Why Rowan Blanchard's Essay on Feminism Shouldn't Be Hailed as Revolutionary

By Barbara Gonzalez

The internet recently broke with love and adoration for Disney Channel sweetheart Rowan Blanchard. On August 22nd, Rowan took to Instagram and posted three screenshots of a Tumblr post in which she responded to a question asking how she feels about the term “white feminism” and how common feminism might exclude women of color and non cis/queer women. She responded with a very well thought out answer, addressing the fact that the ways in which women of color and trans women experience feminism are completely excluded from white feminism. She talked about wage inequality, police brutality, Sandra Bland, India Clarke, and Amandla Stenberg. White feminists and mainstream media outlets alike poured sugary-sweet adoration into their coverage of the starlet, using strong adjectives like “powerful” and “engaging.”

I want to start this out by saying that I love that Rowan is woke. I am an avid viewer of Girl Meets World and that means I have one less problematic fave. I love that she’s vocal about her beliefs and that she’s recently became besties with Amandla Stenberg. I hope her statement helps other white girls like her want to read up more on race, feminism, the Black Lives Matter movement, and all of their intersections.

I also know that she’s not a newbie to the feminism world. At the mere age of 13, she’s been very vocal about it on all social media and has already spoken at the UN Women’s Annual National Conference.

But the way that mainstream media is handling her as being an exceptional feminist role model in the same breath that they undermine young brown and Black women like Amandla Stenberg for speaking out about what it means to live as a young woman of color in this nation is sickening and heartbreaking.

Rowan even addresses this type of bias in her essay. “We are so quick to applaud white women for commenting on race issues/discussions like #BlackLivesMatter, and #SayHerName, but when a Black girl comments on it – she is told she is overreacting or being angry,” she writes. She understands that acknowledging her privilege in conveying this message is just as essential as her writing her response in the first place.

When I expressed this idea on my personal Facebook page, I was immediately challenged by young white women who believed that because Rowan is only 13 years old, this is what makes her “revolutionary.”

If this is the case, we need to have a very critical conversation about who and what is labeled as revolutionary.

Revolutionary is Bree Newsome scaling a 30-foot pole in front of the South Carolina state capitol and removing a flag that represents the epitome of white supremacy. However instead, she’s considered an outlaw, someone who threatens to destroy a “culture.” Willow Smith is revolutionary for her ideas on how one should live their life different from the patriarchal, sexist ways we are accustomed to. Instead, she is deemed with the label as “weird” or “crazy.” Aliza Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometti, the founders of #BlackLivesMatter are revolutionary for giving name to a movement that has sparked the most racial controversy to date since the Civil Rights movement. Not only does mainstream media erase these women completely from the narrative, but frames their movement as one that does more harm than good, when all it does is value the sanctity of human life. In order to be truly revolutionary, one must transcend the seemingly insurmountable boundaries that have been placed by society. To be revolutionary is to be controversial and to go against common belief.

But this is not the issue. The issue is that by mainstream standards, the people who are typically chosen to be revolutionary are usually white or have some sort of privilege in society. They conform to a standard that is agreeable and palatable to a predominantly white audience, which makes their message easier to digest and comprehend. If this element of privilege (in this case whiteness) is lost, the message somehow becomes unrelatable. Why is it that when a Black woman talks politics having to do with her body it is ignored, but when a white woman talks about them, only then, does it become meaningful? In this case, intersectional feminism is a white woman’s magic trick; it only becomes visible when it comes from her, making a Black woman an incredible source on her own lived experience.

Rowan Blanchard’s short Instagram essay, while very eloquently written, is not revolutionary. To say that her ideas are exceptional isn’t just harmful to the very purpose of intersectional feminism, but it perpetuates the idea that it’s almost impossible for a young woman of her age and background to be an effective ally and simultaneously silences other young people (especially women of color) who have been working to deliver the same message.

This is not intended to be an insult to her or to anyone who is a fan of her (as I said before, I myself am a HUGE fan). This is intended to challenge the “click-worthy” pieces who regale their readers with the teachings of yet another brilliant white heroine for us to aspire to be when we grow up.

We need more young women in this world like Rowan Blanchard; this is a crucial fact that goes without saying. However, we also need to start listening to young Black and brown women before we miss out on what is truly revolutionary.

Photo: Donato Sardella

Barbara Gonzalez is a queer Boricua Freelance Journalist living in New York City. She writes on themes of feminism, race, gender, sexuality, and other identities, usually with some sort of relation to pop culture. You can find some of her other work on TheFlama.com and Cosmopolitan.com and follow her on Twitter @ohhaibarbie.

1 comment:

  1. Since Rowan Blanchard's family has a Middle Eastern background. She has a sense of what it means to stand outside the limitations of White feminism as it has trouble understanding how many Muslim women find choosing to wear a hijab empowering and in general haven't had a clue how to use intersectionality to include women of color and different cultural backgrounds.


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