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Feminism and Racial Justice

Does feminism influence white women and men’s beliefs about racial discrimination the same?

What we found may surprise you.

By: M. Brielle Harbin

Image of two people, presumably women, holding signs supporting feminism and reproductive rights.
Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash,

Results of a Google image search of the term “feminist” overwhelmingly produces images of women holding signs at political rallies or wearing shirts with affirming mantras like” “we can do it!” These results speak to the longstanding stereotype of feminists as politically liberal women. Yet, we know that men also identify as feminists. In fact, sociologists have written at length about how widespread assumptions regarding gender roles not only affect women but men too.

Given this understanding, in my recent study titled, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free: how feminist identification influences white Americans’ willingness to recognize and respond to racial discrimination,” my co-author and asked: how does identifying as feminist relate to both white women and men’s perception that Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans experience greater (less) discrimination than white Americans? We refer to this concept as respondents’ perception of relative discrimination.

Using a 2016 national study, we tracked respondents’ perception of relative discrimination with a measure that asks whether African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and non-Hispanic white Americans face a great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, or no discrimination in the United States.

We then used these variables to create our perception of relative discrimination measures, which subtract respondents’ perception of the amount of discrimination each group faces from their perception of the amount of discrimination faced by white Americans. In total, we analyzed three different relative discrimination measures:

•white Americans vs. African Americans,

•white Americans vs. Hispanic Americans,

•and white Americans vs. Asian Americans.

We found that the relationship between strength of feminist identity and perception of relative discrimination is markedly similar for white women and men. At all levels of feminist identifications, both white men and women perceive that Black Americans are the most discriminated against relative to white Americans, followed by Hispanic and then Asian Americans.

The figures below illustrate these findings. It plots respondents’ predicted perception of relative discrimination by strength of feminist identification. The figure on the left plots predicted values for white women by level of feminist identification; identical findings are plotted for white men in the figure on the right.

Figure by M. Brielle Harbin and Michele F. Margolis

Therefore, the answer to the question posed in the title for this post is: yes. Our findings suggest that white men who strongly identify as feminists are just as likely as their female counterparts to perceive that other racial and ethnic groups experience more discrimination than white Americans. These findings suggest that white women who strongly identify as feminists as well as their white male counterparts may be viable allies in coalitions responding to racial injustice.

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M. Brielle Harbin

M. Brielle Harbin

I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the United States Naval Academy. I study social identities, media, and U.S. public opinion.

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