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Help a natural scientist understand intersectionality

(13 Posts)
MaidOfStars Tue 13-Feb-18 20:01:54

I have been thinking about a completely disgusting Twitter trope doing the rounds, that asserts:
if you accept black women under the brolly of feminism, you must accept transwomen

This usually leads to some kind of phrase like:
if your feminism isn't intersectional, it isn't feminism

To me, it sounds so completely clunky to equate black women to transwomen in a logical sense (ignoring the racist overtone), so I've been trying to nail down my thoughts.

Knowing nothing about intersectionality in social theory, I have had a brief read. I am about to completely oversimplify, but I'm a scientist and I like logic and categories smile Please see my thoughts and tell me where I'm going wrong.

1. Black women are oppressed in two categories - their race and their sex. Thus, a black woman has a different experience to a white woman of being a woman. The intersect is the overlap in the two categories of a Venn diagram (race and sex).

Below is where my own thoughts have taken over from proper reading
2. Other categories that may require an intersectional approach are age, socioeconomic class? Not an exhaustive list, but the aging thing is relevant because it's where I'm going to draw my comparison.... So, I can clearly visualise Venn diagrams with an intersect between these categories and sex, that may lead to different experiences.
3. I cannot visualise "trans" (or the dreaded "cis", but it must be included for posterity) as a category. I can't see the circle it creates. I got to thinking that cis/trans is actually a modifier of the sex category, rather than a category in itself.

Now it gets wierd
4. Trying to understand how cis/trans modifies the sex category, I arrived at the rather clunky idea that cis/trans represent the mechanism of belonging to that sex category. So cis/trans is a mechanism, not a category.
5. There are mechanisms for how one becomes to belong to the race and age categories. The former is dictated by "level of melanin production" and the latter is dictated by "time". Neither of those things is a category in itself ; rather, they are ways of inserting a person into the specific category to which they relate.

So, "black" and "trans" are not the same type of descriptor and thus cannot be compared in the context of intersectional feminism. Trans is not a category and cannot intersect.

How am I doing? I'll stop there, because I've bored everyone to death, talked utter shite, rediscovered the wheel or am about to get a Novel prize.

TL;DR Intersectional feminism can accommodate black women because race and sex are two formal categories. It cannot accommodate transwomen because trans is not a category

grasspigeons Tue 13-Feb-18 20:36:54


I drew a venn diagram with male / female/trans woman on it to try and work out the common areas to help get my head round things. basically I couldn't get a diagram to work in a way that included just trans women and women but excluded men.

so I am all for venn diagrams and think you are right

Italiangreyhound Tue 13-Feb-18 20:37:16

Feminism is about females. So a trans man is a female. So feminism can accommodate trans. Trans women are male. Males can have some relationship with feminism (IMHO) and be supportive. But it is not about males. They are not in charge.

If changes to laws and attitudes brought about by the efforts of feminists, or any women, or any men, affect women in general, these may well have a positive effect for trans women too.

But issues that affect females - reproductive rights, menstruation, maternity rights, menopause, will not affect trans women. They may, however, affect trans men who still have their female reproductive organs or who are still seem as female, or both.

Someone more clever may be along to tell me I am wrong! But that is how I, as a female, see it.

QuentinSummers Tue 13-Feb-18 21:32:24

Kimberle Crenshaw started talking about intersectional feminism because there was legal action about a company not employing black women. Those women weren't protected under sex discrimination law because the company hired white women. And they weren't protected by race discrimination law because the company hired black men. So the black women were essentially unprotected because they were being discriminated against for being black and women.

I think intersectionality as a concept is very useful. But in my opinion it's wider than just for feminism. It annoys me that it's a label that only gets applied to feminism so we are meant to "centre" penis people.
No. I'm sure gender non conforming penis people are discriminated against and I'm sure if they are also black, or disabled, or lower income etc the effects are magnified. But that doesn't mean it's feminism job to fix that.

thebewilderness Tue 13-Feb-18 22:14:27

Go to Crenshaws work on intersectionality to understand it best. At no point does Feminism intersect with penis.

Datun Tue 13-Feb-18 22:27:37

From what I understand, oppression has to involve a material gain for the oppressor.

Women, historically, oppressed for their reproductive, emotional and sexual labour, black people for their labour.

There is no material gain to be had from oppressing transwomen. Oppression wouldn't produce anything.

Quite apart from the fact that they belong to the cohort who do the oppressing.

It's quite laughable to think that women have the power to oppress whole swathes of men.

Discrimination, on the other hand is perfectly possible. But it's not oppression.

Which is why race and sex are the intersections.

I believe class has been added, too?

As extracting cheap labour from working class would form oppression.

But there is absolutely nothing to be had from oppressing someone who is gender conforming. Its pointless.

I'm not sure that addresses your post, OP!

UpstartCrow Tue 13-Feb-18 23:13:03

QuentinSummers explained Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw's theory of intersectionality.

The term has been hijacked. the problem so called intersectional feminists refuse to acknowledge is that there are women from patriarchal religions and cultures that cannot perform certain acts in front of biological men, no matter how those men identify.

So allowing MTT's into a woman's toilet or changing room stops those women from using that facility.
Telling women to stay at home is is the exact and precise opposite of feminism. Feminists hope to get those women out of the home and into public life.

Its not that women support patriarchal cultures; its that change towards equality is a long slow process of acceptance. You have to enable change, you don't get it by making demands.

Materialist Wed 14-Feb-18 09:06:18

Liberal feminists have also completely collapsed the meaning of 1) oppression, 2) discrimination, and 3) advantage into one word: privilege. This has made a mess of intersectionality theory and feminist activism.

AngryAttackKittens Wed 14-Feb-18 09:29:13

One of the things I dislike about the way "intersectional feminism" is being deployed is that it excludes trans men, who are female, from the category of people who feminism is for, and the adds insult to the injury by accusing them of male privilege, mansplaining, etc. Which is not at all what Krenshaw was trying to achieve when she coined the term.

QuentinSummers Wed 14-Feb-18 10:09:02

Great point materialist had not thought of that before. I knew privilege niggled at me but not really why.

CertainHalfDesertedStreets Wed 14-Feb-18 10:23:06

If you do come up with a Venn diagram we've been sitting drumming our fingers and waiting for a sealion new poster to come back with one for ages.

It's the 'we're being spammed' thread.

We're rather connoisseurs of them now <shines Brownie Venn diagram badge>

KanyeWesticle Wed 14-Feb-18 11:37:23

I'm not convinced that "cis/trans is actually a modifier of the sex category." Does that require an individual is somewhere on the spectrum of cis/trans, rather than rejecting the concept altogether?

Different topic but the visual might help: the venn at the bottom (4/5 down) of this page is interesting, and covers the "intersection" of sex and sexuality. There's a "not specified" area which I think holds relevance here.

DodoPatrol Wed 14-Feb-18 16:25:00

The only Venn diagram overlap between women and trans-women, but excluding men and trans-men, is the use of the word 'she', as far as I can see.

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