MEWF BarbieIn my last essay I discussed TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists), with a focus on the seemingly odd alliance between TERFs (or “gender critical” feminists) and the far right. J.K. Rowling is, sadly, the most famous example of what her critics see as a TERF allied with the far right. While a TERF need not be a racist, there is a category of feminism that often is, the MEWF (Minority Excluding White Feminist). While a TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) excludes trans-women because they claim they are not women, a MEWF does not claim that minority women are not women. As such, their exclusion is not based on gender but on race. In some cases, this exclusion arises from ignorance rather than malice.

While we Americans like to claim that “all men are equal”, the United States is deeply segregated by race and economic class. For those who might doubt this, it is easy to acquire what is admittedly anecdotal evidence: walk around your neighborhood and see who lives around you. Then consider the diversity (or lack thereof) of your friends. If you have kids in school (or are a kid in school), look at their classmates. While you might be an interesting exception, you will most likely find that your neighbors and friends are similar in race and economic class. If you have kids, they probably attend a school where most other students are the same race and economic class as you.

This segregation entails that people will often be ignorant about people outside of their race and class. Thus, a typical white feminist (especially if they are in the upper class) will know little about the challenges faced by women of color (and women of lower economic classes). It is easy for such white feminists to be MEWFs out of innocent ignorance—they are simply unaware of problems that women of color might face as people of color. An obvious example is racism—while a white feminist has heard about racism, it is not something they experience in the way they experience sexism. One can criticize white feminists for such ignorance and argue that they have a moral obligation to correct their ignorance, but one should be sympathetic when it comes to the ignorance of others, since we are all ignorant in many ways. This is, of course, not to forgive willful ignorance. But there are other factors than ignorance that can make a person a MEWF, such as a difference in priorities.

A white feminist can be aware of the circumstances faced by women of color but be focused on their own concerns, making them a priority. It can be argued that it is rational for people to give priority to their problems, given the limited resources most of us have. As an analogy, if someone can barely afford to buy food, it would be unreasonable to criticize them for not feeding others.  One might also look at in terms of an airplane analogy: you should get your own mask on before helping others. This would certainly apply in analogous emergency situations in which not helping yourself first would make you unable to help others. An analogy could also be drawn to specialists—an oncologist should not be condemned for not being a general practitioner. After all, the oncologist is kept quite busy with cancer cases.

As such, perhaps it makes sense for white feminists to focus on matters that impact (or interest) them and ignore those that do not. This can easily result in their excluding women of color and of different economic classes. A feminist executive, such as Sheryl Sandberg, would tend to prioritize the problems of female executives and be less concerned with those faced by the women who work in the companies run by these executives. But there might be grounds for condemning such exclusion as selfish or too self-focused.

Rachel Cargle offers an interesting criticism of toxic white feminism, focusing on what she dubs “white supremacy in heels.” Cargle notes that white feminists can often be guilty of tone policing, spiritual bypassing (the notion that racism can be eradicated by “love and light”), the white savior complex, and centering (making it all about them). Other authors, such as Rafia Zakaria and Kyla Schuller, are also critical of white feminism. It must be noted that these criticisms are not attacks on white feminists for being white, but a criticism of the ideology of white feminism. This sort of distinction is often willfully ignored by those who make bad faith arguments that critics of racism are racists. This is on par with saying that a critic of corruption must be corrupt because they are criticizing corruption. Despite this discussion, some might find the idea of white supremacist MEWFs to be absurd. After all, feminism is often cast as “woke” and white supremacy is usually seen as inextricably linked to misogyny. But a look at American history shows how well white supremacy and white feminism can mix.

One often unknown fact of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States is that some of its members were members of Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK). While pushing for the right of women to vote, their push was for white women and they wished to exclude Black women. A reason for this was that the votes of white women could be used to counter the votes of Black men. As might be guessed, the KKK tended to be in favor of this—resulting in unexpected consequences.

The women in the suffrage movement, including the white supremacists, developed political skills and networks that could be employed for other purposes—be they for progressive causes or to advance racism. Interestingly, a split developed between the male KKK and the female WKK: while both held anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and racist views, the WKKK embraced the idea of women’s rights and argued for what would seem to be some progressive positions, such as pay for housewives. But these rights and entitlements would only be for white, native-born Protestant women. One could say they have a good claim to being the original MEWFs. While this might all be dismissed as “ancient” history (the early 1900s), this form of MEWF is alive and well. As an illustration, consider Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

While it might sound odd, Boebert and Greene should be considered feminists (there are many versions of feminism). They both obviously believe that women have the right to vote, serve in political offices, and hold power. Boebert also believes in the right of a woman to divorce her husband. They also clearly think that women have the right to harshly criticize powerful men (such as Joe Biden), as opposed to being demure and polite ladies who defer to the patriarchy. Not long ago, these views and their behavior would have been seen as shockingly radical by the right—they would have been savagely condemned and criticized. Now they are mainstream feminists about these views, but feminists, nonetheless. After all, Boebert and Greene obviously disagree with most of the misogynistic views expressed by the right—they are not going to go back to the kitchen to make sandwiches for men. But their behavior and words make it clear that they are MEWFs. Greene seems to embrace white nationalism and Boebert seems to have a bond with white supremacy. Thus, the tradition started by the WKKK continues to this day. Rush Limbo, with his talk of Feminazis, was almost not wrong.