Defining Intersectional Feminism

The conversation surrounding identity is rapidly becoming more and more complex. We live in a culture that likes to categorize people, placing them into separate boxes with distinct boundaries and clearly marked labels. So much of the hatred and fear that exists in the world is a direct product of this categorization, whether it happens consciously or not.

However, as we all know, people aren’t one-dimensional. People occupy multiple identities. Identity is fluid and multifaceted, covering race, ethnicity, gender, class, age, and more. 

These two conflicting positions thus create the need for a term called intersectionality. The term came about in the late 1980’s, but it’s recently received a spike in popularity, given the current state of our political and social climate. Intersectionality is most often used to describe the experience of marginalized people or groups. Intersectionality suggests that the different systems of oppression – racism, sexism, classism, etc. – are intertwined, and thus all factor into the experience of being a socially marginalized individual. No form of discrimination is mutually exclusive from another, but in everyday discourse, they’re mistakenly considered separate entities.  

For instance, in the United States, a white woman’s womanhood looks vastly different from a black woman’s womanhood. Both individuals are women, but there are other facets of their identity that will encourage society to treat them as very different people. 

In the case of feminism, intersectionality can become a major source of contention. Although it’s fact that women get paid less than men, it’s also a fact that women of color earn, on average, less than white women. Heterosexual women are far less likely to become victims of hate acts or violent discrimination than their transgender counterparts. When we think about the feminist movement, we often think about the strong and powerful – but often straight and white – women flooding our TV screens and social media feeds. Straight white women are simply more likely to have their voices heard, as society tends to find their narrative more compelling. The women who don’t fall into this highly specialized niche thus fall to the wayside.

So where do we go from here? When it comes to intersectional feminism, there are little things that we can all do to steer the conversation in a more productive and inclusive direction. First and foremost, acknowledge your privilege, and recognize that others don’t possess that same privilege. Additionally, make sure to listen to people with experiences and views that don’t align with your own. Even if the other side completely disagrees with your stance, listen and understand where they’re coming from. No one experience is more valid than another – we’re all people, we’ve all got something to say.