North Texas Daily

Racist white women are not anti-heroes

Racist white women are not anti-heroes

Racist white women are not anti-heroes
May 08
17:25 2020

The concept of intersectionality was first introduced by lawyer and philosopher Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. It is best defined as “recognition of the effects that different forms of systemic oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc) have on one another,” and has been somewhat established as the new standard for feminism in recent years.

On the opposite spectrum of representation is the continued prevalence of white feminism, which neglects to acknowledge sexism as a problem often exacerbated by other forms of bigotry. White feminism’s particular brand of exclusivity has dominated supposedly progressive media productions since feminism first became mainstream, and despite increased public awareness of discriminatory overlap, this is still the norm. There has been a recent influx of cinema that portrays racist white women as “complex” for voicing controversial opinions, à la “Mrs. America” (2020) and “Bombshell” (2019).

“Mrs. America” stars Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, who led a successful campaign against the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s. While the show’s portrayal of Schlafly is admittedly less than flattering, it still downplays her racism and depicts her as a sympathetic figure, attributing her zealousness to an abusive marriage that, in real life, was by all accounts relatively happy. A scene that characterizes Schlafly as reluctant to collaborate with the KKK contradicts her real-life opposition toward the Republican Party’s (somewhat superficial) endorsement of the civil rights movement, as well as the anti-immigrant diatribes that pervaded her radio show.

While “Mrs. America” at least allots time toward telling the stories of non-white women, “Bombshell” deliberately glances over it’s protagonist’s racism and issues of race altogether, dismissing Megyn Kelly’s racist tendencies as merely controversial while spotlighting the dangerous effects of misogyny all in one breath.

Its one weak attempt at inclusivity is almost more insulting. Margot Robbie plays Kayla, a lesbian character who has no real-life counterpart and whose presence is obviously meant to mislead the audience into thinking that people who do not endorse bigotry to some degree work at Fox News. The movie’s cavalier attitude toward issues of race and sexuality contrast sharply with its hand-wringing over misogyny within the workplace, leaving a viewer with the discomfiting impression that the writers think white women should take priority over other, more marginalized demographics.

This message is reiterated more subtly in other works. “I, Tonya” portrayed disgraced former figure skater Tonya Harding as a misunderstood martyr whose refusal to embrace traditional femininity led to her downfall, when, in reality, Harding likely knew about the attack ordered on rival Nancy Kerrigan prior to its actual occurrence. Harding also said that she would have voted for Donald Trump if not for her status as a convicted felon.

This persistent trend of portraying racist white women as anti-heroes instead of, well, racists, is not only regressive in its clumsy handling of racial politics, but in its pigeonholing of the women themselves. White women have been traditionally assigned the role of victim, and depicting them as such even when they are perpetrators is by no means progressive, especially considering that white supremacist rhetoric historically consists of using white female victim-hood to endorse and defend hate crimes. White women have been oppressed, but they are also oppressors, and their prejudices are not side-effects of brainwashing or trauma so much as they are a reflection of the privileges they have been afforded to them.

Featured Illustration: Isabel Balabuch

About Author

Rachel Card

Rachel Card

Rachel Card is a junior majoring in public relations and minoring in sociology. She was born in Austin, Texas, and is currently quarantining there with her family and three dogs.

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