Intersectionality, explained

By Cristal Maria March 27th, 2017

The recent rise of the Third Feminist Wave took the media by a storm. It’s not news that Feminist circles are prominent and commonplace on social media.

Among these Feminist circles, a word keeps popping up and buzzing around, shaking up and sometimes even dividing the circles themselves: intersectionality.

The term “intersectionality” was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in her critical race theories that highlighted the combination, or “intersection” of different forms of discrimination that can occur simultaneously.

According to Everyday Feminism, intersectionality is an “approach to feminism [that] examines the way different forms of oppression — you guessed it — intersect.” But what does that even mean?

Let’s break that down.

What is feminism specifically defined as? According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Simple, right? Except, true equality requires a much more complex look at the definition of feminism.

Are political, economic, and social issues the same across gender, race, and class? Put plainly, no.

Here are some helpful facts:

  1. The 1920’s is commonly known as the year womyn got the right to vote. However, it was actually White womyn who got the right to vote in 1920. Native Americans — womyn included — didn’t get the vote until 1947. African American womyn didn’t get the vote until the 1960s. The Latinx womyn didn’t see the vote until 1975. So when womyn’s suffrage is celebrated the day white womyn got the vote, the struggle and history of womyn of color is completely erased, ignoring the added oppressions womyn of color have faced and still face today.
  2. One of the most common facts brought up as evidence of the gender wage gap is that womyn make 78 cents to a man’s dollar. It’s actually much more complex than that. To fully understand the gender wage gap, race must also be incorporated into the conversation. First, the “man’s dollar” is actually white men’s dollar. Men of color (men who identify with a race other than white) make less than white men. Second, only white womyn make 78 cents to every white man’s dollar. For every dollar a white man makes, Black womyn make 64 cents, Native American womyn make 59 cents, and Latinx womyn make 54 cents. In other words, race and gender intersect within the gender wage gap.

Okay, so womyn experience oppression in different ways based on other parts of their identities. Why does this matter?

What it boils down to is the actual goal of feminism — the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Intersectionality simply highlights that there is more work to be done to dismantle oppression than what is usually shown in White Feminism.

What’s White Feminism? No, it’s not about womyn who are white and happen to be feminists. Rather, the term describes a problematic kind of feminism that focuses on the non-inclusive issues that mostly white womyn face, ignoring the struggle and oppression of womyn of color.

Everyday Feminism unpacked it best: “White Feminism refers to the practicing of a feminism that assumes white (cis, straight, able-bodied, thin, middle-to-upper class) women as the default, actively avoiding critical analysis on any axis other than gender, thereby leading to a cookie-cutter feminism that can only possibly be useful to those it’s intended for: white women.”

Intersectional feminism recognizes that a white, straight, able-bodied, and thin womyn doesn’t experience oppression, and namely sexism or misogyny, the same way a black, gay, disabled, larger womyn would.

Intersectionality isn’t a blame game — it’s not blaming or crucifying white womyn. It’s about recognizing innate privileges and disadvantages that come along with certain identities — and keeping this in mind during all interactions with other people.

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