Recently, the term Intersectional Feminism has been floating around social media activism page. It is gradually becoming a part of everyday language for our generation, but there are situations where it has been over-used or used incorrectly. The definition is not quite as simple as many might think, and it actually has a relatively long history. If we plan to start practicing intersectionality and bringing awareness to this concept, we should all make sure that we know exactly what we are talking about. So, in that case, what exactly does intersectionality mean?
The term intersectional is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect; especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups”–or essentially, the resulting discrimination of the intersection of race, gender, and/or other oppressed identities. The term was coined by civil rights advocate Kimerlé Crenshaw in 1989 (although she acknowledges that she didn’t invent the phrase) because she observed that race and gender we seen as two completely separate issues. When this is the case, women of color are not properly protected against discrimination because their two oppressions are only seen individually. For example, a woman of color being hired at a job could potentially have less of a chance to be hired because the company’s “female quota” might already be filled by white women, while their racial diversity might be filled with men of color. This means that women of color have been constantly left out of the conversation because society never considered the unique struggles that come with the intersection of gender and race.
This term is now colloquially used to refer to any combination of oppression, not just race and gender. However, it is often used when saying “I support black women” or “I stand with LGBTQ+ people of color.” Although these are valuable sentiments, they are not examples of intersectional feminism on their own. Intersectionality must acknowledge the unique struggles of someone affected by multiple oppressions and also acknowledges the oppression within their own activist system. When you acknowledge that women of color face extremely different forms of oppression than white women and recognize that whitewashed feminism continues to leave them out of the discussion, this in intersectional feminism. This also means working within your group, i.e. feminism, to fight for other marginalized groups. It is a basic understanding that all oppression is linked. Women are not equal until ALL women are equal.
With this knowledge, use this term to educate friends and family. Have conversations with those who may not see this concept as clearly, and continue to spread awareness of this concept. Words are important, and if it weren’t for terms such as this, these unique oppressions would have a much harder time coming to light. The practice of intersectional feminism can only progress if it is talked about within our society. Hopefully, now that we understand the term more clearly, we will all work together to evolve into a more intersectional society.