It was a first-year class where everyone had to do a presentation on something that was related to journalism. Some did theirs on comedic journalism, others on the digital direction it was heading in, but I decided to do mine on the lack of diversity and inclusivity in newsrooms, which often leads to harmful and poor reporting of marginalized communities. I had often seen my peers, and experienced journalists alike, report on stories from a biased and uninformed perspective when it came to reporting on minority communities that they did not identify with. This presentation was my first step in trying to be brave and stand up in a class filled with students who did not look like me yet all looked alike, and say what had been on my mind.
After the presentation was over I looked up from my laptop, hands trembling from behind the screen, and asked if anyone had any questions. Amongst those blank faces was one of a white female peer who shot up her hand and started to speak before I could even ask what her question was. “So, if newsrooms start hiring on the basis of colour, ethnicity, and other factors concerning diversity then how do we know they’re not discriminating against someone who might just be better for the job but wasn’t…a part of a minority?”. I felt my face go pale and my mind go blank. I started rambling- my brain trying to find an answer that masked the shock I felt in that moment. I looked at the instructor who was also looking at me, waiting for a response. All of the courage, strength, and emotional labour that it took to create this presentation didn’t seem worth it at that moment.
I left class that day feeling defeated and as though what I was speaking about wasn’t important enough because it wasn’t important to those who were in that room. I had experienced men, of all backgrounds, tell me that what I was talking about was not significant, but this was the first time a fellow woman had said this to me. That was the day I decided that this feeling of invalidation and shame would never be something that I would pass along to another fellow sister – the cycle would end there.
What I experienced that day is a feeling that many women who are a part of minority communities often feel on a daily basis wherever they go. That is why the conversation of intersectionality is so important. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term years ago when trying to explain how racialized women experience oppression based on their intersectional identities. All this means is that multiple overlapping social identities such as race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. can create an interdependent form of discrimination and oppression.
It is a concept that is often misunderstood and ignored when it comes to conversations about feminism, when in fact it is vital in understanding the strength of sisterhood.
Here are a few steps that I follow and you should keep in mind when you’re in a room with other women who may have different experiences than yours:
- Listen to understand, not to speak
The patriarchal world we live in can sometimes deceive us into believing that the different struggles that women face are to be pitted up against one another. Practicing intersectional feminism has taught me that oppression comes in complex layers for marginalized women and women of colour. As a Pakistani cis woman, my experiences of discrimination and struggles will look very different from that of a Black woman, Indigenous woman or trans woman, and that is a plain fact. It takes a lot of emotional labour and vulnerability for any individual to come forward and speak about their struggles, and the least that one can do is to just listen instead of immediately responding in defence.
- Understand your privilege
Your privilege refers to how you exist in the equation of another individual’s oppression – directly or indirectly. Everyone is a product of their experiences and if we are able to recognize that some of us hold more social privilege than others, we will be able to have better conversations about how we can use one another’s privilege in a way that is productive in the fight for equality. This can be hard work, especially if you have never had to account for your privilege before, but is absolutely necessary when wanting to practice feminism through an intersectional lens.
- Validate other women’s struggles
If you understand how to do the first two then guess what – you’re already on the right path to doing this step. The aspect of the power of feminism that I was drawn to is how it brings together women from all walks of life and creates a safe space for them all to share in their vulnerabilities that the outside world does not always encourage. In vulnerability, there is an immense power that encourages us to unite in our fight. The first lessons of feminism that I ever learned were those of compassion and empathy, and showing someone that they are seen even if you personally do not understand their struggles. It is something that I have and will continue to practice and I encourage you to as well.
- Remember what it’s all really about – sisterhood
At the end of the most integral part of all feminism is the concept of sisterhood. We are all in it for one cause and that is to get rid of the patriarchy and the horrific consequences of it. The reason why I took it upon myself to learn how to adopt the four steps described above is because I believe in the power that women hold when they come together. If there are times where you struggle to understand how to look at feminism through an intersectional lens, remember that you are not going to win this fight without the support of your fellow sisters.