Feminism needs intersectionality
Grace Sullivan | Wednesday, February 1, 2023
In the latter nineteenth and early twentieth century, the suffrage movement gained momentum and initiated the first wave of feminism: a global movement that has continued to live on for decades. Feminism continues to fight for women’s equality in order to create a more equal society that does not discriminate on the basis of gender. However, not all women are included in the feminist movement since racist suffragists have excluded the voices of Black women. So while feminism claimed to be a sisterhood between all women, discrimination and exclusion were taking place within the very movement that aims to fight against oppression. How can the feminist movement claim to be for all women when it excludes women of color?
Our society was built by, led by and made for men. We live in a patriarchal society that allows men to hold the power while women are pushed to the side to create room for male dominance and success. However, not only do we live in a patriarchy, but also in a nation built on white supremacy, both of which serve as the infrastructure for our society. More specifically, we live in a society where the idea of success was made to be fulfilled by cisgender, white, heterosexual, middle-class men. This leaves any other identity that falls outside this norm vulnerable to oppression.
The mainstream feminist movement is largely made up of white women. Therefore, while white women experience oppression because of their gender identity, they also experience white privilege because of their racial identity. Thus, the term “white feminism” accurately refers to the mainstream movement as it does not include the wide variety of women’s diverse identities. Racism, classism, homophobia and other forms of oppression are a feminist issue for these identity traits are present in many women’s identities. Combating racism should become an essential part of the feminist movement, along with classism and homophobia, as all women have different intersecting identities that impact the way they experience the world. As Martin Luther King once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Feminism can not just fight for equality in one area since many individual’s experience oppression in multifaceted ways.
According to this article, intersectionality, a term coined by professor Kimberle Crenshaw, describes how race, class, gender and other individual characteristics intersect and overlap with one another. The feminist movement adheres to the experience of cis-gendered, straight, white, middle-class women who focus on gender inequality instead of other forms of oppression since women with this specific identity only experience injustice in this area. On the other hand, intersectional feminism takes into account the full person by acknowledging all aspects of an individual’s identity to promote the inclusion of diverse groups of women who experience various forms of oppression and privilege. Instead of only looking at the issue of gender inequality, intersectional feminism looks at all forms of injustice that impact women.
Intersectional feminism gives us a lens to observe how the world impacts different groups of people. It is both a tool and a solution for analyzing and combating all forms of oppression. While using an intersectional feminist lens can bring attention to a variety of problems we face nationally, it can also highlight global issues faced by humankind as a whole. Issues of poverty, homophobia, sexism, racism, religious freedom, education and more are all feminist issues. Feminism is more than what meets the eye, it is an essential strategy for ending injustice all over the world to promote equality for all of humanity. Instead of creating a “one-sized fits all” solution to combating injustice, intersectional feminism gives us the means to look at the root of a variety of issues to find unique solutions that address specific problems. Although gender inequality is an important issue, intersectional feminism is so much more than a movement for women, rather, it is a movement that promotes human flourishing, equality and justice.
Identity is complex. It contains a multitude of diverse traits that make up humanity. People can experience both privilege and oppression, while others experience exclusively one or the other. Intersectional feminism allows us to look at all the components of our identity and how they determine our experience in the world. In the context of the feminist movement, how can intersectional feminism promote inclusion? Well, it starts with the equal recognition of privilege and oppression in white women’s identity. All women deserve to be a part of a movement that represents them. Mainstream feminism needs to start representing a wider diversity of identities, instead of only focusing on the parts of your identity that experience inequality. In order for feminism to be more inclusive, white women need to use their privilege to amplify marginalized voices that continue to be drowned out and silenced. Many women of color are doing important work to make critical societal changes, but the hard work goes unnoticed because of the racial and gender hierarchy embedded in our society. Women must support all women, not just the ones with the same identity as them. As the famous Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde explained, “Change means growth, and growth can be painful. But we sharpen self-definition by exposing the self in work and struggle together with those whom we define as different from ourselves, although sharing the same goals. For Black and white, old and young, lesbian and heterosexual women alike, this can mean new paths to our survival”. It is time for us to recognize our differences and acknowledge all injustices so we can unite in the fight towards overarching equality.
Grace Sullivan is a first-year at Notre Dame studying global affairs with a minor in gender studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she is passionate about looking at global social justice issues through an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting and being a plant mom. She can be reached at at [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.