If my university education has provided me with anything, it would be the introduction to intersectional feminism. With graduation a few weeks away, I thought I’d share my reflections as a nasty and unapologetic intersectional feminist.
First off: what is intersectional feminism? Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality in 1989 (although the idea has been around for decades). Intersectionality examines the ways in which multiple identities intersect to create different experiences that equate to more than the sum of its parts. It looks at how gender, race, class, ability, sexuality, etc. work together to provide people with different levels of privilege and oppression. Intersectional feminism aims to denaturalize and challenge hierarchies in order to create a more just society. If your feminism isn’t intersectional, it isn’t feminism.
If your feminism isn’t intersectional, it isn’t feminism.
It should be noted that feminists come from a diverse array of ideologies and, in fact, fundamentally disagree on multiple topics. I would argue that the common thread that links feminists of all political stripes is the goal of enabling social change. For me, it means challenging oppressive institutions and practices that continue to reproduce unequal power relations. AKA: challenging patriarchal, heteronormative, imperialist, white supremacist ideologies.
Why should you care? Gendered, racialized, classist (etc.) categories are harmful to everyone as they impose oppressive stereotypes, roles and norms grounded in essentialist beliefs. No one should be expected to fulfil a certain role based on their genitalia, sexual orientation or skin color. As Bell Hooks puts it, oppression is the lack of options (5). Feminism is about creating meaningful options.
No one should be expected to fulfil a certain role based on their genitalia, sexual orientation or skin color.
The lesson I’ve learned throughout my degree is to pick my battles. Additionally, I’ve learned to “call in” and not “call out” problematic statements. Calling in involves asking people what they meant and then explaining why their statement can be hurtful. Calling out involves accusing someone of something without seeking clarification. I still struggle with these concepts as my initial reaction to a sexist/racist/homophobic statement is to go ballistic. On the other hand, if you’re constantly being ridiculed or spoken down to for your political correctness, maybe you need to reevaluate if you need new friends? I know that sounds harsh, but let’s be real, it’s tough to be around insensitive people.
To identify as an intersectional feminist does not mean that I am perfect or without fault. In fact (borrowing from Roxane Gay), I am bad feminist. I know that I must constantly practice reflexivity, check my privilege and situate myself. As a middle class, educated, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender female, I realize I am afforded a set of unearned privileges ascribed to me based on relational hierarchical social memberships. With this knowledge, I have a responsibility to listen and learn from people who are marginalized. I believe that identifying as an intersectional feminist equates to a commitment to lifelong learning and allyship.
To learn more about intersectionality, you can read this article in the Washington Post or watch Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TedTalk here:
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Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color.” Stanford law review (1991): 1241-1299.
Gay, Roxane. Bad Feminist: Essays. Harper Collins, 2014.
Hooks, Bell. Feminist theory: From margin to center. Pluto Press, 2000.