What Is Intersectional Feminism? An Intro.

Emily Kissinger //

“If we are not intersectional, some of us, the most vulnerable, are going to fall through the cracks” 

– Kimberlé Crenshaw

With The RevivalZine being an intersectional feminist publication, we felt it was long overdue to define what specifically IS intersectionality in a way that’s accessible. As well as that it’s our duty to create a safe space for ourselves and other marginalized peers by labeling our work, not simply as feminist, but as intersectional.

 Brief Historical Overview

Associated with the third wave of postmodern feminism, ‘intersectionality’ is a term that was coined by Professor Crenshaw. The term describes how class, race, gender, and other individual characteristics overlap and intersect with one another. (See where I’m going with this?) Crenshaw first introduced intersectionality in her paper Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics published in 1989 in the University of Chicago Legal Framework. Gaining popularity in the next decade, a good number of visionary feminists welcomed the idea by continuing their work in the same discourse. (Crenshaw, the trendsetter!)

So, What is Intersectionality?

·  Intersectionality – an analytical framework that deals with structural and systematic questions of discrimination and inequality within the fabrics of society.

·  A concept that does not generalize the oppression of all women. Rather it contextualizes this oppression. A white woman is not as oppressed in the same way a Black woman is. Nor a Native, Asian, or non-white Latine woman. 

·  Intersectionality tries to incorporate women of every class, race, gender, sexuality, and religion without focusing on the dominant and privileged woman in the feminist discourse.

Example of Systematic Oppression

To quote an example as evidence of structural racism in the stated discourse, The Center for American Progress has reported that Black women are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth than non-Latine white women 1. Socioeconomic status, education, and other factors do not protect against this disparity despite any claims of such. (Medical racism/xenophobia is rampant across the world, leading to a chilling death toll due to white doctors playing judge, jury, and executioner.) This simplified example for the sake of education demonstrates how she is condemned from the moment she needs aid, not only as a woman, but specifically as a Black woman.

Intersectionality locates these structural tendencies that oppress women in different contexts and makes them relevant instead of assuming anyone residing under the umbrella of ‘women’ suffers the same way. (Quite often white women ARE the oppressor with the weaponization of being perceived as non-threatening victims by society.) Because of this, it’s challenging the dominance of a certain group in  feminist discourse to help those who have historically been intentionally pushed aside. 

Patricia Hill Collins on Intersectionality

These marginalized women are forced into survival mode when it comes to their voices being heard and valued in comparison to their privileged peers. Changing how they dress, their interests, everything that highlights their differences visually from the white majority, as well as their way of speaking, to be palatable to conventional feminist discourse. In the words of Patricia Hill Collins, an American academic specializing in race, class, and gender, “Oppressed groups are frequently placed in the situation of being listened to only if we frame our ideas in the language that is familiar to and comfortable for a dominant group. This requirement often changes the meaning of our ideas and works to elevate the ideas of dominant groups”.2

Intersectionality as a Contested Concept

‘Intersectionality’ in  feminist discourse has also recently been observed as a controversial term. In a 2018 video clip for Prager University, pundit Ben Shapiro called intersectionality a ‘hierarchy of victimhood’. For many conservatives, it “promotes solipsism at the personal level and division at the social level”’ and is a “conspiracy theory of victimization”3. This understanding of Crenshaw’s intersectionality is totally misconstrued, as well as hinged on a refusal to recognize the world for its differences, instead attempting to enforce homogeneity in all facets of society for the comfort of the few with the discomfort of many. The statistics and research in this context also provide evidence in favor of Crenshaw’s theory, therefore leading one to believe the evidence was not properly analyzed in the first place and instead only cherry-picked for an agenda. (Much like most anti-diversity initiatives spurred by fear. Fact-check before you make a fool of yourself buddy!)

Contemporary Interpretation of Crenshaw

Juliet Williams, a professor of Gender Studies at UCLA interprets the work of Professor Crenshaw in these words, “Intersectional feminism is a form of feminism that stands for the rights and empowerment of all women, taking seriously the fact of differences among women, including different identities based on radicalization, sexuality, economic status, nationality, religion, and language. Intersectional feminism attends to how claims made in the name of women as a class can function to silence or marginalize some women by universalizing the claims of relatively privileged women.”4

In agreement with Crenshaw and Williams, The RevivalZine believes intersectionality operates as both the observance/analysis of power imbalances, and the tools by which these oppressive institutions can be torn down brick by brick at the systematic level.

So, What Now?

As I said earlier, intersectional feminism is in part recognizing the ways those under the label of ‘women’ function in our society and how they can be helped as well as hindered. A large part of intersectionality is to hold ourselves accountable for our actions resulting from  societal conditioning.  Ask yourself: If my insistence on the centering of uterus/pussy power alienates my sisters who don’t have one, why am I still doing it? Am I only listening to ‘polite, white, and quiet’ feminist influencers and ignoring the work of activists of color? How can I contribute to reparations? Have I centered conversations regarding oppression of another group around myself instead of listening? And so on.

As intersectional feminists, we must constantly be checking our internalized bias for the betterment of life for women as a whole.

  1. Allsbrook, J. F. (2019, November 14). These Five Provisions Are Necessary in Any Legislation Aimed at Saving Mothers’ Lives. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/ext/2019/11/14/477224/five-provisions-necessary-legislation-aimed-saving-mothers-lives/
  2.  Collins, P. H. (1999). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Revised 10th Anniv 2nd Edition) (Revised, 10th Anniv., 2nd ed.). Routledge.
  3.  PragerU. (2018, June 18). How High are You on the Victim Hierarchy? [Video]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/prageru/videos/how-high-are-you-on-the-victim-hierarchy-ben-shapiro-breaks-it-down/1858938217482359/
  4. Bongmba, E. K. (2020). The Routledge Handbook of African Theology. Taylor & Francis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: