Intersectionality and the Lack of it in Prominent Feminism | Afra Sampreety

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The concept of intersectionality has been heralded as one of the most important contributions to feminist scholarship. It is a critical concept, and despite being popular there has been confusion concerning the topic and how it can be applied, especially to feminism. Intersectionality can be defined as the complex, accumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination and oppression combines, overlaps, and intersects. KImberlè Crenshaw first used this term in 1989 when she saw race and gender were treated as two completely different issues. If one is a woman of colour, they suffer disadvantages because they are a woman and suffer disadvantages because of their race. But alongside those, they also suffer disadvantages specifically for being a woman of colour, which neither a man of colour nor white women have to deal with. Today intersectionality extends beyond race and gender. It is widely used to illustrate various kinds of discrimination, whether based on class, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, religion, or ethnicity. Despite gradually developing and improving this theory over time, lack of intersectionality in today’s prominent feminism remains perceptible and problematic. 

Feminism is a socio-political movement and ideology to establish and achieve social, economic, political, and personal equality. Even though it started off as a gender-based movement, over the years it has grown to include other experiences of discrimination under its criteria. Modern feminism has interpreted the movement in several ways, but one big misconception remains. And some prominent feminists of our world continue to breed that misconception, placing blame on another party to claim superiority. Mainstream feminism is predominantly white and cis-gendered and represents only one type of view, ignoring the essence of the ideology and the struggles of people who come from different backgrounds. There are so many people who oppose feminism, but when asked what they think feminism is, either they struggle to define it or do not possess the correct information. One can easily find many influential feminists on social media these days, fighting and standing up to, for example, give women equal wage as men. But what kind of women are they fighting for? Statistics  (J.Vagins, u.d.) show that an average white woman earns 72 cents for every dollar that a man makes, but a woman of colour makes far less than their white counterparts. In fact, the wage gap between white women and women of colour is one of the fastest growing wage gaps, according to the Economic Policy Institute (Gould, 2018). Unfortunately, when these mainstream feminists claim they focus on women of all kinds, that claim not only shows their ignorance, but it also gives other people a prime example of how exploiting modern feminism has become. The system won’t be fixed by solving the wage gap between white men and white women if women of colour keep getting underpaid.

The same feminists continue to misuse feminism – or a version of feminism – to radicalize their extreme beliefs. Some feminists today still focus on hating men, which not only eliminates the idea of equality in all social contexts but also openly ignores intersectionality within feminism by letting racism still be a part of it. One of the popular radical feminist in history, Andrea Dworkin mentioned once “Intercourse as an act often expresses the power men have over women” (Dworkin, u.d.). Just like a lot of her other statements, this quote indicates how she believed heterosexual intercourse is coercive and can only be performed in styles to degrade women. Her other observations included blaming men for rape culture, pornography, and prostitution. It is truly vexing to see how, after all these years, such beliefs can still be seen among new, young, and modern feminists. There is absolutely no valid reason to exclude women from the list of rapists when there are multiple evidences in history. To assume pornography can only be used to entertain the male demographic and is what eventually influences rape seems an illogical argument too, especially considering women consume the same amount of pornography as men. Pornography doesn’t cause rape, perversion does, and perversion doesn’t cause sexism, inequality does.

Intersectionality seems like an abstract concept, and in many cases it is. To me it is as clear as day. I believe in equality, not only among genders but also among race, sexualities, and socioeconomic standards. I am aware that everybody doesn’t have the same ethical or political view as mine, and I accept that. But just because I respect everyone’s view doesn’t mean I am not allowed to protest or that I am obligated to promote or praise something I believe is wrong. Intersectional feminism allows me to practice my ideology by promoting it as their ideology. Feminism can and should include a healthy practice of freedom of speech alongside equality. 

If one looks at today’s feminism, one can find parallels with ideologies of radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Valerie Solanas. The circumstances aren’t mirror images of each other but are built on similar contexts. When it comes to radical feminism, SWERF and TERF come up too. SWERF is acronym to Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist and TERF stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. These feminists exclude voluntary sex workers and trans women in their fight to equality, including the movement for equal pay in different fields of employment. TERFs and SWERFs are a small subset of feminism but undoubtedly an influential one. Transphobic radical feminists seem to reject the concept of cisgendered privilege and claim trans women are nothing more than “effeminate men” who have been relegated by the patriarchal gender binary to the status of women. Whereas they view trans men as women who are trying to possess male privilege. This idea even extends to individuals like Cathy Brennan who compared trans people to animals who cannot control themselves and apparently only use feminine appearance to sneak into women’s washroom and rape them. These are not only very narrow perspectives; they are dangerous.

These radfems have been rejected by almost every demography including women of colour, sex workers, and male allies. The reason these radical feminists are rejected is mostly because of their unwillingness and inability to understand intersectionality. Anyone can be a feminist; in fact, everyone shouldbe a feminist. But at the same time, it is important to maintain intersectionality within feminism without developing a dogmatic and one-size-fits-all ideology. Roqayah Chamseddine is a feminist writer who explains the preserving of intersectionality further saying, “White feminism is extremely introverted refusing to acknowledge systematic hurdles facing women of colour (WOC) who are not visible. Our voices need amplifying because white feminism tokenise us and usurps our voices”.  The whole purpose of intersectional feminism is to listen to and consider points of views from different people – not just from ones like yourself. Intersectionality remains a broad and debated concept in feminism, but it is vital in our society to acknowledge how people’s multiple identities intermingle and how different forms of discrimination intersect with and amplify gender-based discrimination. Intersectional feminism represents many minorities who are overlooked in mainstream feminism, and it truly stands for equality and liberty. As long as we are heard, inequality can still be defeated. 

Afra Sampreety, Student 

Reference

Dworkin, A. (u.d.). Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/andrea-dworkin-money-speaks-but-with-a-male-voice-486614.html

Gould, E. (2018, March 1). Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://www.epi.org/publication/the-state-of-american-wages-2017-wages-have-finally-recovered-from-the-blow-of-the-great-recession-but-are-still-growing-too-slowly-and-unequally/

J.Vagins, D. (u.d.). AAUW. Retrieved from https://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/

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