'm working on it….  […]


  2. I somethimes pretend the men are all the same in the world so it’s easier to judge them.


  3. […] I have started writing this as a response to “Feminism & White Privilege” by Robyn Oyeniyi   https://teamoyeniyi.com/2013/12/27/feminism-and-white-privilege/ […]


  4. “There is something not quite right about the massive amount of time and effort devoted to the question of white privilege in relation to feminism: I’m not 100% sure what yet, but I’m working on it.”

    Hmm… perhaps there is a lot of time spent talking about White Race Privilege, but in my experience (as an Indigenous Australian woman) there is definitely NOT a lot of time spent acting on or adjusting one’s behaviour.

    White Supremacist Patriarchal thinking, being and doing, exists EVERYWHERE in this country – and it doesn’t matter what walk of life one is in. While there may not be as many people saying the a-, n-, and c- words out loud, racism permeates every part of this country.

    I’m not sure whether all the talking (that you say is happening) is actually working or not working in the battle. I think the jury may still be out on that one.


    • Hi Leesa, I can honestly say I don’t think it is working at all.

      Admittedly I was thinking globally when I wrote, but Australia is one of the countries with the worst situations on my somewhat limited opinion. I say limited as I have not visited everywhere in the world, but I do have an awareness of the battle Aboriginal people face every day.

      I actually prefer your term of White Supremacist Patriarchial. To me it is clearer, describes the problem better and is less open to misuse.

      I wasn’t saying enough REAL talking is happening and that is part of the problem So much time is spent, it seems to me, in using “terminology” less time is spent getting ours hands dirty solving real problems.

      This was looking at feminism specifically where the question of not recognising women start the battle from different places in the equality spectrum hasn’t really been addressed.

      I hope future generations do a better job than we have at rectifying the inequalities we witness or experience every day.


  5. Where do I even begin?

    First: I am a Black American woman. Please consider this as you read through my response.

    Second: What does white privilege mean to you? What about oppression? I’m not sure I follow your line of logic. In your article, you seem to combat the use of the term ‘white privilege’ against the acknowledgement of strong women of color. The beauty (and ultimate downfall) of intersectionality is that one characteristic or truth is not necessarily mutually exclusive of another. For instance, just because someone may be oppressed, does not mean that they cannot exude strength. Following that same logic, because the Ashanti Queen took up arms to fight against colonialism does not mean that she did not feel/was not oppressed by it or other societal issues. I think the beauty of women throughout history (no matter their color or culture) is that we embody resilience, strength and creativity. Acknowledging the term ‘white privilege’ does not mean that white women are not/ have not been oppressed or that black women have always been oppressed (why are we comparing levels of oppression anyway?). It refers to a set of societal privileges that are real. De facto. You experience them, I understand them. Truth. Wikipedia explains it really well here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_privilege

    And while I do honor the women of color from our very complicated (dare I say?) intersectional past, I personally also champion strong, Black women of today who are still fighting in their own ways: Melissa Harris-Perry, bell hooks, Oprah Winfrey, Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Cathy Hughes, Ursula Burns, Condolezza Rice, Marian Wright Edelman, Susan Rice, Beverly Daniel Tatum, Mara Brock Akil, my mother Elaine Smith (I chose all Black American women to make a point, but have a lengthy list of women of all colors if you’d like me to post it).

    On that note, in regards to a comment that you left in a reply that read:

    “My point re Yaa Asantewaa is Ashanti women had authority in their own society prior to the arrival of invaders, that to undervalue the historical place of women of colour in their own societies is not beneficial. Women of colour are not striving for something new, they are striving to regain that taken from them and that needs to be remembered.”

    This is honestly a whitewashed way of thinking about ‘other’ societies (read: where women of color ‘come’ from). While you might be trying to be sensitive, it is not true to imply that colonialism was the beginning or turning point of oppression for women of color… Think: female genital mutilation in Ghana, honor killings in the Middle East, foot binding in China. These practices and absolute forms of oppression are definitely NOT something to be regained or remembered from history. Your thoughts on this issue, that women of color have ‘lost’ something that they are striving to regain, is actually A SYMPTOM OF YOUR PRIVILEGE. You are implying that women of color have our own societies to go back to/reference; societies that are somehow different than yours. I am as American as other White American women, and have no other ‘society’ to which I belong or from which to draw specific ancient strength or authority. I am not actively striving to regain what might have been taken from me in Germany, Ireland, the Americas, and whatever African country my ancestors were from. I AM currently fighting against thinly cloaked privileged comments from people who are not willing to engage with the idea of GLOBAL WHITE PRIVILEGE. White privilege is NOT only an American idea that stems from American slavery.

    There are so many more things to say, and it is very difficult to articulate without a lengthy in-person conversation with books, articles, graphs and other visual aids, but I will try to sum it up like this: By you not wanting to identify and acknowledge the idea of white privilege, you are in fact exercising your privilege.


    • Hi Shannon,

      As you say there are many more things to say and of course saying them all is impossible in 1,000 or so words. I am not saying white privilege doesn’t exist, I am saying it is dangerous. All of the aspects you mention, foot binding, genital mutilation, honour killings etc are all relevant to the question of women’s rights, but in my view they are not helped by a label. One of the readers here was prompted to write about labels generally http://thinkyness.com.au/article-display/to-label-or-not-to-label-that-is-the-question,14 and question the dangers of them.

      I am very wary of anything that is reduced to a two word slogan. This isn’t about whether white privilege exists, it is about whether a two word slogan is useful in the broader context or risks “morphing” into something else as so many other catchy terms and phrases have over time. I already see usages that I perceive as having a negative impact on the very debates it is supposed to help and support and that worries me.

      I have learnt two main things from writing my thoughts down: 1) It is difficult to ensure all readers interpret as meant and 2) there are many existing perceptions, values and beliefs and impact on any given reader’s interpretation.

      Often times we have to break the accepted “rules” in order to bring about change or to challenge the status quo of anything. Change is driven by people questioning. I can’t convince you or anyone of my intent, all I can do is apologise if my clarity was lacking.


  6. […] puzzle relates to how you frame an argument against the idea of intersectionality with regard to white privilege.  At the outset, I’m not a feminist and I’m not even going to say that you’re […]


  7. Robyn since my last response, I have been thinking about the issues you raise in Feminisn and White Privilege. My thoughts have taken me back to Beijing in 1995 when I attended the NGO Forum which ran parallel to the UN Women’s Conference. http://www.un.org/geninfo/bp/women.html

    There were over 30,000 women from all over the world gathered to discuss & activate on issues of importance to women..human rights, decision making, girl child, discrimination and violence. What has stayed with me wasnt the content of conversations but the warmth of “shared sisterhood”. It was an unbelievable experience and one I will never forget. Several of us were almost arrested for supporting women from Tibet to safety. (Story for another day) There were Korean women seeking justice for their time as comfort women during World War 11, South African women celebrating their new found freedom post apathied, First Nation women from dozens of countries seeking land justice, Thai women looking to protect daughters from sexual slavery and women from every country looking for ways to end rape and domestic violence

    Not once did I hear discussion on ” my oppression is worse than your oppression” or ” my feminism is better than your feminism” Quiet the opposite..it was women lifting up other women ..to me thats what has been the strength of the women’s movement. The collectivism of opinions, voices and shared lived experiences irrespective of race & color.


    • Betty, you have actually brought on the tears with that recollection. Thank you so much.

      We need more of 1995 reality and less of 2013 jargon I think. As Noely says, labels are dangerous things.

      You must write about the women from Tibet! In fact I’d love to read about the forum in much more detail, it sounds inspiring.


  8. I understand where you are coming from here Robyn, in fact as a lover of History, really ‘get’ what you are saying… I find it difficult to comment though as to be quite frank, I am pretty gutless in the fact that I opt out of most conversations in regard to race, feminism, privilege etc as there are just too many labels and often, in my opinion, not enough honesty.

    I would not call myself a feminist at all in fact. I am also white, but would not call myself privileged either, just because I am white. Don’t get me wrong, I feel privileged that I have had the luck of the draw to grow up as I have, in this country, with the opportunity that was available to me, and like a lot of people that I grew up with, both white & coloured we have had the same opportunities and we all appreciate them… Though I am also aware that there are an awful lot of white women in this country who have no privilege, in fact have been groomed by generational poverty to have no hope beyond the fact that maybe some bloke will stay with them long enough to help support the kids & not beat her up too badly.

    I feel every time we use labels we alienate a segment of society who either needs help or would like to help given the opportunity. I see it in the LGBTI community, fighting amongst each other on who is more important, more discriminated against. You often see it racially as well & I often feel like screaming when you get some academic focusing only on so-called outback Indigenous & don’t care less about urban, similar rubbish, “I am more Aboriginal than you” crap. In the meantime while all these various groups are fighting over semantics & profile standing in their own particular communities, PEOPLE, yes people, regardless of white, black, green, gay, cranky etc. Are being persecuted, downtrodden, taught there is no hope in life.

    The way I see it, in all segments of society, all over the world, there are people who are more privileged than others, regardless of race, colour, hell in some countries it is your religion that gives you ‘privilege’. In my opinion, what we should be aiming for is social justice for ALL. Basically – naive though it may be – I would hope that at some time in the future we are all enlightened enough to find it a Human Right for all people to be born with the SAME opportunity in life for EQUAL justice in society…

    A ‘human’ can dream 🙂


    • Great Comment Noely. A ‘human’ can dream. – exactly.


    • ummm excuse you. You forgot the Q and the A in LGBTQIA+


    • I remember years ago talking to a social worker that worked with people in the Carlton housing commission flats. People of many cultures/ethnic backgrounds and nationalities. She told me at that time they were up to the fifth generation of single parent families. Kids with the four generations before them with no jobs, no security in life and in some cases four kids to four different fathers. She said the children were left unattended for long periods and had absolutely of social skills when they started school – if they actually attended. Generational poverty, financial and emotional.

      It is the labels, isn’t it? As you say, as soon as we start labeling stuff, we end up in exactly the situations you describe, so this is a consideration over and above anything I wrote about above. Have you read Anita Heiss’ book? If not, I suggest you do. Anita is big on detail, but for good reason.

      As much as I hate that intersectionality word as an actual word (I have to stop saying that) I Do believe it is a framework we can develop and use effectively to aim for that dream!


  9. Left a comment here http://ofcourseitsaboutyou.com/2013/12/27/white-feminism-and-the-denial-of-privilege-or-none-of-use-are-buying-your-book-robyn/

    In case she decides not to post my comment, I saved it and will post it below 🙂


    I think you need to chill out. Trigger warning Racism? in regards to what Robyn said? Not to put it so bluntly but she’s married to a black man…has biracial children…I don’t think it’s possible for Robyn to be racist. So you may need to rethink what racism means.

    On another note, Robyns article on feminism and white privilege was really great and thought provoking which unfortunately brought me here, to your article.

    I don’t want to sound rude but accepting your “white privilege” and using it as charity to help support POC women because you’re an “ally” is not as kind of a gesture as you think it is.

    You’re just rolling over and accepting what the rest of society say about the issue of white privilege, all the while on your high horse because you’re helping those of colour and care about people of colour.

    In reality, accepting your “white privilege” as is, you are accepting all those attitudes, all that anger, as being the norm and that it’s okay as long as you keep helping those that aren’t “privileged”….which to me sounds totally ridiculous, and a lot like the same attitudes that the British has during the scramble for Africa “we’ll strip you of your culture, way of life, everything because you don’t have privilege yet, we will share our privilege with you even if you don’t want it. OR what the early settlers said in Australia, wanting to help the Aboriginals, share some of their white privilege, which didn’t work so they just got rid of them. Then LATER stole an entire generation away from their families. OR The holocaust of the native Americans, I’m sure they wanted and gladly accepted all that white privilege too, except they didn’t, because almost all of them are dead.

    Yes white privilege exists, but no it’s not a tool to help those that are down trodden, it’s a reminder that feminism still isn’t changing mainstream western society. That we need to remember that all though bad things happen to us all, us “whites” have had a few helping hands of the last few hundred years, but it wasn’t always like that and we need to help everybody so we are all equal and there is no such thing as “privilege”… It’s an ugly reminder that in western countries, a lot of white people think privilege and power is what’s important.

    Not calling you a racist, not calling you any names to be honest, just trying to point out how damaging it can be to accept “white privilege” as the norm and calling out people on the internet who have confident friends.


  10. All I got from this was men have created white privilege and ruined feminism 😛

    Nahh I’m kidding, I really liked this article! All though I do have to admit that I’ve never really encountered the whole white privilege thing in regards to feminism specifically. Like statistically you could interpret feminism (as a whole) as exhibiting white privilege but I’ve never really seen it (and I spend a LOT of my time on tumblr lol).

    I feel like, from my understanding, that white privilege is a societal thing that occurs in western cultures, cultures that are segregated from the rest of the world and given too much power. I think that type of white washing, the type that sweeps over everything in our culture, is much more detrimental to the coming generations than just specifically our view on women past/present.

    When everything is white washed, school books, movies, tv, music, fictional books, general media, EVERYTHING. It never ends. That’s what white privilege is, at least in my eyes, the privilege to live a life like that and never have to change it or be pulled up because you are the majority with the power.

    So all in all, loved the article but I do think that in regards to past GREAT POC women in our history being forgotten or belittled due to white privilege, I think it is a much bigger problem than just feminism subscribing to the belief of white privilege.

    In reality, what feminists think about big issues don’t actual translate to the rest of the world because “we’re crazy and angry and don’t matter”. What the men in charge say, however, about those brilliant POC women in our childrens history books, makes all the difference.


    • Thank you for your contribution Caitlin. It is great to hear from younger women, the ones who must continue the work into the future.

      I’ve added some more of my reasoning in my reply to Kes (a later comment than yours) and perhaps I should have included that in the article. Of course, the more one puts in an article, the longer it gets and the less there is available respond to comments with.

      I really like your piece “white privilege is a societal thing that occurs in western cultures, cultures that are segregated from the rest of the world and given too much power.” I am reminded of the recent social media furor here when Nelson Mandela passed and certain political figures whitewashed the fact they had NOT been supportive of ending apartheid when Mandela was working so hard to achieve a new South Africa.

      I certainly agree in the past “feminism subscribing to the belief of white privilege”, I am just concerned as a term it is not constructive in a global sense and I am seriously concerned it is perhaps being used by some to hide their own racism. While the article I wrote recently on that topic, https://teamoyeniyi.com/2013/11/12/how-does-a-racist-hide-racism/, spoke of a different modern mechanism, I see a risk that this can also go the same way. “Oh, but I am so not a racist, I check my white privilege all the time” sort of thing.


  11. This is also of interest.

    This isn’t ‘feminism’. It’s Islamophobia | Laurie Penny



  12. I grew up when women did everything for men and men were treated as Gods who did nothing, besides going to work, and maybe mow the lawn every now and again. They Would get drunk every night and sometimes days. When mates abused their Wives and daughters, a fact that was known but never talked about.
    We did not need any femminist to tell most of us not to accept this any more that a man who treated a women with little respect was not worth our time, as we did not want to live like most of the little women in those times did….
    Though looking back most of those men did not have a good family life to start with and went through the deppression. They were in the 2nd world war came home disturbed men, who were not allowed to talk about the horrors they saw.
    Maybe if we all worked together instead of feeling sorry for self as everybody has a story to tell. We could all change the world and make it a better place for all the young women who will take our places, hopefully with peace for all…


    • Maureen….. thank you. I will complete this reply tomorrow. Bedtime. 🙂


    • Hi Maureen, I’m back. So sorry to be so long, I do like to comment in a timely manner, but sometimes it just isn’t possible.

      You have raised very interesting considerations in relation to women post the Second World War. My father served in WWII and I agree with you, some did certainly come home with mental health problems that were never addressed and I am sure that impacted on their relationships. My father was never the most romantic man, as I recall, but then he had also been raised in an orphanage, so I think the odds were probably stacked against him on the emotional front.

      As far as I am concerned, we do all need to work together. I want my daughters and grand-daughters to have the same rights as their brothers – not just legally but in practice.


  13. Thank you for this post Robyn. I don’t even comment on feminist issues on Twitter anymore. I can’t help it that I was born a white, hetrosexual woman. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t had personal experiences within my direct environment and country, where I have been exposed to and opposed to discrimination and oppression of all people of colour since about aged 5 when awareness started. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced discrimination and oppression that affects all women. It doesn’t mean that just because of skin colour experienced cannot be shared, due to other factors of discrimination and oppression, such as poverty and legislation and judicial laws written by men. It doesn’t mean I don’t understand the privilege I do have and it doesn’t mean I’m so self centred that I cannot remove that privilege to gain perspective to understand what other’s feel that do not have this privilege. It doesn’t mean I cannot be supportive without being patronising or seeing myself as ‘better’ and do my part in raising awareness, or writing to MPs etc., etc.,. Many are overlooking that regardless of skin colour, poverty, culture, legislation, sexual violence etc., etc., etc., encompass all women. The private hash tags in public places such as twitter (where only people who identify with the hash are welcome to tweet) is not a good platform for creating understanding and unity IMHO. Although I do see these as a good platform for women to share their experiences, feedback and clarification, and constructing meaning from voice have always been very important in feminism, which means engaging with others and not just telling people to “Shut up and listen’ From a liberal feminist perspective, many are missing how the legislation and laws of white men have changed society and positioning of women of many cultures and colour. This is highlighted in studies regarding our stolen generation. This can’t even be pointed out in twitter debates, through fear of being accused of being “it being ‘all about me’ a white CIS feminist racist, who needs to check my white privilege, who is crying white woman tears and begging for pats on the head and cookies” I don’t desire to wear labels other’s who do not know me, have thrust upon me and publicly given me, for which I am not. I will continue to raise awareness, by engaging directly with Indigenous women in my community and country, I’ll still write letters to incompetent MPs and Blog their decisions and news stories of same that impact on our Indigenous people, I’ll still participate as a member of a political party, so I can actively be a part of a party who opposes poor legislation for women, Indigenous people and refugees. I’ll still pursue my own academic studies and do my best to contribute to the academic arena, but I will not participate in Twitter debates and private hash tags in public spaces on this issue.


    • Thanks for sharing your experience Trish.

      This is another aspect I didn’t address: the tightrope many end up walking.

      No, I don’t want a damn cookie either, but that is exactly how “white privilege” sounds to me.

      I’d been stewing over this for days and it was literally as I wrote it I realised the charity implication was what bothered me.

      The term “white privilege” shuts down communication but the facts remain the same. 😦


      • Thanks Robyn. I think being and Australian, my experiences are different. Our country has gone through a huge process, since particularly the 80s and I think we are in a different sphere than what is occurring in USA. There are many white advocates for Aboriginal Rights and high profile ones like Jeff McMullin. If you don’t have Welcome to Country, it is seen as insulting to all people and ‘not just something we forgot to arrange’ and fobbed off. Many Australians brought up why the Liberals did not have Welcome to Country at their events during the election. I also think Australians have a different communication style and use different lingo/language, which is less political correct than USA and can be misinterpreted. I think more awareness needs to be taken in ‘private hashtags in public spheres’ rather than attacking any who comment; keep RT that is a space for only those who identify with the tag only. Not everyone is twitter savvy in terms of private hashtags in a public space and mean no disrespect. I think this boils down to in Australian, we are open and honest and like to ‘give people a fair go’ and the benefit of the doubt, not all people think this, you will always get horrible people, but I like to think most. I don’t believe everyone who responds intends to harm or insult. When I contacted an Indigenous organisation when I wrote my letter to the PM about his claims women do not suffer legal discrimination. I was welcomed, not shut out. I think the cultural differences make some things hard to understand.


      • Agree with everything you said. USA and AUS humour totally different. Language is different and the term does originate from the USA. Problem is it spreading globally without the same historical context and across different cultures. What we need is a word for intersectionality that sounds more descriptive of the meaning, rather than sounding like a traffic control mechanism.

        Yes, in Australia it is quite OK to jump into any convo that appears in our timeline. Never saw Twitter as a “private” forum! 😆

        Have you published the response re the discrimination?


      • Yes, my letter to the PM is on my Blog as an open letter http://wp.me/p3WaR7-3B. I sent it to Abbott, Senator Cash and Senator Moore. No response from anyone yet, but I sent it in the second last week of parliament.


      • Yes, I have read the letter.

        Waiting on the reply. When you mentioned well received. I wondered if that meant a response.


      • No, I meant I was welcomed by the Indigenous Organisation to share my letter with them, so I could get feedback to ensure it was culturally appropriate and represented issues correctly.


      • Arrhhhhhh – I get it. Sorry, I am a little slow today. Abscess on/in a tooth. Drugs slow the brain.

        We have great Indigenous people. I know it can be hard bridging to divides but we must keep trying.


  14. “is any woman, of any colour, being beaten or raped and killed, really so privileged?”
    Yes. Because when I call the police to report the violence against me, I’m going to be taken more seriously than my neighbor would. If I go missing, my photo of my white face is going to be plastered all over the news. The photo of the mother of my son’s best friend would not.
    I was 42 years old before *I* ever heard the phrase #fasttailedgirls, and if twitter is any indication, that isn’t true for an entire generation of WOC.
    Just because the idea of white privilege disturbs you and makes you uncomfortable doesn’t make it any less accurate or true.


    • Thank you for joining the discussion. 🙂

      I didn’t say it did make anything less true, I said the implications it carries are not helpful.

      Shortly after my family arrived, I thought I’d lost my daughter. I called the police. Within a couple of minutes three police cars arrived. They had no idea I was white until they saw me. I gad described my daughter. Equally, African immigrants won a case against the same police force for essentially “racial” profiling.

      The facts we both know so well can surely be given a better “name”, one that helps rather than hinders the flow of information and development of strategies for the future.


  15. Well said Robyn. I believe that inequality, oppression, violence and sexism are inherent in patriarchal societies. Class & race provide additional lens in which to exam the inequality & abuse of women of color experience, allowing the often multi layers of disadvantage to be fully exposed. Feminists over the decades have done excellent work in exposing systematic inequality, lobbying for law reform, funding for services and education and “womentoring” generations of other women. I dont see feminism the problem…It is the often largely male dominated structures that work against women to protect the status quo of ” male privilege”.


    • Thanks Betty. I also recognise the unique USA situation. The Australian circumstances, although factually different, had similar impacts on our First Nation people. In both places POC were in the minority even once emancipation arrived. So I get the original context.

      None of that eradicates the negatives I see attached to the phrase for the reasons I stated above. Maybe the debates are not so obvious in Australia, but hot in the USA particularly.

      As much as I hate that intersectionality word, the theory behind it is a more workable framework for improving and protecting women’s rights globally.


  16. Yaa Asantewaa remains a figurehead to her people, but Yaa Asantewaa died in exile, under British oppression. While white women certainly have been and continue to be victims of oppression, they are also in many circumstances the oppressors.

    Being told to “watch your privilege” is not the same as being oppressed. Women of color discussing their shared experience have the right to request that white women back out of or stay out of the conversation. Because we cannot share their experience, what we’re really doing when we try to join conversations about shared racial experience is hijacking their conversation and appropriating it for ourselves.

    Cries of “telling me to check my privilege is oppression” actually furthers white oppression of women of color because you’re literally telling them they have no right to request a conversation remain among women of color.

    Refusal to self-check our own white privilege is why many women of color want nothing to do with feminism. Feminism is so focused on white women that women of color feel they no longer have a place. If we want feminism to be an ongoing movement that includes all women, we need to check our privilege. Knowing when to be silent is a powerful gift that you not only give to yourself, but a gift you share.


    • It is the implications of the term I object to, not the dynamics of the various experiences. At no point have I suggested otherwise. I certainly have not suggested being told to “watch your privilege” is oppression.

      Nor am I crying oppression in any way. I found it interesting that the related article I linked to also expressing concern about the term is by another woman married to a man of colour. We have similarities yet unknown to each other, from opposite sides of the world, came to similar conclusions. The other writer looked at the implications around ethnicity alone while I focussed on feminism, but we both dislike the term.

      My point re Yaa Asantewaa is Ashanti women had authority in their own society prior to the arrival of invaders, that to undervalue the historical place of women of colour in their own societies is not beneficial. Women of colour are not striving for something new, they are striving to regain that taken from them and that needs to be remembered.

      Thank you for contributing to the discussion. 🙂 It is only by sharing we can build greater understanding.


      • The problem is not with the implication, it’s with your inference. You INFER white privilege to mean that “white women have NEVER been oppressed and women of color have ALWAYS been oppressed.” It means that white women in most first-world societies ARE CURRENTLY oppressed much less and have been for at least a couple hundred years, and women of color ARE CURRENTLY oppressed much more and have been for a couple hundred years now.

        That’s the problem with inferring ANYTHING to mean “never” or “always” or any other concepts/words that leave out nuance.

        Let me repeat, the problem isn’t with the implication, it’s with your inference.


      • Hi Kes, thanks for joining the discussion. Your comment is very interesting because I gave serious consideration to whether or not to use the word “implies” or not. The strict meaning of the word was not quite what I meant, but the colloquial meaning was. When I first read your comment, I thought to myself perhaps inference would have been a better word, but when I looked up the dictionary meaning to refresh my memory, I found this it means a. The act or process of deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true. b. The act of reasoning from factual knowledge or evidence. I don’t think that is what you believe I am doing at all.

        Perhaps “drawing conclusions” would be better. I will edit accordingly.

        I know that people from the USA, where the term “white privilege” originated, have a particular historical context in which is it used and I understand that context. However, the term is now being used outside the USA where the context is often lost and this is what I was referring to.

        I’ll share a story with you. I have a very dear African American friend (who I must call to say Season’s Greetings!) who visited me in Australia a few years ago. She was very hesitant to go to an African restaurant. We went and she enjoyed the experience. She had come all the way to Australia to make that sort of connection to her heritage, simply meeting an African from Africa and eating some food.

        To those outside the USA, the term can have different implications or inferences. My personal perspective is I don’t like the term, primarily for the reasons I stated about the feeling of charity I get from it. Funnily enough, I was relaying this story to my older daughter and before I even got to the charity bit, she chimed in with the word. You could perhaps say she is being influenced by living with me, or, conversely, perhaps I am being influenced by living with her.

        The “colonial masters” (a description banned in our house) have a lot to answer for. I have been told white people are all rich and smart and don’t push when we have babies. THAT is the sort of meaning the word privilege can convey to people and it is NOT the meaning I think is useful in the fight for women’s rights.


      • I don’t even know how to respond to the “white people are all rich and smart and don’t push when delivering babies.” My first reaction is that it’s obviously a sarcastic view of how white people think POC see our privilege, or a sarcastic view of how POC think white people think they see our privilege.

        Regardless it’s a variation on “she thinks her shit doesn’t stink.” Regardless of what word you use for it, the important part is that we, as white women, don’t horn in on conversations women of color have about their experiences on how white women coopt oppression for ourselves and our experiences, usually with some variation on whining that they’re implying that white women aren’t oppressed when we’re simply not part of the conversation at that point. They aren’t saying that we aren’t victims of systematic male oppression, they’re just saying that race adds another dimension to the oppression they experience. It does absolutely nothing to invalidate our oppression, and complaining that when they want us to shut up our whining that “we’re oppressed too!” DOES invalidate our oppression, we’re asserting that we’re so important that we have to be included in anything that has anything to do with feminism… we are asserting the same kind of privilege that we call out men for when they say something about how they’re oppressed because they’re expected to be breadwinnners and stoic.

        THAT’S what they’re calling “white privilege,” at least in this context.


      • No, it was real life experience of my children. I am sad you can’t understand that.

        Racism is a far bigger issue for many many WOC than feminism.

        I can’t reply any more right now, I am upset that my sharing a truth is viewed as sarcasm.


      • It’s not that I can’t, it’s that I didn’t have the context to.


      • Kes, I’ve taken a breath or two to recover from the completely unacceptable way my children’s life experience was dealt with. I do accept that you would not, being new to this site, have the background knowledge to put my comment in context.

        Which really goes a long way to proving my point.

        I have written a response on an open letter to me on this topic http://onlythesangfroid.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/quick-post-reply-to-teamoyeniyi/ which you may find interesting and add clarity to your interpretation of my work.


      • I ended up completely losing my initial and incredibly lengthy reply, but the gist comes down to a few things:

        1) You gave no context in “I have been told white people are all rich and smart and don’t push when we have babies.” I in no way intended to say you were being sarcastic, only that the statement as told to you struck me as sarcastic, as it very well may have been had it been said by an adult woman of any race other than white whose experiences were that white women think their shit doesn’t stink. The context you give now, that it was your children’s life experience, i.e. possibly a young girl who’d been indoctrinated with the idea that white people’s shit doesn’t stink gives it an entirely new meaning.

        I admit that my perceptions were colored by two things: the fact that I came to this from a blog post of a friend who, in her own words “feel[s] like all day long I’ve been told by white people that white privilege isn’t a thing. That it doesn’t exist.” and was coming from a place of calling another white woman out on exerting white privilege… which I do believe is our responsibility.

        The second thing that colors my comments is what I’m coming to see via the open letter you linked to and the discussion there as “American* privilege.” Because as both you and Mark pointed out, the concepts have originated here and have been exported elsewhere, and thus have become something of a systemic norm, which is the definition of privilege as I’m learning it.

        To me, white privilege does perhaps have some elements of the charity you ascribed to it. I do see it as my responsibility to use what privilege I have to make the lives of those who don’t have that privilege better, but I also see it as my responsibility to vote and talk about that privilege in such a way that it dismantles it. Charity is not a bad thing. Feeling superior while giving it rather than having a spirit of “yesterday or tomorrow, that could be me” even if, in most contexts other than poverty, “yesterday or tomorrow” would be another life… yes, that’s a bad thing. And we all need to check that feeling of superiority—which is part and parcel of our privilege, so if we aren’t checking it, we’re not truly checking our privilege, are we?

        *I use “American” as the most commonly accepted term for a citizen of the United States, even though it refers to anyone who resides or is a citizen of any place between the southernmost reaches of Argentina and Chile to the northernmost reaches of Canada and Alaska.


      • It is OK Kes. The internet can sometimes be a confusing place.

        Did you see I added a clarification bit to the original post?


      • I did see that, I think it makes a bit more sense.


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