"Girl power" feminism is not enough

I am a strong proponent of girl power. I love when women lift each other up, cheer each other on and help each other fight back against the insidious and sometimes not-so-insidious forces of sexism. The patriarchy likes to keep women in constant competition; if we’re too busy fighting amongst each other, it’s easy to forget the bigger battles that need to be fought. So I love seeing women actively resist this by celebrating each other and our accomplishments. 

This collective empowerment isn’t feminism, though. It’s part of it, to be sure – but ultimately, feminism is about dismantling oppressive power structures that keep women subjugated, especially when these structures disproportionately affect women in marginalized communities. Evidence of our collective oppression is everywhere: employers not having to include birth control in their worker’s healthcare plans, Hispanic and Latina women making 54 cents to every white man’s dollar and trans women of color being murdered at alarming rates.

Unfortunately, many women, especially those who occupy positions of privilege, forget that these issues must be at the crux of feminism. They forget the genius of Audre Lorde, a black feminist who summed it up expertly when she said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even if her shackles are very different from my own.” 

They see their own shackles, the shackles of being shamed for their sexuality or not being valued for their contributions and they are rightly outraged. But this rage blinds them to the shackles of women who sit far beneath them in terms of wealth and privilege. They become so entrenched in their own issues that they don’t acknowledge the even harsher realities facing women of color, poor women, LGBTQ+ women and women in other marginalized groups. 

College women are especially susceptible to falling into the blissful ignorance of this whitewashed feminism. We occupy such a place of privilege, spending four years in our college bubble where it truly might seem like the biggest issue facing women is how to balance the many expectations placed on us.

Some may not be blind and they fully recognize the plight of women everywhere, but they are afraid that these complex issues of race, class and identity are too polarizing. They don’t want their message of empowerment to be tarnished through ugly political disagreement, so they stay silent. They will speak out for the white women passed up for a corporate promotion because of her sex but not for the mothers of black boys slain by the police. 

The truth of the matter is, feminism that is afraid to get political isn’t feminism. The rights to control our bodies and to be paid equally and to see justice when we are assaulted seem to be up for debate every single day. These issues aren’t going away and anyone who doesn’t speak out for all their sisters can’t claim to really be a feminist. 

Of course, womanhood is complex – there is a myriad of issues that face us each and every day and no one expects any one woman to advocate for every single issue all the time. But if you have a platform, you need to be using it when you can to speak out against the injustices our marginalized sisters face. 

Let’s continue to encourage each other, raise each other up and celebrate even the smallest victories against sexism. Just don’t let your feminism stop there. Recognize and unfasten every single shackle on every single wrist. Girl power can’t just be for the girls at the top. 

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