Why You Should Be an Intersectional Feminist

At this point in time, many people have heard of the word “feminism” because of its constant appearance on social media, television, and in the news. However, it is less likely for people to hear the word “intersectional” attached to feminism. According to Dictionary.com, intersectionality is “the theory that the overlap of various social identities, as race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual”1. Essentially, multiple pieces of an individual’s identity can create a unique marginalized experience for them that cannot be solved by focusing on one aspect of their identity. For example, feminism used to be primarily focused on white, middle class women’s struggles, which is why older forms of feminism have been called white feminism. Therefore, the only marginalized identity that was acknowledged was being a women. However, women that had multiple marginalized identities were often ignored such as women of color, lower class women, and others.  

Today, there is more of an awareness about positionality, meaning being able to identify where one fits in a societal context based upon the facets that make up their identity.2 This has led to more feminist activism trying to address the unique injustices of all women rather than generalizing the plights of white women to everyone. I gained more insight to the importance of intersectionality after attending a talk at my university a couple days ago that Dr. Jamillah Karim presented, entitled “Islam and Black Feminism: Past and Present”. She discussed several points about how Islam and feminism are not contrasting ideals. One example she gave was about how white feminism had previously been convinced that hijabs were oppressive for Muslim women. However, Dr. Karim believed wearing a hijab, could be a form of resistance. She gave this insight due to her own positionality as a black, Muslim woman. Throughout history, there has been an oversexualization of black women and children in literature and media that has origins in white supremacy ideology. In this way, wearing a hijab is a way to spiritually resist against the sexualization of black feminine bodies and a way to gain a sense of autonomy over oneself. This view of the hijab and what it can mean to black, Muslim women is a good example of how intersectionality allows us to view concepts in different ways without generalizing ideas about oppression on different groups of women. While feminism and social activism have done a lot to improve the lives of marginalized people, it is important to always keep in mind intersectionality. People’s experiences and struggles may be different based on their identities and it would be a disservice to women to try to say that all of their problems are the same.