By Katelyn To
Graphic By Jennifer Notman
I am 100% a feminist. I very much support the women’s movement and what it stands for, and I think that fighting for women’s rights is extremely important. However, as a feminist, I think it’s also important to be able to look at the movement through an objective eye and say, “I support it, but it could be a lot better”—hence, this article.
Mainstream feminism has many problems. Also sometimes known as “white feminism,” it means what it sounds like—it is the relatively watered-down advocacy of women’s rights in an attempt to appeal to the general public. This mostly represents white women and women who are already privileged in certain ways.
Mainstream feminism fights for the advancement of women who already have their basic needs met, with the majority of its focus on problems such as the gender pay gap, underrepresentation in politics, and the tax on menstrual products. This does not go to say that these issues are not important, because they most definitely are. On the other hand, these issues should not overshadow other problems experienced by women who are often underrepresented and women who may struggle to survive, such as women in poverty, homeless women, transgender women, disabled women, Black women, Indigenous American women, women of color, and more.
When talking about women’s rights, it is difficult to simply say that one category of women suffers more than others, or that we should focus on a specific group more than the other groups. Choosing who to advocate for and put your attention towards isn’t always easy, because many of these underrepresented women fit in many categories and encounter obstacles in different ways. Determining who “suffers” the most is subjective. That is why intersectionality is crucial, specifically in feminism, and it should be acknowledged and talked about much more than it currently is.
More women than men live in poverty in the US. Women’s poverty is a feminist issue, yet it is rarely spoken as such. Of women in poverty, Indigenous American and Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic women are disproportionately represented. Indigenous American and Alaska Native women experience the highest rates of poverty among women or men of any racial or ethnic group, with about one in four living in poverty, as stated by American Progress. In every single racial or ethnic group except Asian or Pacific Islander, women experienced higher rates of poverty than men in 2019. Of women living in the US, 12.8% are Black, but they make up 22.3% of women in poverty. Of women living in the US, 18.1% are Hispanic, but they make up 27.1% of women in poverty. In every racial or ethnic group except Asian or Pacific Islander, women experienced higher rates of poverty than men in 2019.
Poverty also disproportionately affects women who are unmarried and have children. About one in four unmarried women with children live in poverty, which is a higher rate than unmarried women without children and married women with or without children. Additionally, women with disabilities are more likely to be in poverty than men with disabilities. Women in the LGBTQ+ community are also more likely to be in poverty than cisgender straight women and men.
So why exactly does poverty disproportionately affect women? Domestic violence is one reason. Many people know that more women are victims of domestic violence than men are, but what they may not know is that it is the largest contributing factor of women’s homelessness, according to Career and Recovery. The impacts of domestic violence “are part of a cycle of violence that both disproportionately affects low-income women and perpetuates women’s economic insecurity,” according to American Progress.
Women also are found to disproportionately work lower-paying jobs. National Women’s Law Center stated that “Women represent about two-thirds of workers earning the federal minimum wage,” which is “due to pervasive gender roles, expectations that women’s work is low skilled, and the systemic undervaluing of women’s labor.”
Furthermore, women who do face poverty and homelessness must deal with different problems than men who are homeless or in poverty. For example, homeless women often become victims of rape and sexual assault on the streets. That can lead to pregnancies that they do not have the means to deal with. Additionally, they must deal with their period every month, which is difficult when homeless shelters may not provide menstrual products.
Mainstream feminism does not fight for these women’s rights. People think that poverty and homelessness are not problems they should worry about, but these problems are feminist issues and the issues that feminism revolves around need to expand.