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  • Emily Masseth

The Intersectionality of Feminism

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

What is intersectional feminism?


Intersectional feminism is the understanding of how a woman's identities overlap. These identities could include age, class, color, creed, disability, ethnicity, gender, political affiliation, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation and more; and impact the way a woman may experience discrimination and oppression from society.


Myself as a white woman, although I am discriminated against because of my gender, a black woman is at a larger disadvantage because of her gender and race. The intersectionality of feminism allows everyone to be a part of the conversation.


So, why is this so important?


It is important that as a person with higher privilege than others, we can acknowledge the different forms discrimination can take on. By recognizing that discrimination intersects with all identities and amplifies the already gender-based bias women are facing, we can reiterate that women's rights (a.k.a. basic human rights) are owed to women regardless of how they identify.


Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, an American lawyer, civil rights advocate, philosopher, co-founder of the #sayhername movement and UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School professor, specializes in race and gender issues. Crenshaw wrote a paper on the theory of intersectionality called Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color. In this paper Crenchaw wrote:


"My objective here is to advance the telling of that location by exploring the race and gender dimensions of violence against women of color. Contemporary feminist and antiracist discourses have failed to consider the intersections of racism and patriarchy. Focusing on two dimensions of male violence against women-battering and rape- I consider how the experiences of women of color are frequently the product of intersecting patterns of racism and sexism, and how these experiences tend not to be represented within the discourse of either feminism or antiracism. Because of their intersectional identity as both women and people of color within discourses that are shaped to respond to one or the other, the interests and experiences of women of color are frequently marginalized within both."


Crenshaw goes on to talk about the structural and political internationality in today's society when it comes to women, and specifically women of color. This theory is interesting because by combining gender and race, women across the board are on a scale determining their "worth" based on every part of their identity. For example, according to The Institute for Women's Policy Research, in 2019 a white female makes 78.4 percent of what a white male makes, while a black female makes 61.4 percent, a hispanic female makes 56 percent, and an Asian female makes 89.4 percent.


Pay does not only come down to race, it will include if a woman has children, what occupation they are in, what is the hierarchy of their social class and much more. Employers should not be pigeonholing women based on their gender or race for equal pay in the same position as their male counterparts. They should be allowing women to present their skills and qualifications to the table before determining rate of pay, regardless of gender, race, and other identifying factors. Pay only scratches the surface on the obstacles women have to face. We cannot be identified as one thing or another, each woman is made up of not only unique demographical information, but also psychographic characteristics.

Crenshaw also wrote another paper called Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Anti-discrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. Crenshaw goes onto say:


"After examining the doctrinal manifestations of this single-axis framework, I will discuss how it contributes to the marginalization of Black women in feminist theory and in antiracist politics. I argue that Black women are sometimes excluded from feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse because both are predicated on a discrete set of experiences that often does not accurately reflect the interaction of race and gender...Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated...the entire framework that has been used a basis for translating "women's experience" or "the Black experience" into concrete policy demands must be rethought and recast."


Crenshaw's quote can relate to the current rise of the 2020 Black Lives Movement, and I say 2020 because the discrimination and oppression against people of color have been going on for hundreds of year's. Identities are finally starting to blended together. Instead of it just being a "Black experience", it can be a "Black women's experience" or a "Black LGBTQ+ experience".


Women come from a range of backgrounds and if the world does not acknowledge all identities, then we may never make it to total equality and peace. The world has a long way to go when it comes to intersectionality, women's rights and people of color's rights, but having these conversations and identifying that we have a problem, we are one step closer to equality.


If you have more resources on the topic of intersectionality of feminism or how society can improve on this topic please comment them below.

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