Intersectionality

(63 Posts)
dashoflime Sun 18-Aug-13 19:36:45

I'm looking for help to get my ideas straight on this. I am really not a fan of intersectionality. I agree that feminism alone cannot/did not provide an analysis for all oppression's or all women's experiances. However, I don't think an attempt to broaden feminism to encompass all things is the way forward. Far better to situate feminism within a broader political analysis; eg: socialism.
Apparently, I only think this because I'm white and have been challenged to find one black feminist theorist who would agree with me.
Can anyone help me out here. I'm willing to revise my opinions if it turns out I'm in the wrong

FreyaSnow Sun 18-Aug-13 20:08:32

I think that everyone uses intersectional thinking all the time. As far as I understand it is the idea that somebody having experience A and somebody else having experience B cannot combine their knowledge to know what is is like to be somebody who is having experiences A and B at the same time. I find it hard to understand how anybody can get through life and survive without employing that principle to basic day to day tasks. For example the facts that I have painted metal items and have been on a bridge doesn't give me the skills or experience to be an expert on how to paint a suspension bridge. If I just went out and tried to do it or tell others how to do it, there would likely be terrible consequences.

What has gone wrong with intersectionality is that it has become used as a way of claiming moral superiority, as if there are people who use it and people who don't. People merely saying they are intersectional doesn't make it so. It has no more meaning than me saying I am altruistic and somebody else is not. The truth is more likely that these are traits everybody sometimes employs and sometimes does not. The other issue with is is that it is only one a range of ways of thinking that are useful in working out what to do, and sometimes people seem to think intersectionality is the only theory you need, which seems totalitarian.

NiceTabard Sun 18-Aug-13 20:16:51

Isn't it sort of to do with keeping at the forefront of your mind that people are different and have different lives and stuff and to endeavour to remain open to what other people say?

So I need to be aware of my privilege and understand that the things that resonate with me are because of who I am and where I live and all of that stuff. And to understand that why those things are important to me, I have to understand that other things might be more important to other people and that some of the things that have affected me are just not in their life experience and so are not so important to them...?

So it's just sort of common sense really and being self-aware and listening and keeping an open mind and stuff.

I do think that feminism shouldn't be watered down by saying that feminists also need to fight x, y and z as people often say, in an attempt frankly to get feminists on the back foot (oh you don't care about X you are MEAN that stuff). At the same time I think that all women need to be listened to so eg a white woman growing up in a middle class UK family will have different experience and ideas about what needs doing to a poor woman growing up if Afghanistan and again and again to do with colour, wealth, education, opportunity and so on and so on. It isn't an either / or though, which critics often seem to overlook.

That's just what I think anyway smile

MiniTheMinx Sun 18-Aug-13 20:47:27

I agree with a lot of what freya has said, so well. I am not an adherent to intersectional theory but I accept that the theory helps to make sense of the real material, emotional and structural inequalities faced by some people who experience subjugation in ways that are particular to them. I accept that a poor black women or a women living under a reign of fear from the Taliban suffers a different form of oppression, its particularities different. I do though think that the reason for all oppression stems from class inequality and exploitation for material resources, so a joined up offensive is needed to end all inequalities.

Where I would agree with you dashoflime is that Feminism situated within a broader left wing politics is most likely to succeed.

But what of Liberal feminism? Not a natural bedfellow with socialism!

FreyaSnow Sun 18-Aug-13 22:38:34

NiceTabard, isn't the first part of your post more of a description of diversity than intersectionality? The first part can be applied to the issues of children as being different to those of those of the elderly, but those are two mutually exclusive groups; there is no intersection there. But we would still think about them in the way you describe as part of diversity. You can of course make it intersectional by adding extra factors to both groups, but what you say remains true even if you don't do that.

The second part of your post is one of context - a woman in Afghanistan has different issues because their context is totally different. I don't know if intersectional thinking helps there or not.

Intersectionality has to be adding something more than just diversity and context. Maybe it is the issue that two groups in the same overall context experience the same prejudice differently because homophobia (for example) manifests differently against lesbians and gay men. So being a lesbian isn't about experiencing generic homophobia and generic sexism; it is that the kind of sexism you experience will take a different form to that experienced by straight women because it often takes a different form when carried out against lesbians.

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Mon 19-Aug-13 09:22:15

I think - from my perspective being a married, middle-class white woman - it would be massively patronizing of someone like me to get all gushy about 'intersectionality' in the way I've seen some people do.

I agree context is perhaps a better term, or yes, common sense! But I think it's ok to say, sorry, this is a debate I'm not informed about. And I will try to inform myself about whatever it happens to be so that I don't drop clangers or unintentionally perpetuate prejudice, but I'm not going to pretend I can make all the issues that affect other women my own, or central to my feminism as they stand. What's central to my feminism is that women deserve to be treated equally to each other and to men, and that we need to liberate ourselves from the patriarchy.

I think as long as people are honest about what their own context is, and aware of how it might limit their perspective, it doesn't matter that we all have different perspectives on what issues are most important to us as feminists. Trying to construct an overarching feminism that includes everything and we can all agree on is one of those projects that might be interesting on occasion, but is basically unnecessary.

KRITIQ Tue 20-Aug-13 23:41:48

I first encountered the concept of intersectionality about 20 years ago in a workshop led by the late Ellen Pence, co-founder of the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. We were using the Power and Control Wheel to explore the similarities between the mechanisms of oppression used systemically against women and other marginalised groups in society. What also occurred was that for women who were also part of one or more other marginalised groups, heir experience was bound to be more than just "oppression plus." Conversely, those disadvantaged due to one part of their identity might have a greater degree of resilience and resources to draw upon than those who faced exclusion on more fronts.

Soon after, I experienced something of an epiphany reading this article by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw (link opens a PDF) named "intersectionality" and enriched my understanding of the complex social, economic and political interplay of oppression and privilege.

So, it's not a "new fangled thing" as some claim, nor is it an "academic concept." Its roots stretch back to the 19th Century racism and classism of early women's rights campaigners and suffragettes and the sexism of abolition and civil rights movements. More recently, Women of Colour in America, including Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, Alice Walker and bell hooks have spoken about being excluded from mainstream feminism, (led by white women) and mainstream civil rights movements, (led by Black men.)

For those who follow Twitter, the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen started by Mikki Kendall the other week (I posted a link to her blog on intersectionality on another thread here last year,) led to an outpouring of frustration from Women of Colour worldwide, citing experiences of exclusion from mainstream feminism. There was also plenty of defensiveness from white feminists.

(This was followed by a hashtag #blackpowerisforblackmen where Women of Colour similarly vented their frustration at Men of Colour for expecting their support but not reciprocating on specific concerns/issues for Women of Colour. Cue similarly defensive Men of Colour!)

This exclusion happens when those who are amongst the most privileged in a group (in this case white, non-disabled, relatively economically privileged, etc. etc. feminists,) assume that their experiences are universal experiences of women and their issues and concerns are the ones that must be prioritised. When other women challenge or question this, they are often ignored, told their issues "aren't about feminism," or that in complaining, they are being divisive and damaging the feminist cause. Sometimes, this may come from genuine ignorance and naivety, but I suspect often it comes from those more privileged feminists wanting to hang tight to the power and status they DO already hold and not share.

In my view, an intersectional approach starts with a genuine commitment to wider social justice and the liberation of ALL women from patriarchal/kyriarchal oppression - not just fighting for the things that affect you. It's more than just acknowledging different experiences, but locating those within a complex patriarchal/kyriarchal structure that values some people more than others (quite likely including you.) It's continuously reflecting on how one's own actions contribute to the liberation OR oppression of other women. It's using the status and opportunities one DOES have to ensure the voices and issues of those more marginalised are represented and not just relegated to the "fringe." It's being open, listening to and acting upon the painful truths of more marginalised women without getting defensive and compounding their sense of exclusion.

Wider awareness means feminists can learn from other social justice initiatives and often join forces to increase impact (e.g. tackling poverty, saving NHS, promoting human rights, etc.)

I highly recommend this article by Chitra Nagarajan, White Domination, Challenge and the Feminist Movement ? ‪#Solidarityisforwhitewomen‬ and What It Meant for Me. I'd be really interested in folks' response to this.

I don't see my advocacy for intersectional feminism as "gushy" but just as giving a damn about other people and issues that I don't have to care about because of my own privilege. Do intersectional feminists appear to have or claim "moral superiority?" I suppose it depends on how one's moral compass is calibrated! smile

FreyaSnow Wed 21-Aug-13 00:12:25

It isn't that intersectional feminists have or claim to have moral superiority, it is the idea that there are intersectional feminists and non-intersectional feminists that has to be about moral superiority.

It is like saying there are kind feminists and unkind ones, and you are one of the kind ones, or informed and ignorant feminists and you are one of the informed ones. We are all sometimes sometimes intersectional, kind and informed and all sometimes not.

KRITIQ Wed 21-Aug-13 00:53:36

To be fair, I've noticed those who follow all strands of feminism suggesting that their version is "best" in some way - most progressive, most authentic, most practical, closest to the "root," or similar, and that other strands don't "make the grade" in the same way. Surely that's the same thing you are describing here.

I don't actually understand your last sentence though, but it is very late. Very interested still in responses to Chitra's article.

FreyaSnow Wed 21-Aug-13 01:07:20

No, it isn't the same thing I'm describing. There are clearly feminists who are socialist feminists and some who most certainly are not. That makes socialist feminism a strand of feminism.

There is no strand of feminism that is opposed to intersectionality. People who refer to themselves as intersectional feminists tend to change the intersection they focus on rather than actually increase the amount of intersectionality.

KRITIQ Wed 21-Aug-13 10:07:26

Perhaps I'm still not understanding what you mean. confused

Both in real life and via the internet, I have certainly encountered those who describe themselves as feminists, sometimes advocating for specific "strands" of feminism who clearly oppose intersectionality as a concept and the views of intersectional feminists as a strand of feminism.

Again, I don't really understand that last sentence. By its very nature, intersectional feminism requires consideration of a range of factors, connections and intersections. If you see that as "changing the focus," I don't understand why that is a problem. I'm not sure how one "increases the amount of intersectionality," either. It's not something that can be counted or measured. As an intersectional feminist, I would seek to increase awareness, understanding and consideration of intersectional privilege and oppression in campaigns, in education, in policy, etc. That's something quite different.

FreyaSnow Wed 21-Aug-13 10:49:14

Clearly there are people who are not fans of Intersectionality - the OP of this thread! So I don't disagree with you there. On the other hand the OP is interested in socialism and therefore presumably class - so she is interested in that particular intersection, she just deals with it using a different form of analysis.

Your arguments for what the absence of intersectionality causes - classism, not looking at additional oppression, relegating marginalised women doesn't make any sense when the OP is arguing for socialism and other broader forms of political analysis.

Your argument is essentially that various women are oppressed in different ways and to different extents and combinations change the nature of their oppression. But we already know that and have kinds of political analysis to deal with it. Feminism in that sense is already intersectional.

If you want to use intersectionality as a term to be something beyond a way of claiming moral superiority, it has to be able to compete with other forms of analysis as a way of providing solutions and courses of action.

Your link is an example of that. The writer mentions an issue which her audience recognises as intersectional but then does nothing about. I would suggest the reason for that is because the writer gives them no course of action to follow, which is what generally happens when people mention intersectionality.

In terms of the amount of intersectionality, I think we can crudely measure it. Currently a large amount of feminism seems to be about young women with no kids. Being a mother is a major intersection of oppressions. The amount of intersectionality around that issue has reduced, while the amount of intersectionality around other issues - sexuality has increased.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 09:02:56

KRITIQ - thanks for the link to the blogpost by Chitra Nagarajan, I will be interested to read that. I've read various of the discussions about SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen but by no means all.

The thing that puts intersectionality into relief for me is when lots of white women were really happy that Lena Dunham (I think, can't stop to google, sorry) had her tv show Girls, because it was obviously a strongly female cast, doing stuff we often don't see women or girls doing on the telly. But when women of colour weighed in saying, well actually it's not that progressive is it, it's very white, there is no representation from non-white women (and this is unrealistic in the situation that it was set in), the typical white feminist reply to this was rather on the lines of "but it's female representation on the telly, it's all good". Caitlin Moran was famously indiscreet in the way she often is, where in reply to this whole debate (being challenged on her championship of the show, I think), she said "I literally could not give a shit". Now surely what that says to women of colour is, we (white feminists who are all that count as feminists) don't care about your battles and difficulties, we've got white women more visible, we're winning the battle (which is our battle).

It's not about trying to do all the things at once, trying to actively battle racism as well as sexism. It's seeing that sometimes in battling sexism we can be being massively racist at the same time without even noticing it.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 11:15:35

(Obviously as well as my example of racism I could/should include ablism, transphobia, and so on.)

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 11:41:33

ComixMinx, which US and UK TV shows do you think are preferable to Girls in terms of intersectionality? It would be nice to have some recommendations. Also, which TV shows do you think are a better representation of Jewish women than girls?

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 12:14:30

I haven't watched Girls so can't comment, and in any case it's not really about what's actually on the telly right now, I don't think. Rather, I think it's about what are we aiming to have on the telly, or what might we be happy to see on the telly. (I can't comment about current tv generally as I barely watch it.)

I don't know what tv shows are a better representation of Jewish women, but as far as I know that's not a demographic that is specifically under-represented, is it? In any case I'm not saying we shouldn't have a show like Girls on the tv, but rather that when women of colour point out rather a big gap in the progressiveness of it, it behooves white feminists not to be dismissive about it.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 12:38:01

I do think it is an issue of what is on the tv right now. I don't know if Jewish women are under-represented or for that matter mis-represented on the tv right now. That is rather for Jewish women to decide, isn't it?

I do think that Girls, a show where three of the four main characters is Jewish, is being criticised to a far greater degree for being racist than any of the shows about non-Jewish white women.

I didn't know that much about the different ethnic groups of Jews or how that had an impact on Jewish women's lives. I'd never even heard of Camp Ramah.

I think anti-semitism is still a pretty major issue, and one Lena Dunham has to deal with.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 13:00:34

I also don't know why we are discussing 'white women' and 'people of colour' to discuss the comments of a woman of Irish Catholic descent about a largely Jewish TV show on a British website.

We don't make a distinction between white people as the privileged minority and people of colour as the ones who experience racism. There is no 'we' as white women in that sense. There are the privileged majority - white British people and the people who experience racism - minority ethnic groups, some of whom are white.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 14:09:27

Fair point about that being for Jewish women to decide! And you may well be right in saying that Girls is more criticised for being racist than any shows about non-Jewish white women (which shows are you thinking of?). I don't see that this means that the show is let off the charges levelled, though. It could be being unfairly singled out while the people singling it out still have a point.

'White people' or 'white women' are not monolithic groups, and minority ethnic groups can experience racism, I agree. I don't see that that means we can't use the terms white women and people of colour in this discussion, though. Multiple strands of oppression and of status is part of the whole issue.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 14:13:44

Sorry, I mean "white minority ethnic groups can experience racism, I agree".

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 14:45:16

We don't use the term people of colour in the UK; this is not the USA. We refer to minority ethnic groups. I think it would be ridiculous to claim that in the UK an Iranian person has privilege over say, a Chinese person because Iranian people are white and Chinese people are people of colour it would be ridiculous. A distinction that a white group like Iranians experiences less racism in the UK than a group of people of colour is simply not true. That is why we don't use the term. It has no meaning here. We refer to minority ethnic groups, not racial groups.

On a separate note, you seem to be saying that if people make a tv show about a particular minority and don't include another minority, the people who view that show and the people who watch it are 'massively racist.'

On the other hand, if I select a particular minority and hound individuals from it into the ground for writing or watching that minority rather than about an another group, I'm supporting intersectionality and a good feminist?

Does that count for all groups? Can I constantly complain there are no Asian people in a show with black characters? is it okay for me to target that show rather than say a white show like Gossip Girl or Two Broke Girls? How about if I target shows with a gay character for not having a bisexual character rather than target a show with all straight characters? Can I set up a blog devoted to complaining about a show with Hispanic characters because there should be more Asian people in it, but not do the same for a show about white people of Dutch descent?

Why do we use intersectionality in the way we criticise media, but are content to be racist, sexist and homophobic in the way we select the people we choose to criticise?

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 15:21:42

Actually the term people of colour is one I've heard in the UK and used by British people.

The Iranian people I know wouldn't call themselves white, I'm pretty sure. But I agree that there will be white minority groups who are discriminated against; historically, Irish people, for instance. I am not saying that white minority groups will experience less racism; they will experience different racism, and it is perfectly possible that they could be racist with regard to other minority groups. I am not in any way saying that if people make a tv show about a particular minority and don't include another minority that means viewers and creators are massively racist! I'm saying that we are not magically exempt from ourselves being oppressive in some ways just because we are also oppressed in other ways. We can be racist without noticing it while being totally on the lookout for sexisim in all its forms.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 16:02:13

The Iranian people in the UK who I know wouldn't consider themselves to be white. In the US however, 'people of colour' are those who are in a category that is not white on the US census. The term was coined to stop people saying non-white as it has racist connotations given the US history of one drop rules etc.

It is the case that in the US census Iranian people, like people of other West Asian and North African descent are white categories. That is their legal definition in the US census. They are therefore white in the US.

It makes no sense to use the term people of colour and say Girls is a white show but then use the term to refer to the British population and start saying Iranians are not white because they say they are not.

If you are now inventing your own definition of who is and is not white, rather than using the US definition of POC or the British definition which is about minority ethnic groups rather than some notion of a white race, then on what grounds are you defining Girls as white? We know that in the US, they are either of European, North African or West Asian/Arabic descent, so are white. Under your personal racial categories, how are they white? Shoshanna, for example, has never said she is white and she has never said what Jewish ethnic groups she is descended from. She could be of Iranian descent; many Iranian American are Jewish.

It would seem to me that rather than try and use an imported American system of race, it would actually be more useful to use the international human rights understanding of ethnicity.

To return to the other point, while it is true that people can be from a minority and themselves be oppressive to other groups, there is a huge issue that racism and other forms of prejudice are carried out by criticising some groups more than others. Classic examples would be subjecting the wearing of the hijab to more discussion and law around sexist clothing standards than we do to Western clothing standards, paying far more attention to sexual assaults carried out by black men more than white men, and complaining more about gay men abusing teenagers than straight men.

Part of the solidarityisforwhitewomen discussion is about the demonisation of black men. It is about this very issue of criticising a minority to a far greater degree when members of that group do something which we feel we can criticise. It just isn't good enough to say being part of a minority doesn't exempt you from criticism when that criticism can lead to murder, persecution and war.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 16:31:33

Sorry, I'm finding this confusing now. People do use the term 'people of colour' in the UK - here's Doreen Lawrence, here's Anna Chen. It may be a jargon/technical term in the US but I don't believe that is how it is generally thought of (in terms of the census, that is). What international human rights understanding of ethnicity are you referring to?

In any case we agree not only about the point that people can be from a minority and still be oppressive to other groups, but also that racism can (usually does?) mean that some groups are criticised more than others. Surely this is part and parcel of intersectional thinking too and in saying this you are speaking intersectionally.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 16:56:55

I don't know if we agree or not. I believe that out of all the vast numbers of tv shows that you could have mentioned which do not have main cast members who POC, you and many other feminists have chosen to single out a show about Jewish women. That is evidence of a problem of anti-semitism in feminism generally and in your posts on this thread.

POC is not a jargon term in the US. It is the case that people in social justice circles in the US do consider POC to not include various ethnic groups who they deem not POC to be the oppressors and not capable of experiencing racism. Many also believe that one POC group can perpetuate racism against another POC group as only white people to be racist.

When I say international understanding I mean the international laws set up after much discussion between all the countries of the world on the elimination of racial discrimination. They are what our laws are based on, EU laws are based on and the racial discrimination laws of most countries. Why that should be replaced with a US understanding of race as somehow being about whether you are or are not white according to the USA's racist legacy of segregation seems to be an example of xenophobia (a kind of racism) and US cultural and political imperialism. I'm not sure how intersectionality provides a better explanation.

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