What Is Intersectional Feminism, And Why Is It Crucial?

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Feminism has problems.

A lot of problems.

One of the biggest problems is that the broader American feminist movement is largely focused on the problems of privileged cisgender white women.

The problems of queer women, women of color, disabled women, transgender women, women of low socio-economic status, etc. are often brushed under the rug in order to make room for the narratives of “normal” women. Normal, of course, means middle-class and white.

When middle-class white women become the norm, then feminism forces all other women to attempt to assimilate or be left behind.

Of course, if you’re not middle-class and white, then there’s no real way to assimilate, so the best you can do is hope to feed off the breadcrumbs of mainstream feminism.

The solution is intersectional feminism. If you’ve gone to the Women’s March or if you’ve read a single thinkpiece written since the 2016 election, then you’ve probably heard the term thrown around. Since Donald Trump’s misogynistic statements have effectively declared war on women, intersectional feminism is more important than ever.

…But what exactly is it?

If you’re not sure, that’s okay. Consider this guide your 101.

According to USA Today, intersectional feminism is “the understanding of how women’s overlapping identities — including race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation — impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.”

For example, intersectional feminism recognizes that while a white woman may think primarily of her gender, a woman of color has to think about her gender and her race, and a queer woman of color has to think about her gender, her race and her sexuality. These identities complicate her relationship to womanhood.

An Asian immigrant woman’s experiences in America, for instance, are largely different from a white woman’s. Intersectional feminism does not restrict feminism to exclude her, but expands understandings of gender and culture in order to centralize narratives like hers.

Let’s get a bit more specific.

Traditional feminism focuses on breaking the glass ceiling and closing the 23 cent wage gap that exists between white men and white women.

Intersectional feminism recognizes that the wage gap for black women is 36 cents, and for Latina woman is 46 cents. It also recognizes the importance of raising minimum wage, since 2/3 of minimum wage-earners are women and women of color disproportionately do these jobs.

How about abortion? Juliet Williams, professor of Gender Studies at UCLA, says:

Some intersectional feminists have been critical of framing reproductive justice claims in terms of a feminist demand for ‘choice,’ since choice discourse presumes that all women have the economic means to afford an abortion if they so choose. Moreover, privileging attention to abortion rights over other reproductive justice issues — such as forced sterilization — can be seen to elevate a middle-class white women’ agenda over other issues that are equally if not more important to poor women and women of color.”

Ruth Enid Zambrana, director of the Consortium of Race, Gender and Ethnicity at the University of Maryland puts it well when she says, “There isn’t just one ‘feminism.’ There are ‘feminisms.'”

To learn more about intersectional feminism and how to practice it, visit Everyday Feminism.

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