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The Importance of Intersectionality

The phrase ‘intersectional feminism’ seems to be everywhere these days. You see it in the news and on posts by activist accounts on social media and even in the Instagram bios of distant acquaintances. But why is this phrase gaining in popularity? What is it and what is it about this idea that draws so many people to it?

The term ‘intersectionality’ was coined by feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. It represents an analytic framework that attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society.

So what exactly does this mean and how should it impact the way we practice feminism today?

Feminism recognizes that, in a patriarchal society like the one we live in today, all women and non-binary people are subject to some oppression as well as disenfranchisement in terms of political participation. Intersectionality– or intersectional feminism– is the theory that points out that not all women and non-binary people are equally oppressed or equally subject to political disenfranchisement.

For instance, women of color are more likely to face hardship, discrimination, and the use (or threat of use) of physical and/or sexual violence. Similarly, poor women are more likely to face barriers to entry in access to essential goods and services than rich women. Queer women are more likely to face discrimination and violence than cissexual/cisgender and heterosexual women are. Women from 3rd world countries are more likely to face hardship, discrimination, violence, and disenfranchisement than women from 1st world countries.

This is not to say that cis, heterosexual, affluent, white women will never experience hardship. It is to say that none of the hardship they experience on a systemic level can be attributed to their race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, or non-conformity with the gender identity that was assigned to them at birth.

So why is it important to recognize and acknowledge these intersections of people’s identities?

These intersections of people’s identities have a profound effect on the way people experience the world. As such, it is important for us to acknowledge them and account for them within a larger political framework.

Additionally, if our notion of equality simply demands equality with the dominant class, it’s always going to be a form of equality that pays lip service to those in power without actually reforming or restructuring the power structures that caused the imbalances. A utopian and equal world order is impossible without the overthrow of the systems that are oppressing us in the first place because the continued existence of these systems guarantees that someone will be constrained by society.

Intersectionality demands that we recognize the different systems of oppression and how each one of us is privileged by– and therefore profits from– these systems in different ways. It does this so that we do not get trapped into thinking of all oppressed groups as one homogeneous unit and liberation as a struggle that is the same for all.

Systemic oppression stems from structures that provide more opportunities and resources to some people than others. Ultimately, the struggle for all oppressed groups is for the overthrow of such structures in order to create a new world order where everyone is equal and people profit on the basis of their own merit rather than any entrenched characteristics.

Photo: Pexels via Womenlite

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