Given that March 8th is International Women’s Day, I wanted to write about the idea of intersectional feminism this month. It’s a topic that is being discussed more and more, and one that I am very passionate about.
At a glance, intersectionality is the idea that oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected, and cannot be addressed separately from one another.
The term Intersectional Feminist comes from the legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw. She coined the term “intersectionality” in her 1989 essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”.
As a white cis* heterosexual woman it is my responsibility to ensure that when I approach feminism it is from an intersectional perspective. It is far too easy for women like me to approach feminism in a way that excludes other women (often women of colour, and trans* women).
I’m going to use Patricia Arquette’s well intended (but horribly executed) comments at the 2015 Oscars as an example of why intersectionality is important.
Hoping to bring attention to gender based wage inequality, Ms. Arquette spoke about this issue in her Oscars acceptance speech. She made further comments in the press room after the awards - it is these comments that are the most disappointing. She said: “…it is time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of colour that we’ve all fought for, to fight for us now”.
What sticks out to me most here is that gay people and people of colour are in a different group than women. She says the people of colour and gay people need to “fight for us now”, who is the “us” in that line? What about women of colour? What about gay women? What about gay women of colour? It’s as if these women do not exist in her definition of women. In her effort to support women, she alienated both women of colour and LGBTQ women. I understand that this was likely not her intention, but the fact that she worded it this way is a major concern - and not an isolated issue in the feminist movement.
I am eager to move away from what is called “White Feminism” and move towards Intersectional Feminism. Intersectional feminism understands that you cannot separate the issues LGBTQ people face from the issues women face, because there are LGBTQ Women. You cannot spate the issues people of colour face from the issues women face, because there are women of colour. We need to make space for the intersections of oppression to be examined, criticised, and fought against. We need to ensure that while we fight for women’s rights, we are fighting for ALL women’s rights, not just the rights of some.
For a more in depth review of Patricia Arquette’s comments check out this article by Nyasha Junior.
"Cis" is the term for someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
"Trans*" is the term for individuals who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.