We get it. “Intersectionality” is confusing and, for many, disconcerting.
We know that it’s about pointing out “DIFFERENCES”, which is pretty hard to talk about.
And we understand that “Intersectionality” is a long word and that it comes up with the red line on spell check to indicate that it is WRONG.
We also accept that the term itself has origins in academia (it was first used by an Ivy League professor in a law journal article*) and that a lot of people who do not have access to the sandstone courtyards of universities may not have the time to understand a 60-something page article about it.
So why are some people so adamant on using it? Why have we started a whole freaking blog about it and why are we setting ourselves up as “different”?
The short answer is that for some of us, intersectionality is not a theory. It is the articulation of the everyday realities at the cross roads of a society where gender, race, class, ability, gender identity and many other social facets directly impact our lives.
We cannot isolate one aspect of who we are to focus solely on gender issues. It is impossible for an hyphenated Australian (ie “NOT WHITE”) feminist to talk about feminism without thinking about the impact of racism. It is unfair to expect a woman with disability to focus on the effect of gender norms without referring to how ableism creates structural barriers.
As Audre Lorde explained in I Am Your Sister, it is impossible to only consider one aspect of one’s identities and experiences:
“I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the front upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.”
Flavia Dzodan’s perfect words explain how, for those of us who must deal with different forms of oppression every single day of our lives, our “feminism must be intersectional or it will be bullshit“.
A comment on the first post of this blog last week expressed worry that:
our commonalities as feminists, regardless of our ethnicity or socio-economic status should be first and foremost celebrated and encouraged. I am a little concerned that an over emphasis on our differences may detract from the important work of creating solidarity amongst all women.
Here’s the thing: for many “women of other” (as we have decided to call ourselves) our commonalities as feminists, regardless of our ethnicity or socio-economic status are, unfortunately, first and foremost ignored and discouraged.
Last year’s #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen discussion was described by Mikki Kendall as being “intended to be Twitter shorthand for how often feminists of color are told that the racism they experience “isn’t a feminist issue”.”
Sadly, racism is very much a feminist issue when that racism occurs within the structures of feminist movements and ideas. It is also very unfortunate that mainstream feminism will demand that issues related to other types of marginalisation such as disability or gender identity are put on the back burner in order to focus attention on action that only benefits a very specific group of women.
It is ironic that “solidarity” is often used as a tool to silence by a movement that aims to speak out against injustice. Those who purport to speak for equality will dismiss criticism with a wave of their rhetorical hand, denouncing the proponents of intersectionality for playing “identity politics” and using high-brow theoretical arguments, thereby trying to shut them up from making inconvenient observations.
Guess what? The concept of “identity politics“, used so snobbishly and dismissively in this fashion, is just as theoretical and academically airy-fairy as anything else.
In a world where Arianna Huffington is setting up a new “comment and news website that looks set to become a platform for some of the most powerful people on the planet” and feminist/women’s sites like The Hoopla only publish articles from already “famous” “personalities” to promote their “opinions”, it seems that it is getting harder and harder for minority voices to get a so-called seat at the table.
Writing in EBONY in the wake of #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, Kendall asked what “solidarity” might actually look like if it is to become an effective part of the feminist movement:
True solidarity and community building demands addressing the problems inherent in a movement attempting to encompass the needs of so many different types of people. I want #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen to spark open, ongoing discussions that make it impossible for these same conversations to be happening 10 years from now, much less 100. In order for feminism to truly represent all women, it has to expand to include the concerns of a global population. The first step is listening to each other, the second is knowing that trust is a requirement for any community to be healthy, and third is doing the work of building trust and relationships so that actual solidarity is possible. We’re talking. Now is an excellent time to listen.
Believe it or not, this blog actually is about solidarity because those involved would like to be able to be part of conversations about how women’s equality movements can truly support all women. Asking for inclusion is quite simply the opposite of divisiveness.
Rather than highlighting differences for the sake of maintaining differences, intersectionality actually helps to show the commonalities of oppression and the ways in which women can work together for equality. Discrimination does not occur in a vacuum, and often the modus operandi of one form of oppression operates in concert with others. Intersectionality is a useful consideration for addressing the way mainstream society works against those in the margins.
We hope this site will grow organically through discussion about the ways intersectionality can support and allow Women of Other to speak about their experiences outside of the mainstream.
Perhaps one day someone else might even listen.
*Note: Kimberle Crenshaw “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color” Stanford Law Review Vol. 43, No. 6 (Jul., 1991), pp. 1241-1299