I sat in the tree grove in front of UNC’s Old Well and to the right of South Building. Behind me was McCorkle Place housing Silent Sam, or rather his platform. In front of me was the Campus Y, a building full of students pushing for change. This intersection housed a discourse not dissimilar to that raised by Vanity Fair’s bright spotlight on the conservative college women of UNC titled “They Say We’re White Supremacists.”
My laptop sat on my knees open to messages with six young women. Five who identify as liberal and one conservative. Nancy Jo Sales’ article had been published a little over 24 hours prior.
The article followed young female Republicans at UNC who felt ostracized and oppressed on campus, their “harsh reality”. The following is a look at the world these women do not live in:
Rimel Mwamba, a recent UNC graduate, was not shocked but described her emotions when reading as moving from amusement to anger.
“Part of the way I was able to continue reading the article was that the level of absurdity made it almost comical. Then, I started coming to term with the fact that people made these comments and I started to get really irritated,” said Mwamba.
“We often separate white feminism and intersectional feminism. Them being white women and saying that there isn’t a need for feminism reaffirmed what white feminism looks like and my belief in the opposite. Their use of the term intersectionality disgusted me,” Mwamba said.
Hannah Inman, a senior biostatistics and women & gender studies double major, was unsurprised when the article was published.
“The term intersectionality means a ton to me because no two women’s experiences are the same. I am white and it means my experiences are different. It’s such an interesting trend of white women basically using the patriarchal bargain choosing their whiteness over their femaleness,” said Inman.
The patriarchal bargain is a term created in 1988 by Deniz Kandiyoti describing when women choose to uphold the patriarchy by conforming to social norms and, therefore, receive some form of benefit. Most often it is used in reference to white women, such as those in the Vanity Fair article, who reject ideas of feminism because they feel as though they do not experience sexism or racism.
If you’re fighting just for white women it turns out to be white supremacy,” said Inman.
“The line between free speech and hate speech is thin. I’m not sure where this fell,” said Alice Lim, a sophomore international student originally from South Korea.
In the response to Sales’ article one thing has become clear: no one is sure how to feel about a platform being given to these women, and – even more so – to these views.
“The topic is not something that has light shown on it, especially because college is such a liberal atmosphere. I thought the girls were very brave. I applaud Vanity Fair for giving them a voice. But because it is such a sensitive issue, it also gave them a platform which I don’t know how to feel about,” Lim said.
“I have issues with this author and this article in the first place, but I don’t think that the quotes are wrong, it felt contextualized,” said Inman.
Chenda Kavithyam began our conversation telling me about her experience growing up half-white and half-Indian. In her extended family, there were members of Turning Point USA and although she was not surprised, she did not know how deep the ideology ran.
“Honestly, it’s good that this article exists because it’s important that we know what people actually think, believe and say. Once you see them as a blob of bigotry and evil you lose the ability to combat their views,” said Kavithyam.
The argument that Kavithyam makes has been reiterated many times on the left-side of the aisle: everywhere from Hillary Clinton’s concession speech to friends talking in the quad to organizers planning a rally. It’s one that has not gone unnoticed by Kristen Roehrig, a senior religious studies major.
“The argument that conservative voices are not heard on this campus with the same credence as liberal voices is entirely valid. Trying to make white people a victim of oppression undermines the entire argument,” said Roehrig.
Amanda Chriscoe, a sophomore, remembers feeling dismayed upon reading the article. On paper, Amanda and Caitlyn McKinney, profiled in Sales’ article, share a surprising amount of similarities: both are hopefuls for UNC’s School of Nursing, both have a “lilting southern accent” and both are conservative women.
“There’s nothing wrong with being conservative, but you have to have an open mind and be willing to listen to people. And those girls didn’t,” said Chriscoe.
“When I came into school had some non-PC views, but I never voiced any of that because I knew it was mean. Then the ideas went away because I made friends with people who were non-binary or transgender,” said Kavithyam.
Exposure is good. It’s a point that both Chriscoe and Kavithyam aptly put, albeit in their own way. Chriscoe, being white, has emphasized that college made her expand her world view. At times, she has talked with people who challenge her previous stances, but Chriscoe remarks that she has always grown from these conversations.
“If I were to talk with any of the women in the article I would want them first and foremost to face the way that they affect non-white people. My policy is that I’m not gonna fight them in the library, usually when I see these things I don’t really comment, but I don’t think being a conservative is oppression,” said Inman.
During Mwamba’s response, she began to talk about her experience with other women, especially white women. Mwamba is tired of explaining why her existence matters. Political discourse is not a thrilling debate to Mwamba, it is a life or death situation.
“It seems as though the oppressed are told to engage with their oppressor and to have a clear agenda. It’s time for other white women to engage in that discourse. I am tired of explaining to people why my existence matters,” said Mwamba.
“Sometimes people feel genuinely unsafe because you feel as though you can’t trust that person. It’s kind of like seeing the confederate flag. It isn’t immediate danger but it’s a situation that you can’t trust to remain safe,” said Kavithyam.
“As a woman of color and as an international student – as I encounter countless sexist jokes and comments – I know what ostracizing is,” said Lim.
Lim, sitting on the floor of her dorm room recalled the fear she has on a daily basis. For her, there are physical threats that can come from pulling into the last parking spot and another driver taking issue with you being Asian. Other times, Lim’s mother has been mocked and refused service because she cannot speak English.
“That’s what ostracizing is,” said Lim.
In the days since “They Say We’re White Supremacists,” white women have had to reexamine their relationship with politics and feminism as a whole. As a white woman myself, I was reminded that 52% of people who look like me voted for Trump. It’s a statistic I do not like, but that I must own up to because the burden to educate my fellow white women falls to me.
The liberal left can no longer support white feminism, our feminism must be intersectional.