The U.S. capitol building against a blue sky, with protesters in the foreground holding "Believe Anita" and "Believe Survivors" signs
White Women Feel Betrayed Because We Haven't Been Listening

[Featured image: Flickr/Creative Commons/Mobilius in Mobili]

By Andrea Grimes, If/When/How Manager of Communications and Development

Friday morning, as the Senate moved forward with the Republican plan to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, it was Connie Britton – the beloved actress who brought Tami Taylor to life on Friday Night Lights – but it could have been any white woman, really. She wrote on Twitter: “With women today in tears about this betrayal by our gov’t. I never thought I’d see this regression of justice and democracy in my lifetime. It’s not too late. Keep calling.”

I have seen a number of white women echoing this sentiment over the awful, triggering, enraging weeks of these Kavanaugh hearings: We have been betrayed. We can’t believe it’s come to this. We are regressing as a country.

I hear and feel this rage. I recognize this sense of betrayal, because I am a white woman who was raised to believe that my white womanhood would protect me. That white men would validate and appreciate me if I behaved in certain respectable ways, looked a certain kind of beautiful, laughed a certain kind of laugh. That I could rely on being believed and valued if I would cheerfully wear the silky slip of whiteness under everything else, and that my government – my good, kind, white patriarchs – would give me what I needed, and bestow upon me the freedoms I deserved.

It is only as I have begun trying to unlearn these conceits of white femininity that I have started to see this feeling of betrayal for what it is: Indignation at the unmet expectations of white privilege.

Dammit, we think. This wasn’t supposed to be my problem. In a lot of ways, white women have historically worked to make sure of this. We cut women of color out of the fight for suffrage. We use our whiteness as a weapon against people of color, deploying those shimmering white woman tears when it suits us.

And now, when it has become so clear that our participation in whiteness did not protect us, we are angry. We feel ill-used and abused. And we have been! But until we take responsibility for our failure to heed decades of clear and cogent warnings from communities of color about the truth of the cruelty of a system that was always meant to privilege white, cisgender men above everyone else, we will cycle through these feelings of betrayal again and again. If we let our whiteness continue unexamined, and only strategically deploy our rage when we see our own faces reflected in those of the ill-used and abused, we will continue to be obstacles to progress.

White women, we can start today. This minute. We must ask ourselves: Whose voices do we value? Who are we in conversation with? Whose lead do we follow? It’s time to broaden our range. Pick up Prof. Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage, and the works of Roxane Gay and Janet Mock. Unpack your privilege and reject wallowing in guilt in favor of action with White Fragilityand sit with the work of indigenous feminists like Sarah Deer, Beth Brant, and Sydney Freeland. Read Tina Vasquez’s reporting at Rewire and become a reader and patron of Wear Your Voice Magazine. Subscribe to the I, Survivor podcast and listen to Code Switch and Uncivil. Go where this work takes you – and go quietly and humbly. Be ready to listen, and ready to share what you’ve learned with other white women, and demand we all do better, express ourselves more thoughtfully, and approach our politics with an understanding that what has happened to us is not the truth of what has happened to everyone.

This is not a matter of denying our own stories, or ignoring our own rage and passion. It is a matter of getting the whole story. When white women mistake our view of femininity and gender as the view of femininity and gender, we are only understanding a very small part of the wonderful and fraught reality of feminism and progress. And in doing so, we don’t only shut off our own path to freedom – we block the way for everyone.

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