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“Why do you have such a problem calling yourself a feminist?” a good friend asked me last week. “Why do a lot of young women have that problem?”

If they’re anything like me, they take issue with how feminism often tries to force solidarity among a demographic of young women who come from very different experiences and histories of oppression.

My problem is the implication that women’s lives can be boiled down to a single female narrative of oppression. Feminism is an ideological bracket that has a hard time accommodating individual experiences and cultural histories. The conventional teaching is that women share a kind of “woman-ness” together and thus, will benefit from the same kind of liberation: One woman’s liberation is another woman’s liberation.

If all feminism is a way to support equality, it’s still important to ask for whom feminism is meant to benefit. Whose ethnicity, class and sexual orientation?

I feel as if feminists are often blind to their own immanent inconsistencies and can be reluctant to admit inequalities within their own ideology. The way feminism is popularly taught does little to address the inequalities for the poorest woman, the most marginalized woman and the woman who lives across the globe.

Feminism as a western conception also privileges white women over women of color, affluent women over poorer ones and straight women over LGBTQ women.

Feminism, as we normally experience it, focuses viciously on political and economic opportunities, but it doesn’t place a high premium on healing or making sure that the women who need it most receive care. Why do so few self-proclaimed feminists do humanitarian work?

The women I know who are the proudest of feminists fight for political and economic equalities, but the feminism they’ve been taught hasn’t encouraged them to fight for the most subaltern women whose basic human rights are denied all the time.

So many Oscar viewers were upset when The Onion called 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis a “c—t,” but they don’t bat an eye at the sexualization of young children in human trafficking cases they can’t deny are happening.

The inequalities that white-collar women experience when they earn 77 cents to every dollar is different from the kind of inequalities women of color experience when they work three minimum-wage jobs to feed their families.

The 77 cents to every dollar sound bite was committed to memory when President Barack Obama said it during his “National Equal Pay Day” speech on April 17, 2012. But who remembers that he also said African-American women earn 64 cents and Latina women earn 56 cents for every dollar earned by white men? The answers to a lot of inequalities sometimes lie more in class and socio-economic upbringing than they do in gender.

And of course, there is the issue of men. Young feminists don’t include men in the discourse of oppression and have a hard time sympathizing with men as victims of a gender construct of masculinity. What’s peculiar is how feminists, especially the male ones, seem least likely to view themselves as victims of a patriarchy that also tells them how they’re supposed to be men.

It would help if one studied feminism in a more interdisciplinary way — alongside religion, class and culture. As an area of critical inquiry, feminist studies must incorporate the experiences of all women as they relate to their respective religions, class, cultures and sexualities. Inequalities for women can be better understood — and eradicated — if we studied the marginalization of women in relation to their individual lives.


Reach the columnist at or follow her at @ce_truong.

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