Date of Award

6-2020

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Angela Moe

Second Advisor

Dr. David Hartmann

Third Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Marson-Reed

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Richardson

Keywords

Feminism, whiteness, intersectionality, self- identified feminists, white feminism

Abstract

This dissertation examined the perspectives and beliefs of 23 self-identified feminists who are White. Specifically, it explored whether—and if so, to what extent—Whites have adopted intersectionality. Intersectional feminism refers to the activism and scholarship that recognizes the multi-dimensional nature of power and privilege and stands in contrast to the white-centered feminism that has dominated most feminist spaces since the suffrage movement. Since Kimberlé Crenshaw’s seminal article where the concept of intersectionality was formally introduced to the academy, feminist scholars have characterized the most recent wave of feminism as the intersectional wave. This third, intersectional wave of feminist movement is believed to be more inclusive and cognizant of the unique experience of Black women and other doubly and triply marginalized groups of women. Empirical research, however, has not yet established if self-identified feminists who are White have adopted intersectionality into their beliefs and practices.

The purpose of this study is to explore Whites’ ideas about feminism, gender oppression, intersectionality, and race. The research questions posed are: how do self-identified feminists define feminism? What do they believe to be the most pressing issues? Do they view race as important? Are they cognizant of whiteness and privilege? Do they know what intersectional feminism is and, if so, do they identify with it? To answer these questions, Black feminist perspectives on whiteness are centered in a mixed-methods research design. Online, anonymous survey responses from Black women were used to establish a Black feminist standpoint; the emergent themes from their open-ended responses formed the topics for discussion in one-on one interviews with White, self-identified feminists. After the qualitative interviews, participants were invited to attend a focus group to discuss race and intersectionality in feminism.

Interviews revealed that whiteness remained centered for the majority of feminists in my sample. Although there were a handful who were committed to divesting from whiteness and centering the voices of multiply marginalized women, most participants held definitions of feminism that overwhelmingly privileged White, cisgender, middle-class women. Moreover, it was revealed that even when attempting to engaging in anti-racist discourse, several White feminists relied on racialized narratives of people of Color to make sense of race as it relates to sexism, feminism, and oppression. Participants often ascribed to individualistic definitions of feminism, race, and racism and, as a result, they struggled to meaningfully integrate the ideas underlying intersectionality into their feminist consciousness, even when explicitly identifying with intersectional feminism.

Findings of this study demonstrate that intersectional approaches to social justice cannot take hold in a movement where its members do not divest from white supremacy. The study also shows that when examining issues of power and oppression in social movements, the standpoint of marginalized individuals must be centered. Ultimately, these findings suggest that as long as privileged women fail to see how their oppression is related to the oppression of marginalized women, it is unlikely that whiteness will be displaced by intersectionality.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Campus Only

Restricted to Campus until

6-30-2022

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