Why We Need Intersectional Feminism Now More Than Ever
In the past year, we’ve probably all heard the term “feminism” thrown around more often than in all prior years, regardless of our personal opinions on the way it has been portrayed. And while we can all (probably) agree that the need for active, aware feminists is greater now more than ever before, the question becomes: how can we tackle this monster of an issue together? With recent historical examples like the Women’s March, we have seen the power of organized resistance, but how can we proceed when there are as many types of feminism as there are feminists?
In order to effectively explore all aspects of feminism, let’s first provide a general definition: feminism relates the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. But from Marxists to radicals, the spectrum of feminism is truly limitless. Still, events like the 2016 election bind us all together, reminding feminists that even when the scales appear to be evening out, the actions and beliefs of one party can still threaten to knock down years of heartfelt progress. I myself identify with, and will go on to advocate for, intersectional feminism; but prior to this election, I didn’t feel the need to specify my own brand of feminism. So, let’s retrace the steps that led to the very great need for inclusive, supportive, all-encompassing feminism.
To briefly return to that fateful November night, I, like many others, was attempting to attend to my responsibilities in spite of the near-crippling anxiety that came on at about the time of Trump’s Republican candidacy announcement. From that point onward, my fear increased with every absurd rally and debate. I won’t even attempt to categorize the vast majority of Trump’s statements as idiotic, because that would be too kind, as it offers an excuse for such inappropriate conduct. Rather, the things that I heard articulated were downright dangerous. From pussy-grabbing to Islamophobia, Trump’s toxicity permeated every corner of this country. Naturally, this poison spread to my campus, where I slowly made my way to a writing workshop on November 8, 2016. Everything seemed to move very slowly; people were sluggish and distracted, walking aimlessly in what appeared to be quiet contemplation. And even though fall never truly comes to my sunny coastal town, something like a moody fog hung in the air, clinging to everything around it, making trees droop depressedly and birds return to their nests to wait out the figurative storm. Despite the fact that we were in the midst of editing each other’s very personal writings, our writing instructor was, apparently, unable to ignore the pronounced mood shift that had gripped the place. Instead, she asked, in the sincerest of tones, if we were okay. And as it turned out, we were not okay.
In short, Trump, a former Democrat, catered to an extreme right audience, promising to exit the Paris Climate Accord, repeal and replace Obamacare, and build a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. While these might not sound like feminist issues, they are human issues, and that is, after all, what feminism is all about. Contemporary feminism articulates the fact that, as Hillary Clinton famously said, “women’s rights are human rights.” Moreover, feminists must concern themselves with all intersections of oppression, wherever they occur, because no system of injustice can be truly undone without the thorough destruction of all injustices. While taking on all systems of oppression might seem too large a task to ever accomplish, keeping this goal in mind is the only way to a better, freer world for all.
The need for intersectional feminism in Trump’s America is particularly apparent when one considers the stereotypes that are too often applied to feminism as a whole. Feminists are often portrayed as man-hating, pseudo intellectual, white women who only preach the value of gender equality because they are in a privileged position that means that the only sphere in which they suffer is that of being female in a world built upon the ideals of patriarchy. Though this is hardly the case, it would serve feminists to debunk this myth through a methodical examination of all avenues of oppression in order to to apply the most ethical, humanist approach to feminism.
This is where intersectional feminism comes in. Intersectional feminism, coined by leading critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, can be summed up as the belief that women experience oppression in varying structures and in differing degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are cyclic, and it is impossible to truly achieve gender equality without conquering all socially intersecting areas of injustice. Crenshaw cites specific examples of societal intersections that lead to further marginalization, including race, gender, class, ability, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Although some of these specifics might seem obvious, the fact remains that mainstream feminism too often represents one small sphere of oppression without considering the multiple layers of suffering that occur in all women’s lives.
These intersections of injustice have never been more apparent in the United States than they are now, under the Trump administration, which not only threatens reproductive rights, but promotes police brutality, environmental destruction, and the stripping of affordable health care from millions of Americans. While these issues affect everyone, the sad fact remains that they affect each of us in varying degrees of intensity. For example, 54% of Planned Parenthood centers operate within rural or medically underserved areas of the United States, providing reproductive healthcare services to women who would otherwise have zero access to such care. And while environmental destruction hurts every person on this planet, one need look no further than Flint, Michigan to observe the ways in which environmental racism is largely overlooked by mainstream feminists. It is critical that we, as feminists, are willing to examine every crossroad of oppression in order to embody the true humanist ideals that we claim to represent.
I myself have been very fortunate in life. I was born and raised in California and New York, two liberal communities that offered me heightened awareness from a young age. My parents both hold postgraduate degrees, provided a comfortable home life, and emphasized the importance of education as one of the only ways to ensure success in life. I am biracial, which, while isolating at times, is nothing compared to the level of oppression that a biracial woman living in a conservative red state might experience. But this difference captures the great need for intersectional feminism: we, with our varying degrees of injustice, must stick up for one another because of our differences, and not in spite of them. Feminists can no longer afford to be seen as “mainstream,” and must instead practice conscientious, inclusive feminism that protects all people, because the only way to eradicate oppression is to acknowledge and then confront it, in all of its forms.