Students must take intersectional approach to feminism

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The definition of feminism has always been open-ended. Feminism implies gender equity in the broadest sense of the term before breaking off into narrower branches. While sects such as radical and liberal feminism should be thanked for historical accomplishments in support of gender equality — such as the instatement of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 — they have caused occasional setbacks as well. Gloria Steinem, for example, recently demonstrated her own brand of liberal feminism while making generalizing comments on female supporters of Bernie Sanders. What these branches and several other forms of feminism fail to do is acknowledge how oppressive constructs such as race and class inform sexism. Without this element of intersectionality, such short-sighted feminism can conservatize the movement and silence underrepresented voices that need liberation the most.

At Occidental, students may not understand that their debates on topics such as the birth of Oxy United for Black Liberation and the state of rape culture on campus offer insight into which brands of feminism they knowingly or unknowingly support. Limiting one’s feminism to conversations that target gender equality in isolation, thereby lumping all female-identifying people into a single, non-racialized category, is a privilege for those in the racial majority, those identifying somewhere within the gender binary or those with economic influence. Specifically, affluent, cisgender white people often problematize the movement by favoring one-dimensional feminism.

In failing to appear at events like the occupation of the AGC or town hall meetings held on the role of Campus Safety, students ignore limit their understandings of intersectionality on campus. It is time to rethink how conversations relating to funding, diversity, divestment, LGBTQIA+ rights or the upcoming presidential election can reflect onto feminism.

One-sided feminism is ingrained into the mainstream, particularly through entertainment platforms. In a Variety interview at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, actress Kristen Stewart’s troubling response to a question addressing gender inequality in the industry demonstrated how oblivious Stewart, a self-proclaimed feminist, is of her own privilege and the professional advantage it grants her.

“Instead of sitting around and complaining about [gender inequality], go do something,” Stewart said.

By dismissing the subject of gender inequality, Stewart demonstrates archetypal white feminism. She neglects to acknowledge that her own fame grew from a role in “Twilight” that, according to author Stephenie Meyer’s website, called for a woman that was “very fair-skinned, with long, straight, dark brown hair and chocolate brown eyes … five foot four inches tall, slender but not at all muscular, and weighs about 115 pounds.”

As Viola Davis, African-American actress and producer, asserted in her 2015 Emmy acceptance speech, the vast majority of female roles are suited for white actresses that fit such a physical description. That expectation leaves women of color with significantly fewer professional opportunities and an insufficient platform to, as Stewart suggests, stand up against the injustice.

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Davis said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Though Hollywood’s gender disparity is not breaking news, it is far from irrelevant. This injustice is also tied to a historical lack of racial diversity, recently highlighted by last month’s Academy Awards. Since the Oscars were founded in 1929, only 6.4 percent of acting nominations have gone to non-white actors. This year, out of the 24 awards distributed, one went to a woman of color: filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

Insufficient representations in terms of gender and race are longstanding and deeply intertwined. And while white actresses like Stewart could be utilizing their voices to incite change, they reaffirm the amplification of one set of voices over another. Albeit subconsciously, they marginalize working women of color to reaffirm their own positions of power. They make microaggressions on an international platform.

As the entertainment industry serves as one microcosm demonstrating flawed notions of feminism, Occidental acts as another. Instead of ignoring the intersectionality of a campus event by claiming it does not affect or interest them, student feminists should show up. Learning about underrepresentation or marginalization at Occidental can undoubtedly inform an understanding of gender equity within and beyond those same groups. Between many cultural clubs and visiting lecturers, there are countless events that serve as opportunities for students to deepen their understandings of feminism.

Cory Lomberg is a sophomore English major. She can be reached at lomberg@oxy.edu.