IF YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF “WHITE WOMAN FEMINISM,” there’s a little encounter that happened recently (which you might have heard about) that facilitates a conversation about it. In case you missed it, it involves Jennifer Lawrence at the Golden Globes this year.
Gorgeous Dior-draped (white) Hollywood actress stands slightly above a throng of reporters, fans, and assorted adoring hanger-ons, fielding questions as flashbulbs light the stage.
Reporter (in clearly non-native English, struggling to read a question from his phone): How do you see yourself…
Actress (interrupting): You can’t do that bro, you can’t always be on your phone. You have to live in the NOW
Reporter (clearly embarrassed, laughs): Sorry, sorry. How do you see yourself, for the Oscars…
Actress (interrupting again): This is the Golden Globes, not the Oscars. And if you looked up from your phone you would know that.
Crowd goes awkwardly quiet in the face of the realization that America’s sweetheart is being, um… sort of a bully.
I write a lot about white woman feminism, and while it might seem nitpicky, divisive, and a case of the pot calling the kettle, well, white, I think it’s too important of an issue to… whitewash. (OK, I’ll stop.) White woman feminism is an umbrella term for any feminism that’s non-intersectional, meaning it excludes not only women of color, but also economically-disadvantaged women, trans women, non-heterosexual women, foreign women — the list is expansive. How pervasive is white woman feminism? Look no further than the movement’s trendiest icons.
Media darlings Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer, lionized for their dirty jokes, enthusiastic junk food consumption, and all-around manically “real” personas, have been planted firmly on a gilded girl-power pedestal. They’ve been crowned the shining examples of the kind of outspoken, uncensored, fully-liberated womanhood we should all aspire to. Recent breathless tabloid talk of their budding BFF-ship and “twinning” has only increased the hype. Not that I need to, but let me take a minute to say that I like J. Law and Amy. I like them in the same way I like, say, Fruit Gushers: in small doses, on a full stomach, and with the nagging feeling that I’m getting too old for this. Because yes, they’re funny, and cute, and they make me feel better about the occasional walk of shame, or about not being a size 2 (but let’s be real, that one’s mostly just Amy). They also present some really troublesome problems.
You could argue that the recent controversy surrounding J. Law’s blatantly-uncool roast of a foreign reporter has been blown out of proportion, and exploited for clicks and shares and the profits of a fickle public’s strangely-singular outrage. And maybe I’d cede you that. You could even argue that the reporter wasn’t asking his questions, but using his phone to take photos and videos of the actress, as some have claimed. And if you had proof to show me, I’d cede you that, too. But if your argument is that it was an isolated incident and we’re reading too much into it, you’d be wrong. While Jenn has graced us with a plethora of endearing gems (I Googled “funny Jlaw Quotes” just now and the first result was “150 Times Jennifer Lawrence Was Literally All Of Us”), plenty of her sound-bytes are tone-deaf, insensitive, and even a little mean. Like the cringe-worthy time she referred to herself as “dykey” for enjoying sports. Or implied Chaz Bono was some wacky boy-girl hybrid. Or straight-up laughed in someone’s face while they were opening up about their mental disorder.
As for Amy, I’m just gonna leave this here. Warning: NSFW, because of offensive jokes and also because, more than likely, it will make you exclaim “WHAT THE F**K?” I mean, yikes. I don’t know about you, but I demand more from my feminist role models. I want women who call out the patriarchy — with all its double standards and flawed, messy rhetoric — without carelessly stomping on the backs of other marginalized demographics. Icons who don’t hide behind humor and a reputation for “keeping it real,” but instead thoughtfully consider not only who is being empowered by their words (hint: usually women who look and live a lot like them), but also who could potentially be hurt. By all means, keep waxing eloquent about cheeseburgers, ladies. But maybe order them with a side of properly-checked privilege.