|This essay explains the aspects and importance that intersectionality holds in feminisim.|
When we think about discrimination and oppression, we garner ideas of things such as gender, race and class. But what we have failed to understand was that these aspects are not necessarily in their own league. Rather, they can form together to become a blend, a new formation that is much more complicated.
Intersectionality is defined as “the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.” This term was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989, to describe and explore the work struggles of Black women and how their race and gender intersected to form a system of oppression. As times have progressed, intersectionality has grown to include a vast array of things such as ethnicity, socio-economic standing, gender and sex identification, living situations, family ties and so on. Our ability to explore all these factors gives us a much stronger sense of how complicated systems of oppression really are and how they affect people from different backgrounds. In turn, it also helps us understand how important and vital it is for progressive movements to be diverse and inclusive of others.
For example, in Crenshaws essay “Mapping the Margins:Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” (1991), she explores the structural issues and effects of domestic abuse and violence against WOC. She explains how gender, race and socioeconomic standing all mesh together to create significant barriers that make it especially difficult for WOC to overcome when they are trying to escape from an abusive relationship. Things like job discrimination, housing discrimination, poverty, language barriers etc all cause very real and serious struggles. What is interesting about this though is how Crenshaw (1991) explores these dynamics. Instead of viewing them as separate instances and issues of race, class and gender, she explains exactly how all these issues mesh together to create these problems. For example, on the aspect of job and housing discrimination, a WOC might not be allowed a loan or be taken in for a certain position because she is precisely a woman of color who might come from a lower socioeconomic standing. This can affect the way she speaks, dresses and acts and in turn plays enables oppressors to play into the stereotypes they have created as an excuse to not enable her with these prospects.
Some other aspects of intersectionality can fall under the trans sphere. Trans women, especially trans women of color, are consistently pushed out of the mainstream feminist movement. One of the reasons being that, by presenting very overtly feminine they are catering to the patriarchal male gaze. But the issue here isn’t about necessarily wanting to presenting feminine as much as it is needing to present femine, and that is where it becomes intersectional. In transgender model Hari Nef’s Ted Talk titled “#FreeTheFemme: The Aesthetics of Survival” (2016) she specifically dives into this idea. She explains how many trans women, primarily trans women of color, are heavily targeted by violent perpetrators and are beaten, raped and murdered. Many of the times the reason behind these attacks is because “the women are not deemed feminine enough to their liking” (Nef, 2016). ‘Their’ being the hetero-cis men who commit these crimes.
Because of these terrifying issues, many trans women turn to hyper-feminine ideas of clothing and appearance as a survival tactic. But not all trans women have this financial privilege. The majority of trans women are discriminated heavily on their potentially outward masculine appearance, class standing and the gender vs. sex dynamic. All these issues intersect one another which, in turns, creates a major curveball in which trans women have to turn to hyper feminine passing standards to be deemed acceptable by society's standards just so they may hold down a job, get an apartment, buy groceries, or just stay alive.
The prospects of all these issues are not as simple and mundane as we want to make them seem. Instead, we must constantly think and understand about core underlying issues when we ask ourselves about discrimination, social hierarchies and forms of oppression.
- Crenshaw, Kimberle Williams. "Mapping The Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color." 6th ed. Vol. 43. N.p.: Stanford Law Review, n.d. 1241-299. Print.
- TEDx Talks. "#FreeTheFemme: The Aesthetics of Survival | Hari Nef | TEDx Connecticut College." YouTube. YouTube, 11 May 2016. Web. 13 Sept. 2016