Intersectionality is a term many know but do not understand.
Its modern use began in 1989 when Kimberlé Crenshaw, a civil-rights activist and intersectional feminist, first used the term in a paper discussing anti-discrimination as a whole and how it fails Black women by denying that they face unique and intensified discrimination because of their overlapping identities.
Crenshaw explains that oftentimes people have assumptions about race and gender. They put people into categories.
Crenshaw cited “All the Women Are White; All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us are Brave”, a feminist anthology, to explain that the light is often shined on men of color who experience racism, but what about the women of color who face not only racial but also gender discrimination or those who fall into the categories of one or more societal struggles?
Intersectionality looks at different systems of oppression like sex, religion or race and how those systems overlap. This is important because companies and organizations often preach the values of diversity and inclusion, but the topic often becomes: “We’re focusing on women or people of color.”
The relatively-new term “intersectional feminist” is something I didn’t understand until entering college. I read “Bad Feminist” by Roxanne Gay during my first year of college and it opened my eyes to the phenomena. I never really aligned with the feminist movement because women who looked like me seemed stuck in the back. I felt as though our issues were seldom shown. I dove into intersectional feminism. I remember thinking that the idea was too perfect.
Intersectional feminism seemed to come with this idea that white women would magically take accountability for their dismissal of women of color and other historical biases, while becoming the kind of women who are all about passing the mic to their Black, brown and LGBTQ sisters. “In what universe?” I thought to myself.
However, research has helped me understand how powerful it truly was.
When we take an intersectional look at feminism as a whole, we can utilize historical contexts to be inclusive of all categories of women. There are histories of violence and systematic inequalities against women of color and LGBTQ women that can be better addressed using intersectional feminism.
Throughout its existence, feminism has focused on the experiences of white middle class women. It’s important to understand that “white feminism” is not practiced by all white women. It’s the idea that the way white women face inequalities is equal to the same way every woman faces gender inequality. This is not true. When we look at the way the gender pay gap is largely viewed, it’s often stated that women make 78 cents to every man’s dollar. However, this does not equally represent the pay gap between women of color and white women.
In a 2018 interview with Time, Crenshaw stated, “We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality, or immigration status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just a sum of its parts.”
Bringing together women’s inequalities into one experience is crucial. With division comes lack of strength. In Angela Davis’ book, “Women, Race, and Class,” she used history to explain the idea of intersectionality.
There was a moment in the history of the movement to gain the vote where intersectionality. When Black Americans asked white feminists to support their efforts to gain the right for Black men to vote, Susan B. Anthony, a leader in the early feminist movement, spoke out against it. What they were unable to see was the idea that Black voting rights were women’s rights.
While white women were free during the 19th century, Black women were fighting to stay alive on plantations as they faced rape and death.
Elizabeth Stanton and many other prominent white feminists pushed for women to be granted the right to vote before Black people. The book is an eye-opener for women who fail to see the racial issues that went hand and hand to feminism. Intersectional feminism won’t work if white women still struggle to support those whose identities contain multitudes, such as race, class and sexuality..
So the question now becomes, “What do we do to fix this?”
There is no one answer. However, I have some ideas. It’s about being inclusive and being conscious of other oppressed groups, starting a dialogue about it and finding a place for everyone, especially those who have historically been left out and have not found their place in society. It starts with being okay with discomfort, educating yourself and others, and most importantly, self-reflection.