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Intersectional Feminism - please explain

(52 Posts)
NappiesNappies Sat 07-Jan-17 10:16:51

I was on my local Facebook mums group, having an idle discussion about how newspaper articles always mention if an interviewed female executive has children, but never comments on this for men in public life. It was a good robust feminist chat.

Then someone came on saying that this was exactly the type of thing that would be discussed at an upcoming local intersectional feminist conference. I asked what intersectional meant. I was told by this person that it was 'feminism that's not just for middle class white women'. She explained that it asks women 'to be aware of their privilege as white/cis-gender/heterosexual etc.' I thought about replying (particularly how the original topic was pretty solidly a concern for white middle class women) but am now afraid of doxxing after reading about it on here.

Since Spartacus I've been doing a bit of reading and realised that all my life I've been an unreconstructed second waver. I've done a fair bit of activism in the past for women in third world war zones and am horrified that this cis-gender concept is marginalising genuinely appalling things to women and girls who don't get to choose to identify out of their oppression, rape and torture.

It seems to me, though, that 'intersectional concerns' have always been a feature of progressive movements. We didn't just have that terminology. I'm a bit confused that old school feminists have been reconstructed as elitists. It seems to me that it's actually the other way around. Are there any good texts to read so I can understand the issues more clearly?

NappiesNappies Sat 07-Jan-17 21:07:17

Anyone? Sorry if my title seems clumsy. For Australians the term 'please explain' is tongue in cheek since racist politician Pauline Hanson used it in a tabloid interview. <Castigates self>

woman12345 Sat 07-Jan-17 21:29:09

This feels like walking uphill in knee deep mud. We are women. Most societies are sexist, and we need to fight it. I'd be tempted to consider some sort of conspiracy to divide and rule with what seems to be being done to feminism, if the alt right could be arsed. Marxists would say it these divides are inevitable, I don't agree.

I understand the need to speak in safe spaces, and completely understand the need for women of different class and race to have equal voice, but we need to speak in dangerous spaces in order to at least maintain and god willing improve on what we have achieved.

I can't help you, I'm afraid with feminist theories here, but these sub divisions seems divisive, passive aggressive and ultimately politically daft. Great political movements and awful ones ( see Trump's win) have won victories through co operation and alliances, not by hissy fits and name calling.

Look at what the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace have achieve through united Christian and Muslim efforts. They ended the war!

Sorry NappiesNappies that doesn't help with further research, but the women's movement like the left, seems to be having a nervous breakdown at a time when we are needed more than ever!

woman12345 Sat 07-Jan-17 21:39:04

I don't know if this helps, but it's a good opinion piece from another thread.
weekwoman.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/what-does-being-cis-mean-for-a-woman/

Gallavich Sat 07-Jan-17 21:42:50

That's really good. I'm going to be braver and share that on Facebook

Thelilywhite Sat 07-Jan-17 23:17:43

Thanks woman that piece is brilliant. Gallavich you are braver than I am. Dont have the guts to post on fb but will save it to learn from next time I have to attend a feckin LGBTQ awareness training session and the facilitator uses the word without batting an eyelid

NappiesNappies Sun 08-Jan-17 00:58:59

That is a brilliant piece, woman but it focuses on the term cis, which doesn't quite get to the conundrum I'm raising.

It's not like one can say 'intersectional feminism' is a big pile of poo, because the basic notions of it are fine. It makes us look like nasty prejudiced people if we say we don't subscribe to it. It's the baggage I suppose, which is the use of the term 'cis'.

But I was wondering how the term came about, and if there's any good reading material about how they justify the incorporation of cis whilst at the same time rejecting prior feminist waves for being elitist.

I suppose it ties in with identity politics, which I don't really know much about, apart from hearing in the sidelines how it was imploding women's departments on campuses when I was at uni. It was framed to me at the time as 'you're not allowed to speak on something unless you suffer that oppression yourself', i.e. white women were not allowed to speak about non-white oppression. I'm sure that was inaccurate. Or was it?

0phelia Sun 08-Jan-17 08:00:48

From what I gather intersectional feminism is just feminism that doesn't exclude anyone. So it'd include issues faced by WOC, Asian women, Muslim, Christian, Jewish women, trans women, non trans women, pregnant women, infertile women, and men. If you get the picture.
Feminism has a bad reputation for focussing too much on wealthy white women because it seems as though most ppl only hear moaning about the boardroom pay gap.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Sun 08-Jan-17 08:44:27

You need to read the original article by Kimberle Crenshaw, Mapping The Margins. It's googleable but I couldn't link because it was a pdf.

The point goes further than including everyone: it is that oppressions can be different where they intetsect.
For example: the law firm that employs black women in menial roles only. They can say they're not discriminating against black people because they have black male partners, they claim they're not discriminating against women because they have (white) female partners. But the black woman is never going to make partner.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Sun 08-Jan-17 08:58:05

And it's not about being cis - that's a different issue altogether.

M0stlyHet Sun 08-Jan-17 09:24:18

"Feminism has a bad reputation for focussing too much on wealthy white women because it seems as though most ppl only hear moaning about the boardroom pay gap."

That's true, Ophelia, and there was a very interesting thread on here a couple of years ago with black and Asian women talking about their personal experiences, and how, in their lives, race did play a bigger part than sex as the place where they found oppression at its most acute.

But, having acknowledged this, it's important to realise that the "pay gap = boardroom pay gap = privileged upper middle class white women" series of shifts in debate is classic divide-and-conquer. My full time equivalent pay is pretty much bang on the national average, yet I am part of an equal pay action at the moment. My organisation's own internal audit showed pay gaps not just because of differences in role and seniority, but within role. And then there's the further question of why, as a society, we magically value traditionally female roles more than women's - so that caring professions like nursing assistants, care workers and the like, which are all vital to society, are paid less than traditionally male roles. This isn't an abstract, class bound discussion - it impacts tens of thousands of women, not just at the top of the tree, but down the bottom where people are struggling over decisions like "do I pay the electricity this week or try to get more protein in my kids' diets. For women whose income matters to them as a matter of survival, the question of why their pay-packet is smaller than a man in the same organisation matters both practically and is a huge slap in the face symbolically.

Whenever I hear people say "the pay gap... that shouldn't be what feminism is about, they're focusing narrowly on the interests of privileged white middle class women..." I always want to pick this claim apart, because it strikes me as one of those classic "make feminism look bad" rhetorical tricks that they've fallen for. It's factually inaccurate because the pay gap permeates all levels of society and all ethnic groups. And in a capitalist society it matters on a very fundamental theoretical level too, because it is a capitalist society's most fundamental way of saying to a group of people "you are less than real human beings - we are going to show this by not valuing your labour properly." (Important caveat - this "we can't be bothered to value your labour properly" attitude is intersectional - it affects women as women compared to men of similar backgrounds, and people from ethnic minorities compared to white people of similar backgrounds. It's not just a feminist issue, but it's not not a feminist issue, if you see what I mean.)

NappiesNappies Sun 08-Jan-17 09:45:17

Thanks countess that looks really interesting. Unfortunately I've had too much beer (am sweltering in a heatwave at the moment) so can't read anything scholarly. So will pick up on it when the cool change comes through.

I agree with the point by mostlyhet that feminists are being accused of elitism by the boardroom pay issues. These campaigns by the women who are in the strongest position do filter down, or they should, to women in feminised roles on shit pay. But they rely on strong unions, which is where I would assume intersectionism comes in. But that might be my socialist leaning. Also, Marx emphasised that a vanguard is needed, yes? (I don't have any formal training in Communist ideology) So of course the radical movements will be spearheaded by those who have the luxury to be able to mull over these issues. Anyway, am a little drunk on very little beer as I'm breastfeeding and am a one-pot-screamer at present...will tootle off now before I continue writing mush.

BertrandRussell Sun 08-Jan-17 09:49:54

In my cynical moments I can't help thinking of intersectionality as yet another way of saying to women "ah yes, but what about this group and that group- what are you going to do about them?".........

Wonderflonium Sun 08-Jan-17 09:57:29

I was on another feminist board a few years ago and there was a big bust up about what "intersectionality" really was.

A poster made the point that it was only supposed to mean feminism that didn't exclude WOC and she felt that white people were appropriating the word to mean feminism that didn't exclude all other groups (such as the disabled, LGBT, different classes etc) and erasing the contribution of the woman who came up with the original idea and focusing more on for example LGBT issues than tackling racism.

It was a really interesting conversation. It does feel like "intersectional feminism" is the phrase white feminists use to signal they are allies without having to do, you know, anything about it.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Sun 08-Jan-17 10:00:39

It shouldn't be Bertrand but that is exactly how it is used.
Imo it's a terrific concept which is regularly used against women (and not just white women) - it's v important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and dismiss the whole term.

NappiesNappies Sun 08-Jan-17 10:13:38

Oh that's interesting Wonderflonium as the original comment was actually from an indigenous woman (or she appears to be from her Facebook profile). She seems to have drunk the trans kool aid though. I would say with certainty that the navel gazing about gender pronouns etc on campuses is severely distracting away from genuine issues of violence, poverty and deaths in custody faced by Aboriginal women.

I agree Countess that the term is not a negative one. It was just used in this Facebook post to sort of dismiss a whole tranche of feminist movements/victories that have had meaningful impact on women's lives. Which made me want to interrogate its meaning.

Beachcomber Sun 08-Jan-17 10:18:26

I have only ever seen the concept of intersectionality used to either attempt to shift the focus of feminism off women, to tell second wave feminists that they are oppressors or to divide women and concentrate on "competing" disadvantages rather than on what we have in common and what unites us.

It is an idea that looks good on paper but is actually used by right on liberals to defang feminism. And this is gleefully encouraged by neoliberalism. For example the idea that a feminist critiquing prostitution or racism in porn needs to "check her privilege" and stop oppressing "sex workers" or women of colour by the hateful act of having an opinion about the condition of any woman other than herself.

Intersectionality now means that you are an oppressor if you offer an opinion or action about anything other than yourself. It's very cunning and perfectly manipulates the current zeitgist of class politics being seen as a Bad Thing for the status quo.

venusinscorpio Sun 08-Jan-17 11:19:17

I agree with Countess, Bertrand and Beachcomber. It's a positive concept in theory, but in practice it is a misunderstood social justice buzzword used by people who don't think about the issues particularly deeply (which is required as the intersections are complex) and misused as the "Oppression Olympics" or it is deliberately used in a manipulative way to shame women.

venusinscorpio Sun 08-Jan-17 11:28:16

Aargh, posted a long post and was told that posted correctly but it seems to have been eaten!

In summary I agree with Countess, Bertrand and Beachcomber. It's a positive concept in theory which in practice has been reduced to an Oppression Olympics on social media where women can be told to STFU. And transwomen are always the most oppressed of all.

And it seems like feminists are the only people expected to be intersectional.

venusinscorpio Sun 08-Jan-17 11:29:27

How weird, my original post came through eventually.

PoochSmooch Sun 08-Jan-17 13:09:33

It does leave white middle class feminists in a bit of a bind, doesn't it? You can't focus on the stuff that does affect you because it's elitist and it's putting people off, but you're told that you can't get involved in the stuff that you don't have lived experience of, because you can't understand it, and people don't want you speaking for them. Some days, when you've read for the fifth or sixth time how offputting who you are is, the temptation is to say "fuck this for a game of soldiers", and return to fretting about board room diversity, because it's not like you can change who you are and what your life is. Will no-one think of the poor middle class white feminists?! (sarcasm).

(I'm aware that this argument is sometimes used by men against feminism in general, but I think the difference is if you're trying to be an ally versus just bitching about how you're left out).

I get why people are tempted to punch up, it's understandable, but then, as everyone says to Katniss in The Hunger Games "Remember who the real enemy is". (the patriarchy).

venusinscorpio Sun 08-Jan-17 13:47:27

To me, the perfect example of how intersectional feminism works out in the mainstream is "Everyday Feminism". And that's why it concerns me.

astridfarnsworth Sun 08-Jan-17 14:06:22

The claim that intersectionality is a good concept in theory but not so great in practice is the same accusation that's been leveled against feminism and every other kind of progressive politics since the dawn of time. It's rather disheartening to see this argument being invoked by feminists too.

To me, intersectional feminism can be boiled down to a very simple statement: not all women are the same. That doesn't mean allyship and solidarity are impossible. On the contrary, because oppressions are connected fighting them requires solidarity. What it does mean is that some feminist initiatives are only going to benefit some women. Acknowledging that is only a positive step because it means we can formulate efforts that help women located in different positions. Getting involved in a boardroom diversity campaign isn't 'wrong.' I think it's great. As long as you recognize that the beneficiaries of such campaigns are likely to be white middle class women and unlikely to be, for example, undocumented workers from the South. And that hoping for a trickle down effect isn't good enough. It's okay to focus on issues that matter to you in your life but don't assume they'll be automatically benefit a differently located woman just because you both happen to be women.

woman12345 Sun 08-Jan-17 14:12:33

I agree, Pooch, the women of Liberia didn't end their civil war by arguing about intersectionality. Muslim and Christian women , took action together and won against male war mongers in 2003. Suffragists were a cross class movement, including some activist toffs, that's OK, we vote now as a result. The list is endless.

PoochSmooch Sun 08-Jan-17 14:55:02

totally agree about EF, venus.

There are always going to be different priorities when you have a group together. It's a frustration of all political organising (and all working life in general come to think about it). There's so much to do it can be hard to know where to start, and some people do seem to enjoy saying "well you shouldn't start with tackling x, when y is so much worse". It's hard to maintain cohesion in the face of it.

But it should pretty much never end up in telling anyone to STFU, or as they say now "check your privilege", which generally means about the same as far as I can see.

As an aside, nappies, the phrase "one pot screamer" made me giggle, and I'm totally going to use it as soon as I can grin.

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