Much like many of my fellow nineties babies my first exposure to feminist rhetoric came courtesy of Scary, Sporty, Baby, Posh and Ginger. Legend has it I came out of the womb chucking up a peace sign screaming ‘Girl Power’. When it comes to women’s empowerment I’ve been about it and i’m still about it. Before I knew anything about the violence, injustice and discrimination that women face on a daily basis, I knew that supporting girls was important, which at that point meant perfecting my performances of ‘boys are stupider send them to Jupiter.’ Growing up and realising that there was a whole movement, a school of thought and thousands of books written about this exact idea excited me massively as a teenager. ‘Feminism’. It even sounded glamorous and important and full of purpose. Feminists got stuff done. Feminists became CEOs. Feminists were my new Spice Girls.
My bookshelf was slowing starting to fill up with books like ‘Not That Kind Of Girl’ by Lena Dunham, ‘Hot Feminist’ by Polly Vernon and ‘How To Be A Woman’ by Caitlin Moran. The way these women viewed the world was so refreshingly fearless, nothing could get in their way because they had feminism on their side. Lena Dunham could experiment with drugs, and casual sex and still come up trumps with a record breaking TV show on Sky. Polly Vernon was able to smash the glass the ceiling as a journalist simply by becoming skinny (not shade, she is totally cool with admitting this). And Caitlin Moran proved that coming from a working class background doesn’t have to be a barrier to greatness. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to notice that I had accidentally white washed my own consumption of feminism. Then again, it’s not exactly surprising given that white women have been the default face of feminism since feminism began.
In fact, as entertaining and inspiring as these books were at the time, in hindsight it’s blatantly obvious that I was never really the target audience. This became abundantly clear when my feminist worlds collided and in the ultimate crossover Caitlin Moran interviewed Lena Dunham and the aftermath unfolded on our timelines. A woman who I thought all this time was speaking to me and for me seemingly couldn’t care less about me. As Bim Adewunmi recounted in her 2012 article for The Guardian: ‘Someone named @lizziecoan replied to ask: “did you address the complete and utter lack of people of colour in ‘Girls’ in your interview? i sure hope so!” Moran’s response: “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit about it.” Ahh. Right. Good, glad we’re cleared that one up. And suddenly we are catapulted back to the 1870s when Anne Howard Shaw, president of the Women’s Suffrage Movement proclaimed:
You have put the ballot in the hands of your Black men, thus making them political superiors of White women. Never before in the history of the world have men made former slaves the political masters of their former mistresses! (https://lwvwa.org/in-the-washington-news/7192474)
Where the suffragette’s slogan was ‘Votes For (read: White) Women’ Moran’s seemed to be ‘TV opportunities for (read: white) women.’ We all know Moran is a talented and accomplished writer but her blatant disregard for people of colour was; No.1 A kick in the face for a fresh faced feminist like myself and No.2 Dangerous proof that white feminism is well and truly self serving.
But this did all happen two years shy of a decade ago and I think we can say with confidence that discussions around feminism and womanhood are changing. Or so we thought until May 2020 when Lana Del Rey framed a genuinely interesting point in a cringe worthy and heavily loaded statement on Instagram. Her choice to begin her statement by dragging some of our faves – Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B…. Camila Cabello (she lost me there… but if I speak…) sounded a little to much like a more eloquent remix of Moran’s 2012 smash hit “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit about it”. My knee jerk reaction was, well there we have it, Lana Del Ray does not eff with black women at all, but she swiftly reassured us in a follow up post that we are all in fact being ‘dramatic’ and she is not trying to start ‘a race war’. At least the cringe worthy content was consistent.
What I find most embarrassing about my early forays into feminism is that at the same time I was actually discovering books like The Colour Purple by Alice Walker, Brick Lane by Monica Ali and NW by Zadie Smith. Books that were dishing out some beautifully seasoned lessons on feminism but I just didn’t see it. They were politely feeding me ideas of what Kimberlé Crenshaw coined as Intersectional Feminism. Feminism through the eyes of black and brown women. Final thoughts for teenage me: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with reading literature from people who don’t look exactly like you, but do proceed with caution when their hot take on how to be a feminist includes: be skinny.