When Annie Lennox, legendary Scottish singer from the Eurythmics, recently declared that Beyoncé is not feminist with the statement “Listen, twerking is not feminism,” she firmly established herself as a representative for White feminism.
“White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of color. It is ‘one size-fits all’ feminism, where middle class White women are the mold that others must fit. It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual White feminist, everywhere, always.”
Now, Lennox likely doesn’t think of herself as a White feminist, but by referring to Beyoncé’s feminism and expression as “disturbing,” “exploitative,” and “troubling,” she expressed the politic many White feminists are known for advancing: “Feminism must look like we want it to look, or it’s not feminism.”
It’s usually not that overt, and most White feminists would deny that this is what’s being said or done, but you notice it in more subtle comments like “Why do you have to divide us by bringing up race?” or “Are Trans women really women? There should be a distinction.”
In the face of calls for a more intersectional feminism, there are even White feminists who claim the whole concept of intersectionality is just academic jargon that doesn’t connect with the real world.
Yet the irony seems lost on some feminists who make these claims while staunchly opposingthe language of “humanism” in place of “feminism.”
Simply put, it’s not those who are calling for a feminism that is responsive to the specific issues they face that are being divisive. It’s those of us who refuse to acknowledge the need for an intersectional ethic in feminism.
What Is Intersectionality?
It makes sense in many ways that those of us with identity privilege would have a harder time including in our feminism those who are oppressed. Privilege conceals itself from those who have it, and it’s a lot easier to focus on the ways that we are marginalized or oppressed.
But without an intersectional lens, our movements cannot be truly anti-oppressive because it is not, in fact, possible to tease apart the oppressions that people are experiencing. Racism for women of color cannot be separated from their gendered oppression. A Trans person with a disability cannot choose which part of their identity is most in need of liberation.
Yet there is regularly confusion about what intersectionality really is.
Renowned law scholar and critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the term in 1989 in her paper “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.”
She noted that “problems of exclusion” of Black women from both mainstream anti-racist politics and feminist theory “cannot be solved simply by including Black women in an already established analytical structure. Because 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.”
While her immediate focus was on the intersections of race and gender, Crenshaw highlights in “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” that her “focus on the intersections of race and gender only highlight the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.”
In short, intersectionality is a framework that must be applied to all social justice work, a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences and that compound and complicate oppressions and marginalizations.
We cannot separate multiple oppressions, for they are experienced and enacted intersectionally.
Thus, in the words of Flavia Dzodan, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”
Understanding Intersectionality in Context
Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.