Last week, Emma Watson, known for her iconic role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, delivered a feminist speech at the United Nations. Announcing the launch of the HeForShe campaign, she detailed how men and women together must combat gender inequality. The speech, though moving and deeply personal, unsurprisingly evoked the sentiments of certain white feminists. Vanity Fair heralded her words as “game-changing,” and other white women high in feminist ranks, applauded her speech.
Although her speech offered a solid perspective in the global feminist struggle, I am bothered by the response of certain white feminists and the outlets they sponsor. For example, the Vanity Fair piece is rife for criticism, but such criticism will go unnoticed or unappreciated by the smaller, richer, whiter feminist base.
Same goes for Emma Watson’s speech itself; although it’s important to include men in the feminist fight, there was no mention or dissection of race within feminist dynamics. And what little recognition there was of class and privilege was easily overshadowed by other more provocative pronouncements.
The speech was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t cross the finish line.
And instead of allowing room for analysis and constructive critique, white-geared media outlets are silencing critics by way of other white-facing celebrities. For instance, Elizabeth Plank of Policy Mic published this shallow piece on Taylor Swift’s defense of Emma Watson.
There’s a pattern of white feminists who give uneven and unnecessary credit to celebrities who enter into the feminist space. They take their words at face value, and do not inspect those actions which blatantly go against the feminist frame these celebrities place themselves in. They do not hesitate and think of motive behind very profitable feminist declarations, nor do they invite reasoned debate on feminism as a construct or politic.
They take the word feminism at face value. They aim to make feminism trendy and popular. They do not care to muddle the hipster feminist dialogue with racial understanding or cultural sensitivity. They involve race in feminism when talking about girls in the *country* of Africa… that’s it.
I call them the Starbucks feminist, named after Beautiful Existence, a white women who believes she is “fearless” because she ate nothing but Starbucks for a year. Seriously.
Beautiful’s mindset is one that Starbucks feminists find themselves in. They believe they’re being bold, fearless, and courageous when they fork over their paychecks to advance those celebrities that call themselves feminists, without any analytical reasoning. They do not see the larger context of their actions; that they’re inadvertently fueling the same patriarchal institutions meant to subjugate them.
Starbucks feminists blindly follow the glitterati, and do nothing but propel feminism as a trendy and hip politic (which it isn’t). They try to perpetuate the colorblind feminist myth by not mentioning the unique hardships that women of color face. They do not invite us into our discussions. They do not take us seriously. We are subjects for their gaze.
They’re cousins with corporate feminists. They applaud each other for placing feminism within the capitalist framework. A prime example of this uncomfortable relationship is Sheryl’s Sandberg’s Ban Bossy campaign. They went ape shit when it was announced, got distracted by the star-studded videos, and pretty colors, and did not consider the obvious flaws.
Consider this the first part of my exploration into Starbucks feminism, because there’s a lot to say. But for now, I’ll leave you with this brief outline: the Starbucks feminist commodifies the poor, ignores Black Americans, and fetishizes African women. They are inundated in their white privilege and remain fiercely ignorant of the Black and Brown bodies around them. They do not accept or understand that struggles are not glitzy or cute. A struggle is not an option or a buy-in, its a necessity for survival.