So, we’re all feminists here (if not I think you’re in the wrong place), but is our fight truly equal? As we fight for equality across the world and in our own societies, do we fight for everyone? Are our bookshelves stocked with diverse and inclusive literature? Overall, is the feminism we support intersectional?
“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
“the oppression and discrimination resulting from the overlap of an individual’s various social identities
There are many branches of feminism that we look at into philosophical, political, educational and sociological discourses. Through literature, art, the media to objectification, oppression, patriarchy and discrimination; feminist theories extend into most every other aspect of human conversation.
“As a child of immigrant parents, as a woman of colour in a white society and as a woman in a patriarchal society, what is personal to me IS political.” – Mitsuye Yamada
And it has done, for longer than many might think. Plato advocated the ‘natural capacities of women to govern and defend Greece equal to men. Ancient Rome saw a large protest of the Oppian Law by women which was successfully repealed.
In the 15th century, writers like Mary Wollstonecraft began to fight for better equality between the sexes.
First wave feminism started in the 19th and 20th centuries with the aims of fighting legal inequality and addressing women’s suffrage. In the UK, in 1918, women’s suffrage won the vote, but this was only for women over 30 who held property, or were married to a man who did, householders and had graduated a British university. In 1928, all women over the age of 21 were allowed to vote on the same terms as men.
We know the names of the Pankhurst’s, but what about the women of colour who fought for the right to vote?
A large portion of feminist theory and history, focuses on white, middle class, cis women, thus named ‘White Feminism’. And most of the feminism we learn about and the women we discuss are just that.
In other words, it’s a form of feminism that doesn’t actually help all women.
And if we’re not helping all women, what are we doing?
Acknowledging the variances of class, caste, income, education, language and age as well ethnicity, religion, sexuality and culture, intersectional feminism addresses the differences in discrimination that different women, around the world, face.
“Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reasons they are dying.” – Audre Lorde
Intersectional feminism has been largely credited to Kimberle Crenshaw’s work in 1989 in which she writes: “the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”
Different discriminations can weave together and interact, overall amplifying gender-based discriminations. Consequently, this overlooking of experiences mean that people are excluded from feminist theories and fights because their experiences do not align with the others. Recognising where and how this overlap occurs, is crucial to achieving equality for everyone.
Statistics from UN Women
- 23% non-hetero sexual women experienced sexual violence from a non-partner. Compared to 5% hetero sexual women (2014).
- 72% trans and gender diverse students reported experiencing sexual harassment. Compared to 63% female and 35% male students (Australian Survey, 2016).
- 53% workplace sexual harassment amongst those who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Compared to 32% who did not (Australia).
- In Asia and Africa low to middle income countries, women with disabilities are two to four times more likely to experience sexual violence than those who aren’t. Moreover, the severity of impairment increases these chances.
- 24% of girls aged 11-14 with disabilities reported sexual violence at school, compared to 12% non-disabled (Uganda school survey).
How can we be more intersectional?
First and foremost, recognise your privilege.
As a white, straight, middle class woman, my experiences with gender discrimination differ hugely to other women. I talk about gender roles; patriarchal traditions and how they impact us. But there are women in the world facing far different issues. For example, GFM, forced marriages, sexual violence, abuse and countless other atrocities.
Even to women in my own society, there are differences. Differences such as education, class, income, sexuality and gender identity.
When we recognise our own privilege, we can begin to unlearn our prejudices.
We begin to educate ourselves and learn how to properly fight for and support all women across the world. To listen and be an active ally in our efforts for full equality. I’m no expert on this. Admittedly, I’m still learning, but learning is the start for everyone.
“So, one of my responsibilities, as a white, cis-gendered woman, is to learn how to be a traitor to the ‘joys’ of patriarchal culture that I experience, however unconsciously.” – Erin Wunker
Learn, listen and act.
Books on Intersectional Feminism:
- ‘Feminism if for everybody’ – bell hooks
- ‘Sister Outsider’ – Audre Lord
- ‘Women, Race and Class’ – Angela Davis
- ‘No Country Woman’ – Zoya Patel
- ‘Trans’ – Juliet Jaques
- ‘Don’t Call Me Inspirational: A Disabled Feminist Talks Back’ – Bharilyn Rousso
- ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie