Category Archives: Intersectionality 101

Discussion of the basic ideas of “Intersectionality”

‘Feminism Lite’. A response from Intersectional feminists by Christine Donayre

So a white bloke has figured out what’s wrong with feminism and has discovered ‘Feminism lite’? Really? Is ‘feminism lite’ is the new name for liberal feminism? Perhaps I should ask a man to explain it to me.

Right through the article by Antony Loewenstein on ‘Feminism Lite’, the author claims that men are scared of commenting about feminism for fear of backlash from women. Now, I don’t want to make light of any fear that the author may have genuinely experienced when deciding to comment on ‘feminism’ or not. What I will say is that surely this experience of feminists berating a white man expressing his opinion is not comparable to the reality faced by women on a day-to-day basis. The fear of walking down a dark street by yourself at night time anywhere in Sydney, walking past a group of men, having to confront dominating people in your life, reacting based on past abuse, or the fear that came across me just yesterday when I spotted an abusive ex-partner had viewed my LinkedIn account. These are fears women deal with every single day. Myself and hundreds and thousands of other women get that and all the fear that comes with being a woman. Maybe we should paraphrase Margaret Atwood:

‘Author is afraid feminists will be mean to him. Feminists are (still) afraid men will kill them’


Perhaps the author also gets mean comments because his position is patronising, and well… wrong.

It’s quite ironic isn’t it, that men feel that they can comment on feminism and how it is practised in Australia? Well thankfully for some, they have the luxury of having a platform to espouse their views that most feminists do not. This is a reference not just to the author of the piece but to mainstream feminists who purport to speak for all women, who also have platforms from which to preach their version of feminism. Nor, frankly, are even these least challenging of feminists offered a platform as often as men.

A brief feminism 101: what is being critiqued in the article is called ‘liberal feminism’. Yes it has its faults – the most common criticism is the idea that women can ‘win’ without acknowledging the inequitable power structures of capitalism, race, and ciscentrism. Yes this is wrong, exploitative even, particularly for low paid workers, and yes it does mean that not all women are represented. Thankfully we feminists have already been critiquing the wrongs of liberal feminism for quite some time now. We have managed to figure out some things about capital, power structures and patriarchy and their interconnectedness. There’s even a term for it. I’m not sure it’s in the womansplainer’s shopfront, but you could start here. The term to look for is ‘kyriarchy’ and/or ‘intersectional’.

There are feminists, not only in Australia but around the world, critiquing liberal feminism and doing other feminism at the same time.

Not only are individual feminists busy writing, representing, advocating, activating on behalf of the women that are left behind by liberal feminism but we are doing so on alternative media platforms. Firstly, obviously, we are not generally offered weekly columns in major publications to talk about race, class, disability, and feminism. Secondly, the feminism on offer in a lot of publications and the liberal feminists offered a platform do not represent us.

The group of intersectional feminists I work with have to beg for a platform – and we have to fit the work around our jobs, our children, our lives, and other commitments – for free. In fact it’s almost like people prefer to hear from mainstream feminists and white men on feminism. Go figure.

Whilst you may think that mainstream feminism is ‘feminism lite’ there is a place for it. It reaches people who have had no exposure to ideas around gender equality before. You start with the basics then you move on to other more complicated issues that intersect with feminism such as class, race, queerness, able-ism and the like. Let’s not touch on the other variations because we’re clearly still at 101 – see above, definition of liberal feminism. But surely this isn’t to argue that no feminism is better than liberal feminism?

It says more about the critics of feminism than it does about feminism itself that an assumption can be made that liberal feminism is not being critiqued or taken on enough in Australia. The feminists that have the ear of this nation, the Mia Freedmans etc do not represent all women. They sure as shit don’t represent me. For what its worth neither does the author.

I’m trying really hard not to put the boot in because I know that Antony is a decent person with decent politics, but please let’s not pretend that power structures aren’t at play here. Antony, is a white western male journalist, telling me and other feminists like me, that we are not doing feminism properly. From his published story in a major outlet, which he was hopefully paid for.

Feminists of colour, feminists with disabilities, intersex, cis-gendered, tran-sw*myn, indigenous feminists, eco-feminists, intersectional feminists – all of us – we have a voice. We are here. But for some it’s an uncomfortable voice to hear. And some, perhaps Anthony being one of them, don’t look for us.

The best thing to come out of the article for me has been the reactions from feminists, both here & abroad. To get a mention in the esteemable feminist blog Shakesville is no mean feat.

So next time it crosses your mind (white men and mainstream feminists) to talk about feminism, please do some research because then you will see that there’s a whole world of feminism out there and hopefully you will wonder why they aren’t getting the same kind of platform that you have and maybe, just maybe you can talk or write about that.

Here’s a handy listicle by Amy Gray which is a good counter article to Loewensteins.

Christine Donayre


Intersectionality and why we need it by Saman Shad @muminprogress

A quick post bringing your attention to a great article by Saman Shad (@muminprogress) on Intersectionality & why we need it. This article was first published on the Ideas at the House website on Monday 10 March 2014. Check it out:

Gender Based Violence meets Disability Violence

Gender based violence meets disability violence


Christina Ryan



The intersection of gender based violence and disability violence is the single biggest issue for women with disabilities globally. Across all of our cultures, our circumstances, and our levels of activism, violence tops the list every time. Yet little is being done to combat this major element in the lives of women with disabilities.


Why? Is it that it’s too hard? Is it that it’s not being approached through the lens of intersectionality? I would argue that it’s a bit of both, but it’s really the lack of an intersectional approach that is the biggest problem. The women’s movement forgets that women with disabilities have disabilities, and the disability movement doesn’t like to look at gender based violence. So, we’re stuck in the middle and get nowhere.


The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children (the National Plan) lists women with disabilities as one of the key demographic areas requiring significant attention. Yet only one small project was funded under the major funding round in 2012 to support the Plan achieving its targets. Not because good projects weren’t put forward, there were plenty, but because other areas of work have higher profiles, more political pressure attached to them, and are less uncomfortable to talk about.


You would think that the appallingly high rates of gender based violence experienced by many other Australian women might cause a similar effect, but somehow the 90% sexual assault rate for women with cognitive disabilities (Valenti-Hein, D. & Schwartz, L. 1995) trumps the lot when it comes time to look the other way. People really don’t want to know, much less do something about it. And the women who are affected are not women who are getting out in the street, or writing blogs, or being high profile about the need to make change. Many of the women affected are unable to get out in the street without the perpetrator supporting them to do so.


90% is just one statistic in this field but it’s pretty appalling.


Another one to look for is the incredibly high rate of rape and sexual assault for women in institutions and residential care – the women with disabilities who need high levels of daily support to survive. The UN CEDAW committee told Australia in 2010 that the level of violence perpetrated against these women needed to be urgently addressed, yet the National Plan hasn’t done anything about it, and nothing is currently being worked on. It’s not even recognised by the law as domestic violence.


In the end Women with Disabilities Australia was asked to provide evidence of the levels of violence, and its widespread nature despite two decades of work, research and publications about the issue. After some intense lobbying a project to gather evidence was funded.


One of the biggest barriers to addressing violence against women with disabilities is the lack of understanding about what it looks like. Sure, there is the same horrific gender based violence that all women are at risk of experiencing, but the added layer of disability violence changes the picture entirely. That 90% figure doesn’t come from nowhere, it’s about an extension of the power dynamic that is gender based violence, and how it intersects with disability violence and its dehumanising of people with disabilities.


Women with disabilities experience violence in a number of ways, some of which are not even recognised by government policy makers as “violence” and this is part of the problem. If policy makers won’t even recognise that this is a form of gender based violence then we will continue to get nowhere.


Women with disabilities are physically and chemically restrained, have their aids and equipment withheld, are told they are “ugly sluts” yet are raped at higher levels than other women, have their disability used against them through either verbal or physical abuse, are sadistically experimented on to “see what happens”, are sexually coerced and exploited, are raped after being immobilised by drugs or having their mobility equipment taken away, are locked up in back rooms,  are gang raped in their workplaces, have their children removed, and are sterilised.


Gender based violence uses power as its ultimate weapon. Disability related violence uses the person’s disability as the weapon by turning it back on the person with disability. Women with disabilities live with a combination of the two forms of violence perpetrated by those most close to them on whom they must depend on.


Many many women with disabilities are not safe in their homes or places of residence, and are not believed when something happens. Many are disbelieved or accused of crying wolf to get attention. It is quite common for the perpetrator to also be the person who facilitates contact with the outside world, so the women is left with no option but to stay silent. Worse still these places are often not covered by domestic violence law (pg8) as they are not defined as “domestic”, despite being where women with disabilities live, so the exit pathways are limited to common assault with its heavier burden of proof.


Families keep their daughters locked away for “safety”, or put them under guardianship to prevent them being anywhere they don’t know about, or tell them to “move on” if they have been raped. The barriers other women face in speaking out about rape and violence are compounded by the need to seek permission from families to speak out. Many just bury it and try to forget, or don’t bother speaking up next time it happens.


Ultimately, gender based violence towards women with disabilities is very hidden, rarely responded to by the justice system, and poorly responded to by both disability services and women’s services. Recently there has been substantial work done to increase the capacity of women’s services to respond to women with disabilities but these systems still rely on women who are able to initiate their exit pathway and who can operate fairly independently.


I work with women with cognitive disabilities and am daily confronted by the 90% sexual assault rate. Some years ago I realised that just about every women I came into contact with through my work had most likely been raped or assaulted, sterilised, had her children removed, and/or been sexually exploited at some time in her life. Most women experience many types of violence and more than once. Disturbingly, many women know something is wrong (pg7), feel uncomfortable about it, but accept that this is just what being a woman with disability is about.


Until violence against women with disabilities is responded to through an intersectional lens, which recognises that this is about both gender and disability at the same time, it is unlikely we will make any progress towards addressing what is going on. We need a disability sector which understands gender based violence, and a women’s services sector which has a better handle on understanding disability. There is no other way. We can’t just keep pretending it isn’t happening and hope it will all go away.



Majorite Opprimee: Feminist blinkers

For the last couple of days this short video called, “Majorite Opprimee” by Eleonoré Pourriat has caused a sensation online for her no holds bar reverse representation of overt sexual harrassment of women.

From the confronting view of women jogging braless, to the sight of the hero of the film being threatened with gang rape, this film has an important message.

Many western liberal feminists groups and publications have applauded the video extolling the method to get this message across – the interchange of sexes to make a point.

What I find amusing (I’m being polite) is the blatant racism in the video. In one scene our hero/ine asks the muslim nanny whether he is hot under his hijab and tells him that he is not the property of his wife.

This is demeaning dialogue. The muslim nanny is portrayed as a typical one dimensional submissive muslim woman. The assumptions about muslim women and religion are offensive.

Majorite Opprimee is a good example of the blinkers that western liberal feminists in the West wear when dealing with or talking to Women of Colour (WoC). These blinkers overlook the condescension and ultimately the racism that their intentions & overtures to WoC is couched in. Western liberal feminists assume that their way of life is the right way of life and the way of life that WoC should aspire to.

These blinkers are also a symptom of an assumption that liberal feminism is the key to all women’s problems. I like to call this assumption the invisible hand of western feminism. As if the benefits that western feminists enjoy will trickle down to third world feminists.

I’m sorry but I don’t aspire to be on the board of a multinational corporation (on the same wage as my male colleagues) that exploits nature and workers in order to make a profit. I’d prefer to identify and smash the structures that are in place that have created and maintain ‘third world’ economies and poverty. What is the point of being equal to men if you are complicit in the destruction of workers rights & the environment. I just don’t get that.

There was a clever twitter hashtag last week #IfIWasWhite. This was my contribution:

#IfIWasWhite I would ignore the racism in the latest viral feminist hit on social media.

Let’s not celebrate feminism when it is racist or classist or homophobic or trans* phobic or ableist please.

Christine Donayre

Soy feminista or growing up a Peruvian feminist in Australia

I stumbled across this article that really spoke to me about my experience growing up Latina in Australia.  What I thought was telling, apart from the similarities in the article to myself was that I sourced it from a Facebook group of Latina feminists called Cholactivists. The word cholactivist is a play on two words, firstly and most obviously the word activist, secondly and more importantly the word “chola”. “Chola” in Peruvian culture is a derogatory term that is used to insult people who are or look or behave in a way that accentuates their indigenous roots.

In my family we don’t celebrate or emphasis our Inca heritage – maybe if we’re talking to non-Peruvians, then its something to be proud of – but if we’re talking amongst ourselves and our friends we don’t mention it or claim it.   It is this deliberate non-claim to our indigenous heritage that I find disturbing.  I am very proud to be a chola and to be descended from the Incas.

I guess, for me, claiming my heritage has been a learning curve and a consequence of my experience growing up brown in Australia.  When my parents came to Sydney my mother was on a plane with other South American migrants. These other South Americans became my adopted family in Australia.  We had barbeques (read ate Peruvian, Chilean food) together, celebrated birthdays, played scalas y trios together and danced.  Boy did we dance!

Even though I was surrounded by my familia en Australia I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish.  My dad made the decision very early on that my sisters and I were not allowed to speak Spanish at home so that we would learn English and therefore not be discriminated against when we went to school.  Even so my sisters and I were put into ESL classes.

While it may have put us kids in good stead in the future it didn’t make an ounce of difference in the playground.  Being brown in Blacktown in the 70’s was not fun.  I recall having a friend in 1st grade, we were drawn to each other because we used to chase boys and shout out “spunkless” to them, thinking we were very cool (I know, we clearly didn’t know what it meant). I later realised why I sought out Sylvia Lopez as my friend in first grade.

Desperate to be like everyone else my classmates wouldn’t let me play British Bulldog even though I was a fast sprinter.  I was told in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t play because I was brown and just like that my difference was laid bare, open to ridicule and derision.

This sense of ‘otherness’ has never left me.  It still pervades today.  For instance, I’m usually the one in the meeting asking the question, “What about migrants? What about women of colour?” or “I think that this policy decision could be seen to be racist.  I’ll tell you why …” or “I think it would be better if we took our cue from feminists groups within their own country rather than us saying that the women in X should do YZ, yes?  We don’t want to appear to be privileged western feminists telling women in X what to do” and my personal favourite, “Talking about migrants in this way (stopping immigration as a way to deal with overpopulation) is offensive and could be seen to be racist by a large number of people, here take a look at this Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia article on the issue”.

I dislike feeling like the only brown person in the room pointing out shit, but apparently that is what I do now.  Just to set the record straight, I consider myself to be privileged because I grew up in Australia and have a western education.  

I’ll go back to the article I referred to above because it brings to light a lot of identity issues that I can relate to. It is true there is not a large Latino community in Australia so you tend to notice other Latinos.  If we get over our shyness and say hello to each other, the inevitable happens.  The other person starts talking in Spanish and I have to say in my bad spanish, “Sorry, no habla espanol.” Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.  Then the questions start, why not, why didn’t your parents make you speak spanish, you were born here? The last question seems to settle the whole discussion.  Ah! You were born here. You’re not Peruvian, you’re Australia.  The implication being, of course, that I am not a real Latina.

I find this comment very galling because everything else about me is Latina and its pointed out to me in different ways nearly everyday.  My looks, my ability to dance salsa, my love and desire for the magical realism genre, my temper, my passion for politics, love, sex and laughter, the fact that I celebrate Xmas on Xmas Eve and open my presents at 12am like all other Latinos around the world and most importantly my skin colour.

Being Latina is not about meeting some mythical standard, it’s not about having certain skills or traits.  I am Latina because I was born this way, because of my childhood, because of the way I feel.

It has taken me a long time but I now love my skin colour and difference.  Now I celebrate my difference and I acknowledge my roots.  It may make people uncomfortable but that’s ok.  They can deal.

I’ve always been political, ever since my father used to tell my sisters and I stories about the atrocities that the Spanish committed on the Incas.  This connection with politics and social justice has led to many interesting jobs, activism and friendships for example working at the old Aboriginal Legal Service, organising an eco-feminist conference in Sydney, going to the s11 protests in Melbourne & meeting Vandana Shiva, working for Senator Kerry Nettle, becoming a Greens Councillor in Sydney, campaigning against the foetal personhood laws in NSW (Zoe’s law) and now working for a union (Fire Brigade Employees’ Union).

While I was at Uni, which proved too difficult to finish as a single mother, the things I learnt there opened up my mind in a way I had never contemplated.  Learning about the historical, economic and political reasons why less developed countries were, well, less developed explained a lot particularly in relation to the impacts and effects of colonisation on indigenous peoples.

My introduction to feminism was also mind blowing.  I remember well learning the various ‘stages’ of feminism but the ‘stage’ that spoke to me and made my heart sing was ‘feminism from below’ or feminism from ‘women of colour’.  I had never questioned the feminism that I saw all around me before, liberal feminism.  I could now put a name to it and recognise that it didn’t speak for me or to me.

We touched upon the book,  “This bridge called my Back” – Writings by Radical Women of Colour edited by Cherrie Moraga &  Gloria E Anzaldua.  These women were like me!  They were writing about my experience, but they were from the US.  I couldn’t for a long time find anything similar for Latinas like me in Australia, although I must acknowledge Colectivo Mujer a group of feministas in Sydney campaigning around many issues including reproductive rights.  There is a whole community of feministas organising, advocating and talking to each other in the US hence my love affair with US feministas on Twitter and Facebook.

The current face of Australian feminism is too white, too middle class & too privileged.  She does not speak for me or the many women of colour in this country who are either migrants, first or second generation Australians or Indigenous women.   Sexism and racism do not occur in a vacuum. For those of us that are ‘other’ this is what we deal with on an every day basis.  

This is why I am involved with Intersectionality Times.  We want to provide that space for those of us that have been ‘othered’.  We are the diverse majority.

Christine Donayre

Intersectionality 101 – sexism / ableism

Intersectionality 101 – sexism / ableism

 by Christina Ryan

Women are taught from a young age that we should be nice, pleasant, calm and polite when we want to speak up. Often we are encouraged not to speak up at all and to let others have the opinions. Women everywhere know that they have to fight hard to build courage to say what they want to say and to be taken seriously when they say it.

It is very common to be told we are being emotional when we speak articulately and passionately about something, when men are never given such tags. Rather they are applauded for being clear minded and having something to say.

This is basic sexism and we’ve all experienced it.

For women with disabilities there is an extra and very deep layer of prejudice added to the sexism experienced by all women.

People with disabilities are conditioned to be passive and grateful recipients for the support that we get. We are so “other” that many of us feel the need to apologise: for our difference, for taking up too much space, for interrupting someone to ask for assistance. We are made to feel awkward and people find us a bit scary.

Our community doesn’t value the opinions of people with disabilities, certainly doesn’t see us as equal participants in public debate, and rarely seeks our opinion about anything. There are few community leaders with disabilities in Australia, and those that have come and gone have mainly worked in the field of disability. The parliaments, judiciary, public sector and corporate world all display a dearth of disability, and particularly at the top. In Australia the few that have risen to leadership positions have also mainly been men. The same sexism that works in the wider world is also at work in the disability community.

The most common presence of people with disabilities in the public domain is in the media via case studies used for dramatic effect in various tragic stories of lack of support or terrible disadvantage. These stories only reinforce the pathetic and passive stereotype of people with disabilities that the majority of the community holds. Think about the last time you saw a person with disability on the news or current affairs – were they there as an expert social commentator or as someone who was having a hard time personally?

Something that is less obvious is that most of these stories are also about men with disabilities. Why? Because it is much more likely that the family of a man with disability will stick by him and advocate strongly for his needs than it is for any woman with disability. Our families are more likely to advocate for their sons. So, the invisible nature of women with disabilities is perpetuated and the prejudice about us being hopeless, passive, incapable, and un-opinionated continues because there is nothing out there to counter it.

So, we are silenced.

For over fifteen years the figures on who gets disability support haven’t changed. Sixty to seventy per cent of disability supports in Australia, both state by state and nationally, go to men with disabilities. So, women with disabilities are less likely to be out and about getting an education, getting employed, developing skills and confidence, and becoming respected.

End result; we stay invisible in the public domain and the public discourse because we don’t have what we need to be visible.

Early indications from NDIS launch sites are that this gender discrepancy won’t change. It is families of males with disabilities who are applying for their sons, and applying for more supports. Women with disabilities are being left to apply for themselves, or seek formal services to do so for them, and then they only ask for some basic necessities rather than for everything they need. Unless strong mechanisms are built into the scheme which monitor the gender discrepancy AND work to address it nothing will change and women with disabilities will remain invisible.

The result of this continuing invisibility, and lack of equality and respect, is that women with disabilities are not valued when we do speak.

If women with disabilities assert our view, question what is happening to us, or develop an opinion about politics or world affairs we are silenced, sometimes brutally. We must not have opinions, certainly shouldn’t air them, and if something needs to be said someone will say it for us. We must be good little girls, stay nice, and modestly accept our lot.

A further element of this intersectional discrimination is that we are childified. Many women with disabilities, including myself, speak of being treated as though we are children. It is very common for women with disabilities to be referred to as “girls”, as someone who is still young and must be looked after. Women experiencing this are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, yet they are still treated like 16 year olds.

Why does this happen? Because young women are less threatening, they will be less experienced, and the community can discount their opinions as naïve.

I work in disability advocacy. It is my job to speak up about what is happening to people with disabilities and to do something about it. This is quite confronting for those that I speak to as I also have a visible disability. Someone like me shouldn’t be articulate, shouldn’t have an opinion, and certainly shouldn’t hold down a job running an organisation.

Women that my organisation advocates for have an even more challenging time of it. Many live in residential care (small institutions) and require daily support to get by. When these women question their support they are silenced in more overt ways. The two most common forms of silencing are chemical restraint (drugging them quiet) and guardianship (handing their decision making over to someone else).

So, let’s go back to the beginning: as a woman you already need to get some courage together to ask your question, speak your mind, and assert your position. Yet when a woman with disability does this she is either drugged into submission, or her decision making is legally handed over to someone else so that she doesn’t have to be listened to ever again.

We must remain childlike, good little girls, who don’t question and don’t rock the boat. Everyone else knows best and will do what is right, we don’t have to worry about it, and we aren’t welcome to worry about it.

Most other women in our community are actively encouraged to find their voice and use it, but for women with disabilities the opposite applies. We are actively discouraged and actively silenced when we speak up.

Intersectionality is a vital tool for women with disabilities. It is central to explaining the multiple forms of discrimination that we experience every day. By looking at our lives through an intersectional lens we are able to understand that it isn’t just about the sexism that all women experience, but about disability discrimination as well. Through intersectionality we can consider all of these discriminations working in concert and work to address them.