Introduction to Intersectionality

Most people with any kind of invested interest in feminism will learn early on within their experience of the movement that in order to be effective and truly progressive feminism has to be intersectional. The early waves of feminism are often criticized for prioritizing the advancement of upper and upper-middle class white women, and not paying as close attention to the fact that different women had different problems and different needs. This issue certainly hasn’t gone away, but people generally seem to be more aware of it now. Feminism as just the belief in equality amongst the sexes is easy to get on board with, but feminism as a movement is more complicated than that. To truly be valuable to any individual woman, Feminism must address each of the oppressive power structures that impact her life, not just the patriarchal ones.

Women of color, women from different social classes, LGBT+ women, disabled women, all have different experiences and different needs, that feminism doesn’t inherently address. The irony of non-intersectional feminism is that it chops women up. Magazines and advertisements cut women up into individual body parts; the last thing we should want to do in trying to counteract their influence is to cut women up into a stack of different identities and pick and choose the ones we want to protect. Feminists have no more right to pick women apart than men do. Every woman deserves to be left whole. Traditional feminism often makes the mistake of simplifying women until they are just women. But no one person is “just” anything. Each of us exists somewhere within the place where all of our identities intersect.

Intersectional feminism offers itself as a solution to the shortcomings of conventional feminism by acknowledging that there are power imbalances even within groups of women. White women have privileges that women of color don’t. Neurotypical women have advantages that neurodivergent women don’t. Cis-het women have advantages that LGBT+ women don’t. Many women occupying feminist spaces do so while holding power over other women, often without realizing the impact of that. Only once the imbalance of power amongst women is recognized can attempts to bring about their advancement begin taking a wider variety of needs into account. If this is done successfully, then feminism becomes more effective at resisting oppression, the thing that the movement was supposedly founded on, and should always be focused on.

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© The Girlhood Project 2016