1.28.17: What's intersectionality got to do with it?

Everybody's talking about intersectional feminism

Last weekend's marches were massive, and massively inspirational and energizing for the millions of people who attended. They also introduced the issue of intersectional feminism to many women, white women especially, for the first time. Today's call to action: give your Congressional speed-dial finger a break and get smart about intersectional feminism.

What it is

Let's start with the dictionary version, coined by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989: "The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.”

Basically, intersectional feminism is the idea that things like race, class, and gender identify affect the types of oppression women are subjected to. Here's good example of what this means, from Everyday Feminism:

Using conservative estimates, between 25% and 50% of women experience gender-based violence... [but] to cite that number without disaggregating the data hides the ways that multiple oppressions compound this violence.

For instance, women (and men) of color are more likely to experience these forms of violence than White women or men and that wealth privilege can help to insulate some women from some forms of violence...

And of those murdered in LGBTQ-based hate incidents, 78% were people of color, and Transgender people are 27% more likely to experience hate violence than cisgender people.

Bottom line? If you're a white, middle-class, cisgender woman, your experience of your female-ness is also tied up in your experience of being white, your ability to provide comfortably for yourself and your family, and the fact that you were born with female reproductive parts. 

Why it matters

Now that we're all up to speed on the basics of intersectional feminism, let me give you three examples of things I heard and saw from the women's marches:

A group of white women at one march dressed as suffragettes, all holding signs featuring Beyoncé lyrics. Would the real suffragettes they were impersonating have supported Beyoncé's right to vote? And the suffrage of other women of color? Would they have thought Beyoncé's feminism was "real" feminism?

One of the most common chants at the march was "Our body, our choice." During the chants, were the women participating thinking about how hard it is for transgender men to get quality reproductive care, or the fact that many trans women don't have the same "choice" that cis women do? Or about the prohibitive cost of abortion for women who are poor? 

When I arrived at the march, I had to traverse busy streets, tromp over curbs, squeeze through a fence opening, and squish through what felt like a million miles of mud. Did I wonder, even for a second, how many women with disabilities would even be able to get to the march? Or wade through the muddy field required to get to the porta-potties? 

If these examples give you pause and make you feel uncomfortable, congratulations: you're on your way to incorporating the principles of intersectionality into your feminism.

How to make intersectionality part of YOUR feminist agenda

  • Do some self-reflection: are their ways that your feminism has been exclusionary? Why? How can you change? How can you hold yourself and others accountable? 
  • Keep learning: check out this list of 50 organizations you should learn about if you're committed to intersectional feminism, and then take it a step further and start to get involved with them.
  • Be uncomfortable: this is supposed to be hard. And don't be surprised if your newfound or newly-revived enthusiasm for feminism post-march is met with skepticism by women whose experience of oppression has been different from yours. If you need some reinforcement, check out why acknowledging oppression matters more than your hurt feelings

Remember: 53% of white women cast their vote for Donald Trump. Feminism in America has a long way to go -- and for us to get there, we have to address more than just our own issues. The fights for black lives, disability rights, LGBTQ rights, a higher minimum wage, gun control, and many more issues all affect women and keep groups of women oppressed. Let's commit to doing better today -- EVERY DAY COUNTS.


Because we ask you to do so much every week, we're testing out a new type of post for Saturdays so you can give your cell phone a rest and learn more about issues that matter--and matter even more in Trump's America. What's your take on intersectional feminism and our new Saturday feature? Click over to our Facebook or Twitter and share your thoughts!