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The Faces of Feminism I Didn't Realize I Was Ignoring

02/03/2015 04:09 pm ET | Updated Apr 05, 2015

As a preface to this article, I will be the first person to admit it: I'm completely guilty of falling into the "Tumblr"-white-woman-feminism rut. Being a self-proclaimed social media maven and feminist teenager, I, for a long time, focused on issues surrounding gender equality that only affected me in obvious ways.

When I say white feminism, I mean a feminist mindset that focuses entirely on a "one size fits all" type of feminism, or the kind that fails to address issues that don't apply to middle class white women. An example of this is the common "Muslim women need our help" or the ridiculous objectification of black women. It's the type of feminism that only focuses on Lena Dunham, Emma Watson and Tina Fey entirely, without even a nod to the other groups of women who fight. Don't get me wrong on this, I have Lena's book sitting next to me right now, but the face of feminism cannot just be a set of Ivy League educated white women.

This is when all of the white feminists read this think "Well, I don't do that. I'm an exception." Genuinely, it's really hard not to be a white feminist. I, as a straight, upper-middle class, private school educated white teenage girl, had a really hard time stepping outside of the feminism that I've associated with for my entire life, unknowingly.

It's extraordinarily exciting to see feminism growing within the teenage population because of Tumblr and Twitter and the Internet in general, but it seems to foster a sort of feminism that focuses entirely on very one-sided issues, instead of a broader picture.

I felt attacked when somebody first brought up the idea of me being a white feminist, and it took time for me to realize that I wasn't a bad person, or not a feminist or bashing women by feeling angry that people accused me of this: it was the feeling of my privilege being taken away. It came to me like an epiphany from Sojourner Truth herself that I had to do something about it.

I felt very much so that I was doing something right by the women of the world because I identified as a feminist. It makes me angry that somebody would question that, but I tried to hear him or her out. When you feel this, you have to remember that white women have dominated feminism for some time now. Not because we are any more capable or driven, but because we have forgotten about the voices of everybody who doesn't fit our standards. We have forgotten about women in poverty, women of color, trans women, disabled women and so on and so forth.

One of my dearest friends and feminist sounding boards is my friend, Bela. On my quest to break out of my little white women sandbox, my first stop was Bela. I somewhat casually mentioned to her that I wanted a more global understanding of the issues women face. I found it hard to voice my support for them because I wasn't really sure where to start. Bela, without saying it exactly, seemed to tell me that I didn't always have to have my voice represented.

It dawned on me: I had never questioned my voice in feminism because I had never had it questioned by other feminists.

Feminist minorities are consistently being forgotten about and because other girls are unable to see these minority role models, the cycle continues. Bela's suggestion made me realize even further, that I don't always have to be a leading voice for other groups of women in feminism. I could be an ally without having my voice be on the forefront.

I am reminded yet again with the death of a transgender teenager, Leelah Alcorn. I've been impressed by the discourse that has gone on about her death, but feel like we need to take it even further. Trans women seem to always have an asterisk next to their opinions when it comes to feminism (side note: not talking about the "trans*" asterisk that represents non-binary genders).

The idea that trans women are not females*, but instead actual women needs to be imprinted on our feminist teachings for good. We, as feminists, need to recognize the pain that girls like Leelah have gone through as they transition. I think we have a duty as feminists and as women to accept these women with open arms because guess what: the misogyny that is expressed towards trans women is intense and just as valid as any other forms of misogyny.

These are only two examples of branching away from white feminism, but the list goes on and on. It goes onto refusing to accept the idea that skinny women are not "real," or saying that mothers and older women cannot be feminists and to a plethora of other issues worth addressing.

So as a suggestion from one recovering white feminist to another: open your ears and listen to female minorities of all kinds. And in that, don't expect a pat on the back for not being a "white feminist." I write this article because it seems that a fair amount of the teenage feminists that I know are smart, savvy kids who don't even realize what they're doing, and then when they do, they handle it incorrectly.

My second suggestion is to do some research on issues that face female minorities. It is eye opening to see this whole new world of issues that don't affect you. This is not to say that common white feminist points of discussion (body hair, appearance, changing your married name, school dress codes, etc.) are not valid because yes, of course they are. These are definitely issues to be spoken out against, but it's also time to remember that you can't live in the white feminist sandbox forever and you can make a change. It's easy to live in the same series of issues when you're human, let alone a teenager who is just barely scratching the surface of what it means to be an empowered woman, but I challenge you to add the issues of other groups of women to your repertoire and act as allies for them.

Another piece of advice, being an ally for others does not mean that you deserve recognition. It's the equivalent of men who are self-declared feminists, but feel like they're supposed to be put on a pedestal for doing the right thing. You have an obligation as a feminist to support these other women. You have an obligation as a feminist, and as a woman for that matter, to recognize the personhood of every other woman because there is extraordinary power in solidarity and understanding. You have an obligation to remember that your issues might not be matched to these women, but to listen anyways.

With that, a simple first step is to explore the online opinions and stories that these women are creating. We live in a time when you can absolutely Google search and consume women created content, and even discuss it with them online. The first place I recommend to start is a blog called BattyMamzelle; it has a fantastic article on white feminism that I reference tirelessly.

And finally, remember that feminism and issues of other women do not come in a rulebook. Breaking out of white feminism is not a formula, but instead a discussion, a conversation, a process.