Intersectional Feminism

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Intersectional feminism is a more progressive perception of feminism.

It seeks to explain feminism through the undeniably important lens of race, culture, cast, geographical distribution and several other factors that must influence feminist ideology. By accepting that all of the factors are not isolated incidents of social oppression and injustice, but rather fall under one major umbrella, they can all be tackled at once.

The reasoning behind the creation or identification of intersectional feminism as a sub-group of traditional feminism is that up until the era of the third and second waves of feminism (the mid and late 20th century), most feminists belonged to a very specific demographic – middle-class white women hailing from the US or Europe. Thus, many of the philosophies that feminism was associated to – or the agendas that feminist organizations were trying to push through – were solely representative of their problems. Hence, solutions would inadvertently only benefit women in that specific sector of society.

So horizons had to be broadened, and despite the existence of women with similar thoughts since the 19th century, Kimberlé Crenshaw is credited with formally naming this feminist school of thought in 1989.

Obviously, because of the very nature of the philosophy, the study of intersectional feminism is very complex and intricate. It is one of the most detailed fields of cultural studies and feminism. You see, if we were to study the situation of a woman suffering from domestic abuse using the intersectional analysis, it wouldn’t suffice to know that she was being abused by her husband. No, we’d also have to consider her ethnicity, her religion, her caste and so many other influencing factors. In fact, using the woman as a case study would probably not do you any good as you’d be analysing her situation so thoroughly that it’d have very specific trademarks.

However, what it would do is give you a very complete understanding of how all of those social categories have come together to contribute to her suffering, and you could make a very specific profile of women going through the same as her. You would be able to help women in the exact same situation as her.

The movement’s importance saw a major rise during the late 1960s and 1970s. This was because women began to challenge the ideas put forth by radical feminists – who were largely a part of the aforementioned population segment.  Instead, “re-visionist feminists” (mainly non-white women) firmly started explaining to their counterparts how being poor, disabled, or non-white would alter feminist perspectives. They pursued a new form of feminism that would take into account the feelings and thoughts of women who weren’t middle-class Europeans and Americans.

One of the main schools of feminism to come out of the idea of intersectional feminism is black feminism (and its successor, womanism) which highlighted the problems that arose as a result of being a woman and also being black. Kimberlé Crenshaw argued that unless one takes into account the cultural and racial oppression suffered by black women, then no study of feminism can ever be completely pertinent to black women. Thus, it would not be a wholly satisfactory struggle for improvement of women’s lives.

There are 3 perspectives from which people analyse intersectional feminism; categorical, anti-categorical and intracategorical complexity.

The 1st facet ascertains that inequality is borne as a result of the uneven definitions of a social structure, and that whenever inequality is studied, this fact must be taken into account. In other words, a society will cheat people because it has been set up to do so.

The second states the opposite – that inequality exists as a result of racial and economic divisions (and more) and that social divisions are false constructs used to justify it. Thus, to study inequality correctly, one must remember that regardless of social classifications, there will be certain instances of inequality that will exist.

The final one is sort of an intermediate point between the two. It states that social divisions do exist and affect the way a society is run, but it also challenges the nature of these divisions and the bases upon which they were drawn up.

As several other feminists schools have pointed out, the dichotomy established in most modern societies (i.e. the either/or mentality – men/women, black/white) is a crucial factor in the reinforcement of inequality. By default, one is established as better than the other, and no mild answer is available. This will definitely lead to the oppression of women. It is one of the key concepts in the explanation of intersectionality.

Another one is the standpoint theory.

The standpoint theory states that an individual’s way of thinking is definitely swayed by the geographical and/or cultural set-up in which they grew, such that no matter where they go, they will inherently view things from that perspective, or stand-point. To put this idea into an example, it is as if saying that an Asian woman residing in South America might be able to integrate herself into the culture there and get used to it, but she would still see things from an Asian perspective. Even more, she would always be susceptible to the feeling that she’s an outsider looking in.

Thus, whenever feminism is studied, it needs to take into account that its horizons need to be broadened and inclusive so as to faithfully represent the requirements of all women. It might not be a coincidence that Soraya Post, the only feminist in the European Parliament, is of Swedish Roma (or gypsy) descent.


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