What is Intersectionality?
Artwork by Ola Franc
Fundamentally believing in the oppression of womxn due to a patriarchal society, feminism supports equal rights for all. Recent feminist theorists have also broadened the understanding of this concept by introducing the term “intersectionality,” which is an inclusive framework of analysis that allows for multiple identities to be acknowledged when addressing issues surrounding oppression and power dynamics. With this additional lens, intersectional paradigms have begun to allow the discourse around class, race, sexuality, ethnicity, age etc. to be considered when analyzing various systems of power within the patriarchy.
Feminist movements of the past have played a vital role to the advancement of womxn in current day society. However, oftentimes the conversations that mainstream feminist movements of the 20th century had, were exclusive towards minority groups, mainly towards womxn of color and those on the LGBTQIA spectrum. In the past, there were no spaces where oppressed groups could actually voice their distress or disagreements towards inequalities that were going on. In doing so would lead to ramifications such as death, which is still a reality faced by many oppressed groups even today. Racially, the treatment of womxn of color differed greatly from their white counterparts throughout the first and second waves of feminism: illustrated by segregated school systems, buses, and the normalization of maids and other placements of lower class for womxn of color. Influential author bell hooks supports these statements in her novel, Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism, when she states how “it is obvious that many womxn have appropriated feminism to serve their own ends, especially those white womxn who have been at the forefront of the movement.”
The visibility that straight white womxn held in terms of access towards gender equality led them to lead lives without having to incorporate other identities into their arguments. This was not a privilege held by other marginalized groups, and “even though Black womxn intellectuals have long expressed a distinctive African-influenced and feminist sensibility about how race and class intersect in structuring gender, historically we have not been full participants in White feminist organizations...as a result, African-American, Latino, Native American, and Asian-American womxn have criticized Western Feminisms for being racist and overly concerned with White, middle-class womxn’s issues” (hooks). Feminism cannot truly be called feminism if it does not consider all spectrums of womxn into the conversation. Therefore, when American civil rights advocate, Kimberle Crenshaw, coined the term “intersectionality,” in 1989, this marked a catalyst around the discussions of feminist theories that continue to impact the way in which feminism continues to develop in present day.
The concept of intersectionality has paved the way for advocates to frame their experiences in an inclusive manner while also allowing for their visibility in mainstream feminist movements. Crenshaw defines this term as “an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power...originally articulated on behalf of black womxn, the term brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them.” Intersectionality is an inclusive framework of analysis that allows for multiple identities to be acknowledged when addressing issues surrounding oppression and power dynamics. Mainstream feminist movements in the past have always been void of allowing spaces of race, class, and sexuality to be included in the conversations surrounding womxn's rights. It has always been a black and white analysis of gender with exclusionary practices towards grey areas of complexity. In response to this, “intersectional paradigms view race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and age, among others, as mutually constructing systems of power. Because these systems permeate all social relations, untangling their effects in any given situation or for any given population remains difficult” (Patricia Hill Collins).
Not acknowledging race alongside gender or other intersectional identities within individuals erases their experience as complex beings who are potentially facing oppression on multiple platforms at once: i.e racial discrimination alongside gender discrimination are not mutually exclusive. These have been recurring problematic issues within feminist discourse that have not been critically analyzed by mainstream feminism and society. However, with the inclusion and acceptance of intersectionality becoming more accepted and visible within academia and media, the acknowledgement of a wider range of womxn and experiences can be achieved.