If it ain’t intersectional, it ain’t feminism

Feminism has a terrible history of being focussed on white, middle-class women. You know that. I know that. Most of Twitter knows that. That’s why whenever a white celebrity feminist fails to acknowledge black women, the internet blows up. It’s why Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was immediately criticised for saying that trans women aren’t women.

And it’s why Twitter is full of battle cries proclaiming that the only true feminism is intersectional feminism.

For those of you not in the know, intersectional feminism acknowledges that women are not women in a vacuum. Women are black women and trans women and poor women and disabled women. All those other identifiers influence how a woman experiences womanhood. It was a term originally coined by American civil rights advocate, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe how social identities and systems of oppression and discrimination can overlap (or intersect), and although it was coined in specific relation to how black women experience misogyny differently from white women, it is now used to apply to a feminism that is inclusive of all women.

On the face of it, this isn’t a controversial idea. It seems pretty obvious that different women experience the world and misogyny differently. It’s clear, surely, that feminism should be fighting for all those women. And yet, time and time again loud, vocal, ardent (white) feminists fail to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, the experience of white women isn’t the experience of all women.

Hence the battle cries. Hence the posters scrawled with If it ain’t intersectional, it ain’t feminism.

But the problem with the battle cries is that they aren’t actually doing anything. They’re not showing white feminists the light of intersectionality, they’re just shifting the blame. Instead of recognising that there is a very real problem within our feminist movement that needs solving, these battle criers are simply pretending that non-intersectional (or ‘white’) feminists don’t exist.

When we call white feminists fake feminists, we fail to take responsibility for the members in our ranks. We don’t say ‘this is a problem we need to fix’, we say ‘this isn’t really a problem within our actual movement’. But as long as white feminists call themselves feminists, they are part of our movement. Telling them that they’re not real feminists won’t stop them calling themselves feminists. It certainly won’t stop the critics from tarring us all with the same brush.

So next time your problematic fave (mine is Caitlin Moran, FYI) is a little too problematic, instead of casting them out of feminism and distancing yourself from their ideology, talk to them. Educate them — and, more importantly, educate others who might be more willing to listen. Instead of kicking them out, challenge them to do better. Keep challenging them until they listen. Keep challenging them even when they show no sign of listening.

Because kicking them out of our movement might make us feel better, but it won’t make them do better.

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, the Anti-Fascist Babe Club.

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