Vargas: Hollywood feminists are not focused enough on issues specific to women of color


Alani Vargas, Columnist

Although the word was hardly used during my childhood, the notions of feminism and equality were the basis of the values my mom instilled in me. I’m fortunate to have been raised in an environment that didn’t impose gendered stereotypes on me and encouraged me to express my individuality. At my all-girls high school, we learned about the women’s rights movement and its contribution to gender equality. However, as I became older, I realized that as a woman of color I was affected differently by sexism and that the version of feminism I encountered at high school was lacking.

I experienced the same type of awakening when I encountered feminist rhetoric in Hollywood and the entertainment business. Although I commend the women and men in the industry for speaking up against the injustices they confront, there is still an aspect of sexism they fail to understand.

This is demonstrated by the topic of equal pay. The current fight regarding the pay gap in Hollywood and elsewhere is based, mostly, on a very white perception of what that gap is. Black women make 64 cents to every dollar men earn, and Latinas make 54 cents. This is only in comparison with white men, but if you compared black men and Latino men to white men, there is a pay gap as well — 75 cents to a dollar and 67 cents to a dollar, respectively. However, the talk, at least in mainstream media and by celebrities, is often all about the 78 cents to a dollar white women make compared to white men. Although this is still an important issue that highlights the rampant inequality in our society, the dialogue surrounding equal pay does not include marginalized groups.

Often when female celebrities are asked if they identify as feminists, they’ll say yes, their reason being that men and women should be equal. But few discuss the pay gap minorities, and specifically women of color, face. These people have the platform to draw attention to these inequalities, yet often they fail to do so. Granted, some celebrities do honorable work such as Angelina Jolie Pitt who is a Special Envoy to the United Nations, where she advocated for refugees, and Oprah Winfrey, who has donated to causes supporting female education around the world.

I personally love many artists and actresses labeled as “white feminists,” such as Emma Watson, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lawrence. I don’t believe they should be silenced. I believe their visibility in the media is beneficial because they bring up topics that have meaning and affect women, such as the lack of women behind the camera, sexual abuse in work relationships and more. They are breaking down barriers faced by women of every color, but this one-sided, single-colored representation does little to inform the public about issues specific to women of color.

Women of every color have hardships, and all females need to work together to tackle inequality in the workplace, in school and in everyday life. We need to educate people about issues specific to women of color and include more marginalized women in the feminist dialogue. Yet the term “white feminism” is divisive. We are each other’s strongest allies, so denouncing someone for their “white feminism” or for being ill-informed about what feminism is would be wrong.

Misogyny is so different for Latina and black women. Not only could I walk into a job interview or a store and be discriminated against for my gender and other aspects of my appearance, but I could also be singled out for my skin color. I am only half Mexican, but that is the half that most see and the side they stereotype. More celebrities need to speak up for issues that I, along with other Latinas and women of color, face on daily basis. I am a proud intersectional feminist, but there needs to be a realization that although I am fighting for equality for all, that looks different for people of different social backgrounds and colors. Equity between women is necessary to achieve movement towards equality between the sexes, and women all need to be on the same page for that to succeed.

Alani Vargas is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.