5 lessons from Jennifer Lawrence on why white feminism isn’t cute

Jennifer Lawrence on The Graham Norton Show. BBC/screencap

You’ve heard a lot about white feminism and why many people of color, women of color in particular, can’t stand it. It’s not that we can’t feminism; in fact, we love feminism. It’s just that we can’t stand when something that’s supposed to accept us is just used as yet another tool to marginalize us and keep power centralized on whiteness. Case in point: Jennifer Lawrence.

“So what did Jennifer Lawrence do this week that we should be concerned about?” you might be asking. Well, first, you’re right in asking what she did this week. There’s never a week that goes by that we don’t hear something about Lawrence, whether it’s in the form of a gushing fashion post, a gushing celebrity news post about what she ate for lunch or how she’s best gal pals with other problematic white feminist Amy Schumer, or in some clickbait headline. Many of us are tired of hearing about the manufactured admiration for this woman.

Lawrence’s tide with Hollywood started shifting months ago at the Golden Globe Awards, when she rudely shut down a Spanish-speaking journalist for looking at his phone while asking her a question (something which a lot of journalists do nowadays, since we can record interviews, look at our notes, and take pictures with our smart phones). The tide is continuing to shift with Lawrence’s latest foot-in-mouth instance—talking about sacred Hawaiian sites in the form of crude jokes.

On a recent episode of The Graham Norton Show to promote her and Chris Pratt’s upcoming film Passengers, Lawrence joked that while in Hawaii filming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she used one of the state’s ancient stones to scratch her butt.

“These were sacred rocks …and you’re not supposed to sit on them because you’re not supposed to expose your genitalia to them. …They were so good for butt itching! …One rock that I was butt-scratching on ended up coming loose. And it was a giant boulder and it rolled down this mountain and it almost killed our sound guy! It was this huge dramatic deal and all the Hawaiians were like, ‘It’s the curse!’ And I’m over in the corner going, ‘I’m your curse. I wedged it loose with my ass.'”

Here’s a question: Why couldn’t she scratch her backside how most people do—WITH HER FINGERNAILS? Did she really need to find a rock to do this?

Let’s also discuss that she nearly killed someone just because of her butt.

The incident caused immediate pushback from Hawaiians for her flippant manner when addressing the stones in the interview (she said the stones reflected “the ancestors…or  whatever”), her stereotypical way of addressing the people who were angry at her, and for disrespecting their culture.

The so-called “rocks” she thought were so good for butt-scratching are part of a larger burial site. As in, for Lawrence to understand, a site where people’s remains are. As in: a place to show some doggone respect. 

To quote PEOPLE:

” ‘It was an archeological site,’ says Hawaiian cultural expert Kahokule’a Haiku, who advised the Hunger Games production team. Haiku has been featured in the New York Times for his work in the Waimea Valley. ‘It’s an ancient Hawaiian living site and there are several hundred burial caves right in the area. The caves contain the bones of our ancestors–but not just any ancestors. They are called Kahuna. These were the astronomers, navigators, and doctors of the time. They were the Einsteins and Marconis of Hawaiian culture. And they were filming just a few yards away.”

After facing a firestorm of anger, Lawrence has apologized via Facebook:

But many are still unhappy with her and her seeming lack of understanding as to what she scratched her butt on. The many comments on her Facebook post show people from many backgrounds taking her to task for acting like, in keeping with this post’s theme, a butt.

So what does this have to do with white feminism? Because white feminism operates from a very narrow, very racist viewpoint. For this post, I’ll quote BattyMamzelle, who has the best, most succinct definition of white feminism I can find.

I see “white feminism” as a specific set of single-issue, non-intersectional, superficial feminist practices. It is the feminism we understand as mainstream; the feminism obsessed with body hair, high heels and makeup, and changing your married name. It is the feminism you probably first learned. “White feminism” is the feminism that doesn’t understand western privilege or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn’t consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality.

White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of colour. It is “one size fits all” feminism, where middle class women are the mould that others must fit. it is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always.”

(I highly recommend reading her full post on white feminism if you want to learn more about it.)

So, if you are white reading this, and you are worried about being perceived as a Jennifer Lawrence-esque white feminist, here are some things you can do to not get this label attached to your name and social media legacy:

1. DON’T SCRATCH YOUR BUTT ON SACRED SITES. That’s first and foremost. There’s a deeper point here though; respect the cultures of others outside of your own. Just because something looks innocuous to you doesn’t mean it is to someone else. A great way to show how misunderstanding a culture can actually make you look foolish: The slave owners of the American south didn’t realize that the songs, dances, and other artistic modes of expression used by slaves were either about passing along their African heritage, giving each other instruction on how to escape or making fun of the masters, usually in front of their faces. Instead of figuring this out, the slave masters just wrote it off as “negroes being negroes.”

2. Think of people as people, regardless of their race. If there’s one thing (among many) that irritates the bejesus out of me when it comes to white feminism is that some white women will say to other women of color, “I understand your struggle because I struggle as a woman to gain acceptance.” I’ve had this happen to me. To that, I say what feminist icon Sojourner Truth said—“Ain’t I a woman?” Do we have to keep saying what should be a basic fact for some of y’all out there to get it? Women of color aren’t objects for ridicule, fascination, obsession, or sexualization. We are women just like you, and we deserve every privilege you white women get.

3. Reach out to other women with intersectionality in your heart. As I’ve said many times on this site now, we’re in Trump’s America now, and if I’m being honest, white ladies, a lot of white women helped put us in this predicament. The supposed superiority of whiteness is connected to white male dominance, and a lot of white women apparently would rather have the security of male-based white supremacy than a white woman entering the White House as President. That’s messed up. However, to the rest of you white women out there wanting to staunch the bleeding and help protect the nation from fascism by creating lasting bridges with America’s non-white communities, you need to come with no agenda. Don’t come wanting to be a savior or wanting to get your “Good White Person” badge, because we don’t have time for that. Instead, come with an open mind and open heart, wanting to learn and be a conscientious woman of the world. Come wanting to do good for the sake of everyone, not just for yourself and to appease your white guilt. America needs everyone at the table to actually make America great, so we need you to come correct.

4. Do your own research. It would have been great if Lawrence had taken the time out to actually learn from Haiku since his services were available on site. She would have learned why she shouldn’t scratch her butt on things. Too many times, whiteness lulls white people into thinking they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whatever they want without repercussions. It’s part of the “Manifest Destiny” idea; I am lord (or lady) of all things, so I can do as I please without learning outside of my personal bubble. This ignorance is all over how Lawrence told her story, from flippantly describing the site to making fun of Hawaiians themselves by portraying them as superstitious. Lawrence should know better. If you don’t want to be like Lawrence, it would behoove you to learn about other cultures whenever you can, but especially if you’re visiting a place in which your culture is the minority. Don’t embarrass yourself.

5. Don’t follow Lawrence, Schumer, and Taylor Swift‘s examples. Shooting off at the mouth isn’t cute, y’all. There are some things you say and some things you keep to yourself. Being a feminist doesn’t mean thinking everything you say and do is some revolutionary thing. It’s definitely not revolutionary if a woman of color said or did the same thing and no one bats an eye at it or, worse, demeans the woman of color for saying or doing anything. If what you think is amazing is actually mediocre or offensive, then do yourself and the rest of us a favor and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Your ability to mouth off and have people praise you for it is actually a level of racial privilege, and it’s annoying.

I think I’ve wrung just about everything I can out of Lawrence’s debacle. What are your takes on it and how do you feel about white privilege? Comment below!