True Sisterhood Is Symbiotic: How Women Can Use #MeToo Momentum to Lift Marginalized Women
Intersectional dialogue about #MeToo empowers all women.
#MeToo has given women a global stage to share their stories about workplace harassment and assault, and the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund for blue-collar, low-income victims - led by some of Hollywood's leading actresses - is proof that women are standing up for women.
However, the voices heard the most have historically been - and continue to be - the voices of white women, despite the fact that women of color are more likely to face harassment or assault. Added layers of race-specific discrimination - including sexualization and objectification - mean women of color are often paid less and treated as having less value than their white sisters.
This issue isn't new; past feminist movements were hugely segregated. During the fight for suffrage, white women and black men excluded black women from their movements. Later, women of color were also largely excluded from the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s and '70s. That segregation happened despite the fact that black women have been central to advancements of the feminist agenda.
Even with this repeated pattern, today can be different. White women can decide to incorporate issues faced by marginalized women into modern feminist rhetoric, and stand up for their sisters in many ways. Here are just a few.
Serve as champions for equal pay for all women
Equal pay isn't only a gender issue, it's also a race issue within the women's movement itself. Earlier this year, Academy-Award winning actress Octavia Spencer shared a story about a time when Jessica Chastain advocated for her pay. After learning about the startling difference in pay between white women and women of color, Chastain promised the two would be paid the same amount on their next film. And they were.
Actress Octavia Spencer
Having intersectional dialogue about pay within the female community empowers change. This conversation can happen with friends, colleagues, or young women who are just starting their careers and aren't sure how to navigate conversations around pay or even what is considered fair compensation in their industries.
Stop the fetishization of women of color
In a recent Huffington Post article, ten women of color shared stories about their own #MeToo moments; one thread runs through almost every story - nearly every woman faced overt sexualization to the point of fetishization because of her race.
Fetishization is a dehumanizing act; it diminishes someone's worth into that of a sexual object, and it strips away her dignity. While white women may not experience racial fetishization, it's critical that they're in tune with the issues their sisters of color face and advocate for those issues, even if personally unaffected.
Advocate for women in all socio-economic brackets
Harassment does not discriminate based on income level; however, it wasn't until women in Hollywood began a conversation that people started listening. While women in the film and television industry have been the media focus, women in blue collar jobs have suffered through horrifying harassment and assault experiences since women entered the workforce - and now they're starting to leave it.
Women in blue collar industries are leaving their jobs in staggering numbers because of terrible work conditions. Lack of women in these fields will only exacerbate the problem, as well as put women out of work who can't afford to leave their jobs or seek legal counsel in the first place. Causes like the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund are starting to help these women have a voice, but women of all income levels should continue to build community with women in other brackets, thus serving as champions for the marginalized.
While women of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds experience oppression differently, women as a whole will make more meaningful advances toward equal pay and fair treatment when unified. To do that, women need to come together to know, understand, love and advocate for their sisters from all walks of life.