How Does Intersectionality Shape Our Understanding of Womanhood?
March 7, 2022
What is intersectionality?
International Women’s Month originates from Women’s History Week, which began in 1981 as a national recognition of the accomplishments and progression toward liberation for women. As we celebrate the fight for gender equality this March, it is important to acknowledge that the intersecting identities of women influence the way they experience and are perceived by the world. Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality,” defining it as an intersectional approach (to feminism) that shows the way peoples social identities can overlap, creating compounding experiences of discrimination. Recognizing historical oppression toward women with marginalized identities is critical to understanding the importance of intersectionality. Inequalities women experience tend to intersect, such as living below the poverty line, racism, or being a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Why do we need intersectionality?
White women dominate conversations regarding the liberation of women as a whole. Intersectionality ensures that the oppression of women with other marginalized identities is addressed through the feminist movement and included in societies conception of womanhood. For example, Black women may experience misogyny for their gender, but they may also experience racism, thus making their experience in the world very different from that of a white woman or a black male. It is dangerous to assume that the loudest voices in the fight for gender equality (often from White, middle-class, able-bodied, straight, etc. women) define the oppression of all women. Noting the way intersecting identities of women influence the way they are treated and uniquely discriminated against ensures that all women can achieve equality by eliminating the identity-specific ways in which they are oppressed.
How can we strive toward practicing intersectional feminism this Women’s History Month?
Practicing intersectionality requires introspection, an examination of our own mental and emotional processes. When using introspection to consider our current relationship with intersectionality, we can first take account of our own identities such as our gender identity, race, class, or sexuality, and determine how these identities are received or accepted by others in our own lives. We can also make a commitment to use more inclusive language and be intentional about describing oppression, ensuring our words reflect the experiences of more than those with the most privileged identities in society. For example, if you are a White woman, you can choose to be more mindful about how you extend your experiences to speak on those of Black women, lesbians, trans women, etc. You can commit to listening more and talking less, being open to hearing about the oppression of others and the ways in which their identities influence their relationship to, or even hesitation with, feminism. Considering how your definition of feminism might be insufficient, or even detrimental, to the securing of rights for other women is key to understanding the importance of intersectionality in ensuring all women can experience equality.