A Term We Should Be Familiar With: Intersectionality

This is the first in a series of articles covering ideas and terms related to feminism: we hope to offer a digestible way to learn about these related topics, which can often be construed as messy and/or convoluted.

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By: Alyssa Exposito 

Like everything in life, there are layers, depths and degrees to what we categorize. Intersectional feminism takes the broad scope of feminism and dives deeper into ways the movement can be made more inclusive and diverse.

Generally when we think of “feminism,” its basic landscape looks a bit like this: advocating for women’s rights and equality of the sexes; yet one criticism of the first three main waves of feminism, and permeating into today’s discourse on the topic, is that this has been limited to the mainly privileged white woman’s point of view.

On the other hand, intersectional feminism focuses on the understanding that race, class, and sexual orientation/identification plays (or, should play) a huge role in a the feminist landscape.

This is imperative because it draws our awareness to our “different vulnerabilities,” as Kimberlé Crenshaw puts it. Coining the term nearly three decades ago, Crenshaw introduced intersectionality as a way for feminists and anti-racism activists to “...highlight the multiple avenues through which racial and gender oppression were experienced so that the problems would be easier to discuss and understand.”

In a nutshell, intersectionality asks for US to step outside of ourselves and our own experiences to try and understand and question others’ experiences. How perhaps, for example, a black woman may be discriminated against more harshly because of her race than a white woman, or how a latin woman in the LGBTQ community may face different discriminations because of her race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Since the beginning of time, this has been a systemic issue. As history has very much shaped our cultural framework, we have grown up expecting a certain invincibility if our vulnerability(s) hasn’t been under attack. Which is to say, yes we can fight for equal rights among the sexes, but we cannot fail to take into account that there are many individuals that fail to get represented because we haven’t considered certain forms of oppression outside of our own experience.

How can you think about intersectional feminism:

• Remember that having privilege is never having to think about it.
• We know that every woman, every person, offers a different perspective and experience. Start thinking beyond your own: there are black women in LGBTQ communities, there are poor women who do not have reproductive resources/rights, women who are fighting the battle of immigration, trans-women fighting for the “appropriate” bathroom. If the shoe doesn’t fit, you can (still) certainly see how difficult it may be to walk in it.
• When you’re speaking out, it’s important to consider your language and viewpoints (and, it’s not about “political correctness”: It’s taking on an inclusive lens to stand up for matters involving life or death). Are you considering the types of harassment people in marginalized groups face? Do you think of the lack of safety against assault? Do you think about the lack of policy and reform to work against these discrepancies?
• When we erase our significant different experiences based on race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and class, we eliminate the specific support these populations need the most.

The importance of intersectionality in feminism is the ability to step outside of yourself and think of another individual’s needs outside of your (perceived) experience. If we are the sum of all our parts, we can’t step closer to equality if we fail to think about individual vulnerabilities outside of our own.

Remember that, as Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We are here to reclaim our voices and no longer be silent, especially for those whose voices have been muted.

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