Intersectionality is a term often used to describe one’s unique experiences of discrimination and oppression. It describes the multifaceted ways in which diverse factors such as gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and physical ability can intersect and marginalize people. Intersectionality plays a vital role in how we understand and get involved in activism - this is especially true when focusing on feminism in the 21st century. From breaking the glass ceiling, the personal is political, and the #Metoo movement, the waves of feminism throughout history, and in the present, have carried massive changes in the world. These moments in time have reflected the immense strive to change the world we live in and create a more equal and just society for women. Unfortunately, the feminist journey — likewise with many other activist approaches — often encounters issues due to a lack of acknowledgment towards intersectionality. Intersectionality plays a significant role in the way we must approach issues that affect all women, many of whom come from a drastically different background than the white, north-American background from which feminism is historically known to stem from. By acknowledging and understanding the interrelated factors that affect the diverse body of women globally, we begin to practice feminism in its true form. A focus on intersectionality strengthens the fight for equality of women and helps reach the desired goals of the movement. By exploring what intersectionality truly means, we can view the dire consequences of its absence in the feminist movement. By learning what we can do to better support a feminist movement that acknowledges and proactively engages with the role of intersectionality, we can begin to create real, meaningful change.
The first introduction of feminism that was globally recognized is one that fits into the White North American woman’s perspective. This, in return, has caused a lack of recognition for the other narratives that exist. Because of this history, feminism usually focuses on issues experienced by white, middle-class women. For example, it is commonly advertised that a woman will make 78 cents to a white man’s dollar, but this statistic only holds true for white women. In reality, Black women earn 64 cents to a white man’s dollar, and Hispanic women earn 56 cents. The term “white feminism” is one that typically clouds the experiences and struggles of women of color, LGBTQ women, and women of other minority groups by assuming all women experience gender inequality the same way a white woman does. This serves as a prime example of how women who are a part of minority groups are typically excluded from the primary concern in the feminist movement. This extends into many of their discriminative experiences of being ignored, invalidated, or untold. Consequently, this practice of feminism becomes inauthentic and unproductive. By speaking more about the concept of intersectionality and the role it plays in the feminist movement, we can have a better chance at equality for all women. Thus, we can create a more inclusive movement that represents a true understanding of how overlapping systems of discrimination affect different women in various ways.
A prominent figure supporting intersectionality and feminism is legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw. Crenshaw is active in the Black Feminist movement and, in 1989, coined the term “intersectionality” to describe how systems of oppression overlap and create unique experiences for people who belong to multiple identity categories. Crenshaw serves as a leader in discussing the importance of intersectionality and engages in critiquing the biases of laws that do not acknowledge the active role intersectionality plays in society. One of her most notable quotes is: “The experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black and of being a woman considered independently, but must include the interactions, which frequently reinforce each other.”
In the 21st century, social media serves as a massive platform where many celebrities, activists, and politicians discuss the issue of intersectionality and feminism. Celebrities such as Beyonce, Emma Watson, Rowan Blanchard, and many more have strongly advocated for the importance of intersectionality in feminism. For example, in one of Emma Watson’s most popular tweets, she acknowledges her privilege as a white woman who is fortunate enough to be in a higher socioeconomic bracket. She discusses its influence on her ability to give UN speeches about feminism and her role as the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador. She continues to speak about the importance of listening and learning from women who do not share the same privileges as her and emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and understanding intersectionality and amplifying the experiences and voices of other women around her.
Feminism and intersectionality are deeply intertwined and must be both acknowledged to create meaningful change. As history has curated a narrative focused on one perspective in feminism, it is vital to discern the nuance and complexities of such a movement - especially ones that affect such a large, diverse body of women. While it is important to acknowledge the presence of intersectionality, it is even more important to understand it and actively try to amplify the voices of many women who don’t fit the typical narrative. This is the only way for us to attempt to create authenticity, genuine equality, and change in the movement.