Feminism is both simplistic and complex, which lends itself as a concept to be inaccurately conveyed or misunderstood. In truth, ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes,” as defined by Oxford Dictionaries, is an advocacy which takes into account the contexts of the time.
In this sense, the evolution of the theory of feminism, from the 19th century to Third-Wave and beyond, is seen as natural progression. In focusing on women’s suffrage, gender neutrality, reproductive rights, sexual harassment, autonomy, and equal pay, it aims to address every facet of the female struggle.
Yet modern feminism lacks awareness about race issues and the nuances of the gender spectrum. These are important issues within our society, seen as part of feminist theory due to their influence. Modern feminism treads a difficult line, one which desperately needs to consider the concept of intersectionality – the inclusion of race, gender and class in feminism discourse – when following the example of prominent feminist celebrity figures.
For Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Emma Watson, the label given to the feminism they practice is a reflection of their privileged positions: White Feminism.
White Feminism addresses the issues of only those who are straight, cis-sexual, white and middle-to-upper-class. Though not all white feminists practice White Feminism, it refuses to place emphasis on anything but issues which are reserved for those who fit this standard. It is a sheltered, inaccurate movement which has not only bred a dissatisfaction with this definition of feminism, but which has emphasized inequality between lives of women.
One example of the struggle of feminists of color can be found in the words of Sandra Cisneros in her book Chicana Feminist Thought:
“I guess my feminism and my race are the same thing to me. They’re tied in one to another, and I don’t feel an alliance or an allegiance with upper-class white women. I don’t. I can listen to them and on some level as a human being I can feel great compassion and friendships; but they have to move from their territory to mine, because I know their world. But they don’t know mine.”
From the fact that white women make more money than women of color, to the appropriation of different cultures and the objectification of the black body and black culture, our society is one which features a multitude of oppressions. The feminism of these privileged white women, then, is not cutting it.
But what is surprising is just who is now championing the need for a feminist discourse which does not casually discriminate, which calls to attention the flaws of White Feminism, which attempts to fill in the gaps of all the disparities. 16-year-old Amandla Stenberg, actress and activist mostly known for her role as Rue in The Hunger Games, and 13-year-old Rowan Blanchard, star of Disney’s Girl Meets World, can both be recognized as trailblazers in noting that there is more to feminism than blanket statements about equality and the lives of the privileged middle-classes.
Two brilliant young actresses, Amandla Stenberg and Rowan Blanchard, dispel the myth of the apathetic teenage voice, as they champion the need for intersectionality and articulate oppressions faced by women of color.
From Stenberg’s school-project video on cultural appropriation ‘Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,’ to her using social platforms like Twitter and Tumblr to offer insights on police brutality, America’s relationship with the black community, essays on representation and more, comes a keen awareness in youth feminism which has a pulse on social justice. To scroll through her Instagram is to come face to face with the thoughts of someone who refuses to let her age hold her back from being vocal. An example of one of her posts:
For this 16-year-old, race issues and being aware of the nuances of social oppressions are not only a valid component of feminism, but should be integral to one’s practices.
Similarly, when 13-year-old Blanchard answered a question by a fan on intersectional feminism, posting it on her Instagram later, she joined Stenberg’s crew of progressive, young, clued-up female voices:
So what does it mean when teenagers are showing up their adult contemporaries in recognizing the facets of social justice and the depth of intersectionality paired with the practice of feminism? It reveals a shifting of tides and the acceleration of social justice in our modern world. As Stenberg noted for Dazed:
“I think people discredit teenagers and how wise they can be. Sometimes I meet teenagers who are much wiser than many adults I’ve met, because they haven’t let any insecurities or doubts about themselves get in the way of their thoughts.”
Blanchard and Stenberg seem to understand the need to open up dialogues through the social medias which are open to them, utilizing their fame to further causes. This also suggests that within the fractured nature of our society, of race issues and power structures which have manifested themselves in shows of police brutality, appropriation of cultures in the music industry, one does well to learn about these things and speak up on them than to stay enclosed in the protective bubble fame could trap.
Stenberg and Blanchard have shown this to be true. The pair sit comfortably along the likes of 19-year-old Rookie Mag creator Tavi Gevinson, Willow Smith and Kiernan Shipka under the label ‘youth feminism,’ using the influential nature of their age to their advantage by refusing to stay silent about issues close to them and choosing to remain open to that which they can educate themselves on.
The fact is, their feminism is intersectional and so the truths they dish out are aligned to not only their age, but their intelligence. The face of feminism they portray is inspiring because it exists with little ego, and perhaps this is a trademark of youth: it posits the desire to continue to learn, to listen, and to grow. It is refreshing in its honesty, compassion, accepts the existence of flawed feminist theory, but aims to change it. It’s something many would do well to learn from.