Why we all need to know about Koa Beck

Why we should all know about Koa Beck

Her clear-eyed criticism of oppressive power structures and call for marginalised voices to be centred in mainstream conversations have made All About Women’s Koa Beck a crucial and influential voice in contemporary feminism. If you haven’t heard her name it’s time to get acquainted.

Over recent years, Beck has built a reputation for her razor-sharp commentary which has paved the way to some pretty esteemed roles, like Editor in Chief at feminist commentary site Jezebel, Executive Editor at Vogue and the Senior Features Editor at MarieClaire.com.

She’s also produced literary criticism and reporting for big titles like The Atlantic, Out, TIME, The Guardian, and Esquire.

And, as the world grappled with the complexities of feminist issues within workplaces and relationships during the era of #MeToo, Beck became a pivotal voice and thought-leader of the movement, co-hosting The #MeToo Memos for The Takeaway podcast with WNYC Studios; a series of thoughtful, important conversations.

A unique perspective

As a queer, biracial woman, Beck’s reflected a lot on the idea of ‘passing’ as a straight, white woman.

In 2014 she wrote a powerful column for the Guardian talking about the nuanced experience of ‘passing’ in normative social groups despite belonging to the LGBTQ community or a minority ethnic background and what that means for the continued maintenance of a straight, white status quo.

She wrote that for people who do manage to pass, “their experience has proved to be key in illuminating the overwhelming power of privilege – even as said privilege brushes up against other marginalisation.”.

Championing feminism to work for everyone

Against the backdrop of an increasingly commercialised kind of pop feminism (set in motion in part by Beyonce’s 2014 MTV VMAs performance), Beck wants everyone to understand the importance of feminism being truly intersectional.  

Intersectionality was one of her top priorities at Jezebel and, as she explained during the panel ‘The Future of Feminism’ for the Center for Brooklyn History in 2018, she wanted Jezebel writers to incorporate the perspectives of LGBTQI women, immigrant women and women with disabilities into their everyday work.

She gets the complexities (and frequent failures) of mainstream feminist dialogue and she’s a bold critic of white feminism, which she describes as an individualistic ideology that fails to challenge the patriarchal or capitalist structures that most women struggle beneath.

Off the back of her Joan Shorenstein Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2019, Beck published the influential essay ‘Self-Optimisation in the Face of Patriarchy’ that describes how mainstream media has propelled white feminism.

In the essay, she broke down white feminism as a cynical movement defined by capitalist ideals like work success and the promise of ‘self-empowerment’.

In particular, she pointed to the ideals promoted by Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 cultish hit book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and expertly crushed their self-centred focus.

She outlined historical examples of white feminists basically just trying to emulate the success of the men around them in the same capitalist framework and said by doing that, they were clearly leaving women of colour behind.

Beck pulls no punches when she talks about these issues, suggesting that white feminism fails to “disrupt structures or systems” and that women who ascribe to this ideology are “succeeding in existing structures, eclipsing the need for a collective feminism or for a feminism that recognises that most women lack the inherent advantages that helped these women to succeed”.

She even wrote a book about it

Beck’s debut book White Feminism was published in January and was lauded by feminist icon Gloria Steinem as a book aiming to “overcome anti-feminist divisions that divide and defeat us”.

She hits white feminism hard again by using contemporary examples, criticising the fact that women who have attained money and power are being crowned feminist icons in the #GIRLBOSS era.

Beck writes that “unabashedly profit-seeking women came to embody fourth-wave white feminism and how money in the hands of a female-identified person came to represent an innately “feminist” narrative, regardless of how that money was procured, how that money was used, or what that money was sustaining”.

But even more than that, she talks about what women can do to take on white feminism and promotes pillars of change like fighting for the visibility of minority women, fighting the systems that hold the marginalised back and returning to the needs of the public to reinforce community-mindedness.

In White Feminism, Beck argues that closing us off from one another is actually a retaliatory facet of capitalism and privatisation designed to dilute our power and explains how the way forward is to “utilize opportunities to learn more about each other rather than continuing the oratory traditions as to why some people are better, have more, are brutalised, have ‘made it’”.

On March 7th, join Koa Beck at Sydney Opera House’s All About Women festival for a look at the deep seated racism embedded in the history of feminism, and learn how we can make the movement truly inclusive at her talk White Feminism. Livestream tickets are also available for audiences to livestream or watch on-demand from across Australia and around the world.

This piece was first published by Sydney Opera House. 

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