The term “intersectionality” was invested in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw. She’s is an American law professor, civil rights advocate, and intersectional feminist. Crenshaw describes the term intersectional as “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.” This blog post aims to provide an overview of intersectional feminism and discuss its critical role in addressing the shortcomings of mainstream or white feminism.
Intersectionality is slowly gaining traction in the feminist movement. It aims to emphasize the various axis of inequalities that exist due to the overlapping aspects of one’s identity. It also investigates how these components create the sum of an individual’s experience in the world. Intersectional feminism believes that only by understanding the numerous complex features on one’s identity and taking an all-encompassing approach that we are better equipped to understand and deal with systemic inequality.
In another interview, Crenshaw is quoted as stating that “We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts”. Intersectional feminism takes notice of mainstream feminism’s failure to realize that the multidimensional aspects of one’s identities directly translate to inequalities in various contexts. It is essential to immediately clarify that the term white feminism is not the label that refers to feminists who happen to be white. Instead, white feminism is a label that describes a branch of feminism that minimizes or dismisses the issues faced by less privileged groups in society while solely uplifting white, often privileged, women in the process.
An example that portrays white feminism’s selfish tendency to ignore the discrimination faced by more disadvantaged groups in society is clearly seen in actress Rose McGowan’s now-deleted tweet. The major issue with this statement is the lack of acknowledgement of the intersecting identities of being both black and a woman. Examining this scenario through the lens of intersectional feminism causes us to emphasize that not only are black women on the receiving end of misogyny, they are also affected by experiences of racism. Black women must also deal with misogynoir, adding yet another dimension of discrimination and inequality. The dictionary defines misogynoir as a specific hatred or prejudice directed explicitly towards black women. In addition, misogynoir incorporates concepts of both racism of misogyny. Intersectional feminism allows us to acknowledge that the various aspects of minority women’s identities add another degree of inequality, which has an inevitable impact on how one is viewed by society, and this determines experience.
The idea of intersectionality also relates to another movement that is also garnering a great deal of attention. The #MeToo movement was founded by Tarana Burke and aimed at bringing awareness and highlight sexual harassment faced by women across the world. This movement was made famous when Alyssa Milano made a tweet using the hashtag. The movement that was meant to be inclusive and bring awareness to victims of abuse across all racial, cultural, and socioeconomic groups quickly shifted its focus and attention on the experiences of rich white celebrity women. Despite this bringing awareness to the #MeToo movement, the initiative seems to have shed its inclusive representation of all women quickly. Even though women of colour and minority women statistically face a disproportionately greater amount of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, they have quickly been cast off to the side in the context of not only the #MeToo movement but mainstream feminism as a whole.
Traditionally, women of colour and minority women face a greater degree of prejudice and discrimination in western societies. They often do not benefit from mainstream feminism. Instead their issues are trivialized, minimized, and cast off to the side. Movements such as #MeToo have been great in that they have created a dialogue, but it would be incredibly inaccurate to claim that mainstream feminism has benefitted all women equally. The universal or “one size fits all” approach taken by mainstream feminism does very little to achieve equality. The truth is we are all unique individuals with various interacting aspects of our identities. Not all women face the same plights, nor do we all have the same experiences when it comes to issues such as misogyny and systemic discrimination. It is for this reason that intersectional feminism is pivotal in order to achieve equality. Only by acknowledging that race, socioeconomic class, and gender, intersect to create the various aspects of identity and directly shape people’s lives can we truly achieve equality.