Near The Top I: White Cis Women’s Privilege Duality

CW: Discussion and mention of racism, misogyny, abuse, sexual violence, oppression

There is a taboo in the feminism of us white people. It’s the culpability of white cis women as a class and individually in many forms of oppression other than their own. And it’s a perfidious one in its construction. To better understand that, we have to look at what role white cis women effectively play in society and their place in the kyriarchy.

I have thought about lengthy disclaimers for this piece. How I absolutely recognize that white cis women as a class are victims under patriarchy, how white cis men systemically discriminate against them, how their lives are impacted by male cis violence, both physical, economical and psychological, how essentially every powerful institution plays a role in their marginalization and in keeping them down. Of course, I absolutely do recognize that, and I also acknowledge and deeply regret the role I played in white cis women’s oppression while performing the male gender role prior to me realizing I was and coming out as a feminine (to make it understandable in binary terms) polynary (non-binary) person.
Why would I have to do this, though, when the topic is not them being cis women, but the role they play?

Kyriarchical Position

The kyriarchy is the whole structure of power, including patriarchy, but also all other forms of domination, oppression, discrimination and other forms of harmful (and arbitrary) hierarchies, like racism, ableism/saneism, transantagonism, colonialism, capitalism, etc. There’s no discreet metric of one’s standing in the kyriarchy. While intersectionality describes how different kinds of privilege and oppression intersect and can form quite individual situations for the oppressed, Kimberly Crenshaw, who coined the term in her 1989 paper, herself pointed out how it is not a tool to describe identities or analyze the oppressive structures in an interview last year. There is no precise way to express any individual experience of oppression and give it an absolute value that could be compared with any other individual experience of oppression to build a universal ranking. But that does not mean that all experiences of oppression are created equal or that it was a subjective thing, where it mattered most how severe the experience was perceived. And analogous for privilege. It does, however, allow to ballpark an individuals experience of oppression based on the relation of different forms of oppression towards each other.

In that, we can make out the most privileged and the most oppressed people quite easily. We can also often use the prevalence and severity of any given form of privilege and oppression to say who is more or less privileged or oppressed in each case. This isn’t always possible and it’s not a precise science. The reason is that the systems of oppression are not operating in a way that can be precisely cartographed or measured in its entirety, especially not from the inside, and depends on so many human factors. We can only ever closely look into parts of the systems, or try to single out individual subsystems of oppression and dissect them. But given how closely they all interact, how they are internalized and rationalized and most often work unconsciously in (even systemic) perpetrators, this is just not a feasible task.
And therefore, it’s quite reasonable to say, that white cis women are, as a class, quite privileged, most importantly because they are white and cis. These two forms of privilege are maybe the most powerful in current times and the past centuries. Whiteness and cisness are the cornerstones of colonialism, they are the epitome of eurocentric normativity. Besides white cis men then, white cis women are the most privileged people on this planet.

There are, of course, exceptions be region or period, where white cis gay men are or were harshly prosecuted and it is or was more privileged to be a white cis woman. In arguably the majority of western hegemonial nations white cis gay men are now almost indistinguishable in their privilege from white cis straight men and they often proudly spout misogyny to prove it.
But either way, after cis white men, the absolute top of the kyriarchical hierarchy, white cis women are quite undeniably the immediate second in line. And while there is some space between the privilege of a white cis man and the privilege of a white cis woman, it is not further than white cis women are from anyone below them in the hierarchy and worlds apart from anyone at the bottom of the hierarchy. The biggest factor surely is their whiteness, something that, in terms of privilege, also sets white trans people apart from trans people who are black, indigenous and/or of color. And when I criticize white cis women’s role in the kyriarchy, I’m still doing this as a white person, fully acknowledging how all white people are in one way or another complicit in whiteness and all the oppression that stems from it.

Privilege Duality

White cis women play the roles of the first victim and the most loyal adjutant to white cis men at the same time.


While the partial pattern of women in patriarchical societies rather associating with the power of their men than anyone they have privilege over in terms of class, trans status, ability, race, etc may not be entirely unique to white cis women, this is not my lane to discuss and under the current white supremacist kyriarchy, no one would come close in global status to them.

From this perspective a lot of things need to be reexamined and reevaluated. It does not change anything about the fact that white cis men oppress them like they oppress everyone else. It changes a lot about how the behavior of white cis women as a class must be evaluated. Black people and people of color have been been pointing this out in the context of their whiteness a lot already, e.g. in the terrifying effect they can have, how their by default presumed innocence works and how they weaponize their soft whiteness.
The white portion of the queer discourse is lacking behind, with the rest of the queer discourse being generally more aware of this through the way white queer people use their whiteness against them just the same as white cis people do. But we’ll get back to that.

White feminists and the feminism of us white people are often indistinguishable, with white feminists already having started using the accusation of being a white feminist against each other for social kapital. They are even more so indistinguishable if they do not think and operate in a wider liberatory context and mindset. White cis women as a class are not striving to take down the kyriarchy which also produces their own oppression, they are striving to take down one specific part of it, and that’s the one that defines the distance between the privilege of white cis men and white cis women: Patriarchy and “misogyny”. The latter is put in quotes because of the general lack of solidarity of white cis women with black women and women of color unless there’s some (social) kapital to gain from it. All in all, as a class they have no interest in taking down the system, they just want to improve their place in it.
Hence one of the most common patterns is that white cis women, feminist or not, will speak of the plight of cis women as if white cis women, black women and women of color actually shared more or less the same experience, while at the same time the concerns of white cis women are front and center, even though they are the absolute minority of all women on this earth. It’s not oppression and exploitation themselves that they protest, but that they didn’t get a fair share of the spoils.

And this pattern of hedging the oppression they receive against the oppression they are complicit in or perpetuate and use out of convenience or to achieve gains of any kind is at the very heart of white cis women’s role in the kyriarchy. Whenever one as much as critically peeks at white cis women’s role, one has to immediately and ferociously pledge allegiance to the white cis women’s cause, lest one wants to be branded as a misogynist. This is of course them again using all other women as a shield against criticism. When you criticize white cis women, you criticize *all* women, is the message. When you criticize women who are not white, though, well, they gotta stand on their own. There then, comes out the other side of white cis women’s role, the patronizing, the white saviorism. And how can I even speak of white cis women like that, when there are those that truly pledged themselves to full liberation? Well, #notallwhiteciswomen, I guess. We’re not that far from the racist suffragettes of former centuries.

But even within white confines, white cis women don’t behave noticeably different. Namely, regarding their cis privilege. Again here their ultimate goal of sharing the top of the hierarchy with white cis men (there’s not even a real push to replace them, just become “equal”) becomes evident. Not the dissemination, deconstruction and ultimately destruction/replacement of the current gender based oppression system is the target of their efforts, but again, to place themselves besides white cis men, to give their white “femininity” the same imposing ring as their counterparts’ white “masculinity”. They don’t even have to consciously adhere to terf ideology to toot the same horn. Vaginas as feminist symbols, menstruation as the rite of passage, a supposed closer connection to “nature” due to their “biology”, a proclaimed superiority in their collective motherhood of humankind. Again we’re not going to shake off the pattern of white cis women claiming to represent and share in the experience of *all* women. The call is not to free all genders from patriarchy, but to end “women’s suffering”. Terfist movements are on the rise again, the more the struggle of queer and and trans people moves into the public consciousness. The spreading awareness that patriarchy doesn’t just has it out for (white) cis women threatens their privilege as much as their meticulously created self image.

The fosterting of a “pure victim” narrative, or, as I like to call it The True Victim(TM), comes as no surprise then. And given their second in line privilege status, they use their control over the narrative, second only to the self-congratulatory voices of white cis men, to hide this very fact from the public consciousness. All attempts at criticizing, heck, the mere ideation of criticizing their role or privilege becomes a taboo and is instantly framed as trying to relativize white cis women’s suffering by — I hope you’re getting as tired of reading this as I’m getting of having to add it every time — spinning it as an attack on *all* women, while retaining their privileges unchallenged. If anyone but “women” suffers, they are to wait in line, form their own movements, or just believe in how much better things will get once “women” are lifted up into the olympus. Trickle down liberation, maybe?
But nothing will change by just lifting the class of white cis women up, because once their oppression is removed, they will just forget about everyone else — probably while using their endless solidarity due to their own horrible history to deflect from any criticism or accusations of indulging their heightened privilege. After all, there’s not much room at the top, you know.
This can currently be seen wherever white cis women reach important and powerful positions, no matter if in the economy or politics. Given power in the kyriarchical system, they just become like the white cis men they are trying to sell us as the common and unifying enemy.

And yes, we need to talk about how growing up under patriarchy influences white cis women so much, that they become complicit in the system of their own oppression. It does not, however, mean that we have to postpone or even cease all criticism towards the harm they do until the harm done to them is resolved. We don’t do this for mental illness, we don’t do this for abuse in general, we don’t do this for disability, not for trauma, … so why we do it for the class of white cis women?

Footnote: White Womanhood

As a footnote in all fairness, the role of white cis women in the kyriarchy is not just performed by white cis women. Due to being socialized into whiteness and having the same norms and behaviors as white cis women forced upon them, white trans people afab, primarily those who align with white womanhood, exhibit quite similar behavioral patterns, though this is not entirely generalizable. Rather, just like white trans women, their alignment with white womanhood, whether for validation of their gender or incidental, often involves similar dynamics and often serves the same purpose in the context of white dominated kyriarchy. White trans women and white trans people amab and afab aligned with white womanhood do this on different axis respectively, though, as the issue of transmisogyny remains.



Just a polynary person (they/them) trying to make sense of the world and share their insights. @ purecatharsis on Facebook/Instagram, @puRRcatharsis on twitter

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Cat Harsis

Just a polynary person (they/them) trying to make sense of the world and share their insights. @ purecatharsis on Facebook/Instagram, @puRRcatharsis on twitter