Intersectional Feminism: How a Stalemate Within Feminism is Preventing the Women’s Movement From Moving Forward

The dichotomy of male and female identity is managing to find its way into feminism. Feminist writers are commonly cited as the most critical of the concept of feminism, and indeed one of their key goals is to deconstruct the meaning of feminism.

In her book “Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism,” Trinh T. Minh-ha explains how the idea of women serves both as a male insult to women and a badge of honor for the westernized white woman and assures them a role in patriarchal power games. The idea of man and woman are racially skewed away from brown bodies who are often painted as gender-neutral entities. For example, black culture is often seen as a masculine, and the idea of a black woman is not accepted by the dominant culture.

There appears to be a sense of optimism within the women’s equity movement and a willingness to cooperate with the ruling male class. Once these white women begin working together with men within the hegemonic power system, they begin to feel that they are “special” as the first of their kind. In exchange for a small measure of power they compromise their core values, in the process becoming complicit in the masters’ cycle of oppression. They are afraid of losing their specialness and thus resent the inclusion of more women into these decision-making positions with the men. As Adrienne Rich neatly put it, "We seem to be special women here, we have liked to think of ourselves as special, and we have known that men would tolerate, even romanticize us as  special, as long as our words and actions didn’t threaten their privilege of tolerating or rejecting us and our work according to their ideas of what a special woman ought to be." 

By continuing to try to use their relative privilege to save women of Asian or African origin, white women are simply propagating the colonialist cycle of oppression. Otherwise, women of color will have problems standing alongside white women in the cause and are reduced to multicultural tokens in the movement.

Feminism without intersectionality is female self-aggrandizement and white supremacy as far as it functions to help only western white women. Anti-female bias appears at all levels of society, but the oppression severity is unequal across all races and ethnicities. By making women try to find ways to define ‘woman’ as a homogenous and specific entity on par with the concept of man, male logic is pushing women to exclude the Third World from its consideration.

Simone de Beauvoir discusses in her classic, “The Second Sex,” how designating gender differences on the basis of sexual identity helps the oppressors while wearing the mask of objectivity.

“The very theme of difference whatever the differences are represented to be, is useful to the oppressing group…any allegedly natural feature attributed to an oppressed group is used to imprison this group within the boundaries of a Nature which, since the group is oppressed, ideological confusion labels ‘nature of oppressed person’…to demand the right to Difference without analyzing its social character is to give back the enemy an effective weapon.”

The concept of a separation between the identity of race and gender forces woman of color to make an impossible choice between fighting for her ethnicity or on the side of women, as she cannot do both.

Unfortunately, the role of feminism in the Third World may be used mostly as a westernizing influence as it demands women to abandon their traditional roles as cultural gate-keeper in favor of a male-dominated monetary economy. The role of Third World women in the fight to end sexism and racism is not as well-recognized as it should be within the women’s movement. For this to end, we must push for systematic change that dissolves boundaries between the First World and the Third World by respecting women from all over who are freeing themselves from gender inequality.