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

garlicagain Sat 24-Aug-13 01:43:30

Ooh, look, this came up on my Facebook tonight! Synchronicity grin

Black woman tells how her white SIL shamed a racist.

FreyaSnow Sat 24-Aug-13 00:00:30

Mini, I don't know the answer to that, but I think it's a very good explanation of what the question we all need to ask ourselves is.

MiniTheMinx Fri 23-Aug-13 22:15:09

I'll have a google later for it. I would like to read it, thanks Freya

Does feminism have more image problems now than at any other time? Whilst vast inequality has opened up btw women incl but not limited to white women and woc (which I believe is essentially a class issue) I'm not certain that we have any more or any less support. We have many women from all backgrounds and circs thinking that women have equality with men so the fight is over or that feminism doesn't have anything to offer them. In the past there was as much of a "backlash" against women's liberation, simply because that backlash is in actual fact the thing we are fighting, the structural social conditions that prevail have many fans that benefit from the status quo and now we have many women that benefit from keeping things just the way thery are. Gains made by one group of women is at the expense of the vast majority of other women when looked at globally.

I think the other problem we have is the obsession with "culture" deconstruction, post modernism and all that nonsense grin has a lot to answer for. Are we barking at the moon. It seems that some are calling for the sort of state intervention that in previous generations would have never been considered. To me, liberal feminism with its obsession with gaining equality under the state and through law combined with a more radical element that demands censorship is papering over the cracks not addressing the issues.

I'm not sure if this is part of the issue or not, but New York Radical women (later redstockings) came about in 1967 as a response to a few socialist women who felt that men on the left were not listening to their concerns. This gave birth to RF. Now it seems to me that it was both wrong that the left wing men devalued their concerns but equally wrong that women stopped short of making them listen. It is symptomatic of what follows because we now have a situation where we are all sitting in different rooms only sharing experiences with people that are very strictly very much like us. I don't need to have someone validate my experience by having that experience themselves anymore than I need someone to assume the position of speaking for me. What is needed is listening, accepting, questioning and facilitation. Why can't a movement have a range of people with various experiences who have shared goals? <ever the optimist>

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 21:29:36

Mini, actually the very next paragraph goes on to say about how workers in the field may well recognise themselves in the description! It is well worth reading for anybody who wants to 'help' anybody they have are actually in a position of social power or dominance over.

Garlic, I don't think it is the case that only people who are victims of a certain oppression can act against it. I think that when you are in a dominant group for any reason you have to think very carefully about why you are doing something about an issue, how you are doing it and consider if you are having a negative impact.

I think the reason that feminists are keen to stress that 'patriarchy hurts men too' is so that they see feminism makes society better for everyone, and by being feminists they are not just doing something for women for altruistic reasons. But once we move to talking about groups we're not personally part of, we have to consider that very differently so as not to 'help' in a destructive way.

garlicagain Fri 23-Aug-13 21:00:07

Freya, I just want to acknowledge your question. I think the conversation's moved beyond it.

Mini - I'm not sure the answer to B is no! Feminism has lots of image problems, quite likely impeding its progress by failing to get a large enough cohort of women on board. If feminists (generic) had more of a clue about how the problems associated with "being a woman" intersect with those of "being old, being brown, being poor," etc, then perhaps the movement would not alienate other women so readily. And perhaps some of the inequalities would be ended more efficiently.

I do think it's ridiculous to assert that only the victims of a certain oppression may act against it. Sure, there are valid arguments wrt patronisation & other issues, but it's a bit bloody harsh to insist that only the silenced may speak.

And, fwiw, my first thought on seeing a Girls trailer was "Is this supposed to be Brooklyn? It's too white!" I haven't watched it. The criticism is valid. Ugly Betty managed to portray a culturally mixed New York, while storming the charts. Plus ... New York Jewish is a special thing. It's neither a 'universal' Jewishness, nor 'universally' New York. It is true that many New York Jews assume they epitomise New York. Culturally and statistically, they are wrong.

But I don't understand why this thread has become all about some TV show and Jews confused

MiniTheMinx Fri 23-Aug-13 20:58:15

This reminds me of research I read years ago about the paternalistic relationship of psychiatric nurses to their clients. The idea that the helper should gain something from maintaining and even abusing their position of power and trust is not new.

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 20:13:45

As I've said, I'm not prepared to engage in discussion that singles out links criticising 'Girls' for all the reasons I've already given. Perhaps somebody else wants to discuss that with you.

In terms of the problem of white social justice warriors, there have been numerous studies on this. For some reason I can't paste the link, but if anyone wants to read a literature review and paper on why white allies end up engaging in destructive papers, it is called 'Aspiring social justice ally identity development' and if you google that a link to the PDF should be on the first page of results. Part of the issue I'm talking about would be:

'One means of managing guilt is to seek the role of “rescuer” or “hero”
for members of the subordinate group. Aspiring Allies for Altruism see
members of the subordinate group as the sole victims of oppression
and do this work for them. The paternalistic nature of this altruism
may lead to positive gains in the short term, but ultimately perpetu-
ates the system of oppression by placing aspiring allies in the role of
exceptional helper to the victims of oppression. This paternalistic
approach may also unconsciously feed one’s own sense of power and
privilege. Aspiring Allies for Altruism seek to empower members of
the oppressed group, which maintains credit and some control in the
person doing the empowering, rather than encouraging and support-
ing members of the oppressed group to empower themselves. This
may be part of a spiritual or moral view that helping others is the right
thing to do. Freire (1972/2000) explains that rationalizing “guilt
through paternalistic treatment of the oppressed, all the while holding
them first in a position of dependence, will not do” (p. 49). In this
way, Aspiring Allies for Altruism fail to recognize that one “must speak
withthe oppressed without speaking forthe oppressed” (Reason et al.,
2005a, p. 1).

Burnout in Aspiring Allies for Altruism is common because of the
energy needed to maintain their status as an exceptional member of
the dominant group, denying to both self and others their own
oppressive socialization, and a need for continued acceptance from
the other. Because these aspiring allies do not see how members of the
dominant group are also hurt by the system of oppression, aspiring
allies view their efforts as selfless and altruistic efforts that should be
welcomed with praise and approval from the subordinate group. In
this way, aspiring allies’ guilt can become a liability, as members of the
oppressed group are often sought out to reaffirm and support the
aspiring allies, once again placing the burden of oppression on mem-
bers of the subordinate group.'

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 19:57:15

You're still dodging the issue - that those who criticised Girls had a valid point to make. Again complaining about "Social Justice Warriors" (a quick google of which brings up complaints by the sorts of people who complain whenever race is discussed, ever) is another way of dismissing criticism.

How many times have you heard "It's not what feminists say, it's how they say it". This is all you're doing here.

You still haven't truly engaged with what the WoC have said. You've accused them of anti-semitism, had issues with tone, being fixated with Lena Dunham and then talked endlessly about the actions of white people instead.

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 19:18:58

GoshAnne, it is a widely discussed issue online that the group of people who are called 'social justice warriors' are largely a group of white people who do gather together to attack individuals, often selecting individuals who are from a minority group.

There has been a lot of discussion among activists who are POC about how misplaced this anger is when the white social justice people are not actually experiencing the racism themselves and that such anger is misplaced, as it is actual POC who genuinely have those experiences.

As a consequence of this, various POC have posted about the issue of this anger from white people in social justice, how problematic the hounding is and have suggested more appropriate ways white people could respond.

I have not made these issues up.

MiniTheMinx Fri 23-Aug-13 19:16:34

I haven't watched Girls as I don't think it is something that would interest me. I am assuming only from what other's have said that the Jewish identity of the characters is explicit. I don't know but surely it could be argued that their experiences in a rich western city is quite different to the experience of a Jewish housewife in north london and certainly quite different from the lives of black Jewish women in Nigeria such as the Igbo. Of course it is ridiculous to think that every conceivable difference can be represented equally.

I can't speak for all Jews but from my experience and reading, Jewish people carry within them a whole history of oppression. The history of having been enslaved, the expulsions, ghettoisation and mass killings might possibly explain why Jews still feel marginalised if not damn right disliked. Claims that the media is controlled from films to newspapers by rich Zionists, to conspiracies about bankrupting states and starting wars and poisoning wells. Just about everything that is wrong in the world seems to be due to some Jewish conspiracy or simply because the state of Israel destabilises the middle east. If the western imperialist notion of people of colour is that they are uneducated and their lands undeveloped then jews are portrayed in an equally unpleasant and false way. From having large ears, big noses, being labelled baby eaters and rapists

“Know, dear Christian, and have no doubts about it, that next to the Devil you have no more bitter, poisonous and determined enemy than a genuine Jew" Hitler. And the catholic church held much the same view throughout its entire history. Show me another race of people who have been so systematically hated, alienated, enslaved and murdered.

If intersectional theory can be used to explain more than just the intersection where gender and skin colour produce a very specific form of oppression then surely it could also be applied to a multitude of other identifiable differences. Surely it could be applied to the very specific forms of disadvantage that "white" Jewish women feel they face because being Jewish can be about race or religion. I'm not in anyway trying to reduce the very real disadvantage that WOC face but I do wonder whether some of them are able to accept that not all white women are experiencing only gender oppression?

However my real problem with accepting Intersectional theory as having to be central in any feminist discourse or activity is

A) what specific form does the oppression manifest in each conceivable combination of identities?

B) Does this theory offer any useful insights into how we end all of these various manifestations of inequality?

I don't think we know the answer to A at a cultural level but I can make a fair estimation of the social/economic impact but I feel fairly certain the answer to B is no.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 18:39:47

I still don't yet how being Jewish gives you a magical pass to erase 2/3 of the people in the location where the show is meant to be set.

I live somewhere equally diverse. If someone where to set a tv show here and pretend the population were entirely white, I would find that an extremely creepy whitewashing of reality.

You have no proof that the "social justice warriors" are mainly white. None, so stop stating it as if it were a fact that in any way lessens the value of what WoC say.

Again, look at the tools you are using to bolster your argument. Those "attacking" (a violent verb) Lena Dunham are "angry", they are "warriors" they "hate", they are "hounding" her. You don't describe their criticisms as in any way positive, valid or rational.

I ask you again, where do you see these tropes being used? Also, are you not familiar with the racist stereotype of the Angry Black Woman?

Lena Dunham gets mentioned because Lena Dunham is one of the many occasions that the mainstream voices of feminism (who are generally white, middle class ect) have dismissed the voices of WoC and claimed that critiques from WoC were destructive and "not helpful" for feminism. It is an absolute primer as to how feminism fails at intersectionality.

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 18:25:38

GoshAnne. To address your main points:

1. The main racist issue around the hunger games is not the inclusion of the black character, but that the main character, Katniss, is a POC in the books but is now being portrayed as a white character in the moviesand then often appears in a white saviour role.

2. I made no suggestion that women of color could not be LGBT or disabled. I mentioned how a member of a white ally group was the main perpetrator of antisemitism graffiti at Lena Dunham's former college. I then followed this up by saying people who claim to be intersectional over one issue but not another (in this case a white man who was opposed to racism against POC but was happy to write antisemitism slurs and threats on walls) to show how antisemitism was a problem in social justice circles. I gave LGBT and disabled people but I did not suggest the people ignoring those issues were WOC.

3. I am not suggesting WOC have ulterior motives. Antisemitism is often institutional and ignoring Jewish ethnicity is a symptom of this. It doesn't have to be due to conscious actions or an ulterior motive.

4. I a not derailing. Firstly, because this is a thread about intersectionality in general, not the specific intersection of race and sex. Secondly, if you want to talk about the many examples of problems of poor media representation of POC I am happy to discuss that as long as it isn't how a group of women who just happen to be Jewish are the problem. I am sure that between the people on this thread, one of us can link to an article about this which isn't about Lena Dunham. If not, I suggest discussion of the pilot of Twenties (as I already mentioned).

5. Lena Dunham has a book deal. How does that make the social justice warriors (usually white) constantly hating her less antisemitic? Obama is president of the USA. People still make racist comments about him and attack him for racist reasons.

6. The issue of the relationship between whiteness and Jewishness is complex and distressing. There's lots of discussion by Jewish people on the Internet. I would feel uncomfortable trying to defend such a sensitive topic here.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 17:57:32

Freya - you are being deliberately obtuse and seem to have little understanding of how whiteness plays out in society.

Do you honestly think a show featuring four black women or women who cannot pass for white would have received the same publicity as Girls? Can you even name any shows with that sort of cast?

Did you miss the racist backlash to the Hunger Games having a black character? Or the racism dished out when Awkward Black Girl won a webby - no book deal or tv series for her, mind.

Lets be clear, this show is on a big network, had huge publicity, Lena Dunham has received a big money book deal, she is not some little victim being "hounded" by the mean WoC, who are only picking on her and have nothing else to say ever about other issues of racial representation (also love your assumption that WoC are not ever LGBT or disabled, so are silent on those issues too.)

I really resent the accusations of anti-semitism you're using here. The critiques I've linked are valid and heartfelt, for you to assign ulterior motives to them is underhand as best, and deliberately undermining at worst.

Upthread KRITQ mentioned Flavia Dzordan, a writer who has written so well about race and intersectionality in particular. The Vagenda recently did a spectacularly patronising piece about intersectionality where they not only mocked Dzordan's words, but failed to give her any credit for them. Can you guess who has got the six figure book deal and who hasn't?

You seem to think you know the answers already, without listening to what WoC have to say and you are still using the classic derailing tactic of "Why don't you care about x,y and z too?" - again this is what men do to feminists. Why are you doing this to women over race issues?

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 17:24:45

Sorry garlic, I genuinely don't understand. Could you maybe rephrase or expand?

garlicagain Fri 23-Aug-13 16:58:07

Once someone has announced they are in favour of intersectionality, the fact that they don't actually apply the same set of ideas to Jewish people, gay people, people with disabilities or whoever it is that they don't like is simply ignored.

This is curious, Freya, because it looks to me as though you're describing "good" feminist intersectionality as blind. I question whether you'd do any good by applying the same set of ideas to white jews and to black lesbians! I must have misunderstood?

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 16:24:41

ComixMinx, sorry to sound like a stuck record, but I do not think it is all about just being better at intersectionality. The reasons why the contemporary racialisation of Jewish people is denied and they are made out to be just white people with white privilege has a complex and racist history behind it. To put it all down to an issue of intersectionality is misleading.

garlicagain Fri 23-Aug-13 16:03:10

I doubt that many feminists want feminism just to be for white middle class women, OSB, but am sure the "single story", or false assumptions of commonality, causes that effect all too frequently.

On a personal level, I've found my feelings about feminism changing as I age. Age discrimination and 'able-ism' are now greater issues for me than the gender-based problems, which beset younger feminists. Of course, being an ageing woman brings its own special unpleasantness, but feminism doesn't have an awful lot to say to me about that. On balance, I'd say my age-related problems are now more pressing than my gender-related ones. The point about intersectionality is that sexism makes my age-related problems worse, not vice versa. In general, feminism doesn't seem to get this. It is a pervasive weakness ime.

OddSockBox Fri 23-Aug-13 15:42:21

I am an intersectional feminist because feminism is for all women: disabled, poor, trans, straight, bisexual, lesbian, of a different race than myself, living in a different culture than myself...

I can't understand why anyone would want feminism just to be for white middle class women and not care about all the other women out there?

I mean it's hard, sure, I've broadened my mind learning about it and realising what other women go through that I don't experience, but we're stronger when we fight together, and we help more people.

comixminx Fri 23-Aug-13 14:33:06

Freya, but surely that is "Intersectionality - UR doing it RONG". Intersectionality's not only about racism, it's about (as I said originally) ablism, transphobia, and so on, and yes, about anti-semitism too. But any one of us is subject to prejudices that are in the culture and should be able to be picked up on it!

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 13:51:37

So what is your argument from that last post? That we shouldn't support a tv show about Jewish women because the Jewish actresses could pretend not to be Jewish and play non-Jewish roles? There are white passing POC. Do you think we should not support shows with POC characters on the basis that we could watch shows about white people and employ some white passing POC to play the parts?

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 13:46:31

GothAnne, As I have already said, it is up to Jewish people, and in this case Jewish women, to say whether or not they feel they have been adequately represented on tv. The shows you mention are no longer running. The last series of Seinfeld was made 15 years ago! These are the same arguments that are made about POC. The fact that there have been certain shows with a largely African American cast in the past does not mean that African Americans aren't under-represented and mis-represented or that we shouldn't all be pushing and campaigning to get the tv show Twenties beyond a pilot.

I disagree that shows like Two Broke Girls are equally criticised. There has been a huge hate campaign against Lena Dunham.

The recent spate of anti- Semitic graffiti that was investigated by the police at Dunham's former college (she spoke out against it and got further abuse for doing that) and led to the police identifying the main culprit. He turned out to be a member of a white ally opposed to racism group and the director of a pro-Obama group. So I don't believe for a moment that people claiming to be intersectional, opposed to white supremacy etc makes them suddenly not anti-Semitic. It is a serious issue.

And this pretty much sums up my original problem with intersectionality - it is about moral superiority. Once someone has announced they are in favour of intersectionality, the fact that they don't actually apply the same set of ideas to Jewish people, gay people, people with disabilities or whoever it is that they don't like is simply ignored.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 13:28:20

I also need to add that Jewish people generally have white privilege or are read as white. All these four actresses could play any white role on tv, actresses of colour don't have that opportunity. Also when people see posters of the show they don't see four Jewish women, but four white women.

The article which detailed the casting notices for WoC roles in the show were a painful illustration of exactly what poor roles are available.

comixminx Fri 23-Aug-13 13:18:46

Not able to comment on this today because of lack of time but many thanks GoshAnne for posting those links - the Racialicious one in particular is the main one I read originally, linked to via Twitter discussions so not that easy for me to trace back to.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 13:02:14

Freya - the Jewish argument is red herring because Jewish people are very well represented on US tv, Friends, Seinfield and Curb Your Enthusiam to name just 3 had main characters who were Jewish.

Also, you're missing a main plank of the criticism which is that Girls posits itself as the voice of a generation - to make that claim and only show white people in meaningful roles. On top of that set your show in an area which is 2/3non white, no the criticism is deserved.

Also, the idea that other shows don't face the same criticism, I would wonder where you are reading. Shows like Two Broke Girls have faced massive criticism for their steretyped portryals of PoC.

Film casting is also an area of huge debate, the Last Airbender is an example of this.

These discusssions are happening all the time.

JuliaScurr Fri 23-Aug-13 12:24:52

Mini I have some sympathy with the idea that the current stage of capitalism demands changes in gender relations, women's employment, etc. While needing to maintain domestic labour too. Feminism arose at a specific historical point in UK because those contradictions became so stark. Possibly...
what do you think?
(I've been up for 7 hours after 5 ish hours sleep - not really awake)

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