Catharine MacKinnon on The White Woman

“In recent critiques of feminist work for failing to take account of race or class (12), it is worth noting that the fact that there is such a thing as race and class is assumed, although race and class are generally treated as abstractions to attack gender rather than as concrete realities, if indeed they are treated at all…race and class are regarded as unproblematically real and not in need of justification or theoretical construction. Only gender is not real and needs to be justified…That there is a diversity to the experience of men and women of color, and of working class women and men regardless of race, is not said to mean that race and class are not meaningful concepts. I have heard no one say that there can be no meaningful discussion of “people of color” without gender specificity…In this connection, it has recently come to my attention that the white woman is the issue here, so I decided I better find out what one is. This creature is not poor, not battered, not raped (not really), not molested as a child, not pregnant as a teenager, not prostituted, not coerced into pornography, not a welfare mother, and not economically exploited. She doesn’t work. She is either the white man’s image of her–effete, pampered, privileged, protected, flighty, and self-indulgent–or the Black man’s image of her–all that, plus the “pretty white girl” (meaning ugly as sin but regarded as the ultimate in beauty because she is white)…She flings her hair, feels beautiful all the time, complains about the colored help, tips badly, can’t do anything, doesn’t do anything, doesn’t know anything, and alternates fantasizing about fucking Black men with accusing them of raping her. As Ntozake Shange points out, all Western civilization depends on her (1981, p. 48). On top of all this, out of impudence, imitativeness, pique, and a simple lack of anything meaningful to do, she thinks she needs to be liberated. Her feminist incarnation is all of the above, and guilty about every single bit of it, having by dint of repetition refined saying “I’m sorry” to a high form of art. She can’t even make up her own songs…This is not to say that there is no such thing as skin privilege, but rather that it has never insulated white women from the brutality and misogyny of men, mostly but not exclusively white men, or from its effective legalization. In other words, the “white girls” of this theory miss quite a lot of the reality of white women in the practice of male supremacy…I also sense, though, that many women, not only women of color and not only academics, do not want to be “just women,” not only because something important is left out, but also because that means being in the category with “her,” the useless white woman whose first reaction when the going gets rough is to cry. I sense here that people feel more dignity in being part of a group that includes men than in being part of a group that includes that ultimate reduction of the notion of oppression, that instigator of lynch mobs, that ludicrous whiner, that equality coat-tails rider, the white woman. It seems that if your oppression is also done to a man, you are more likely to be recognized as oppressed, as opposed to inferior. Once a group is seen as putatively human, a process helped by including men in it, an oppressed man falls from a human standard.(20) A woman is just a woman–the ontological victim–so not victimized at all.”

~Full article and references

Source: “From Practice to Theory, or What Is a White Woman Anyway?” by Catharine MacKinnon, in Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed edited by Diane Bell and Renate Klein (Spinifex, 1996)


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