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Intro to Intersectional Feminism

Feminism is a term globally used to describe the fight for women. Yet, as with most social movements, the ideology behind terminology is noa monolith. The term intersectionality, more modern in its history, arrived in the English diction after a long proclamation from non-middle class women of color for inclusion in the movement. First coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality gave voice to the women who were failed by a movement that claimed to be for all women, but failed to recognize multitudes in their identities that create a difference in needs.

2. The term intersectionality is grounded in Black feminist theory

The term intersectionality was first coined by legal activist and law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in an essay published by the University of Chicago legal forum: Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. In the paper, Crenshaw verbalizes the various forms of oppression that are specific to Black women, and largely ignored the broader movement. It is important to remember here that although we have become accustomed to using the language of intersectionality, this was not commonly accessible privy to Crenshaw’s seminal work. I think it is useful to revise the context in which the term first comes up to gauge the potential in its meaning. Crenshaw, in her eloquence, makes the case for intersectionality using a legal framework, writing

These problems of exclusion cannot be solved simply by including Black women within 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

Hence, what Crenshaw suggests an intersectional analysis is more than just an inclusion of race in legal rhetoric; it is the creation of another type of consciousness that accounts for people’s intersecting identities which create a unique experience. That is,  a perspective that acknowledges that interlocking systems of power impact those who are marginalized in society the most.

Crenshaw’s innovation is coherent with her legacy. As a legal advisor, she was part of the team that represented Annita Hill in the breakthrough case against (now) Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. This case was, for many reasons, the first of its kind, but the circumstances weren’t new: once more a Black woman was on trial with only white male faces. It was insufficient to sympathize with  Annita Hill’s strife only as a woman, or a Black person. The treatment  Ms Hill received from the Senate was unique to her experience as a Black woman. 

We then must recognize that the term intersectionality, that is so widely used to describe contemporary modes of oppression, is grounded in Black feminist theory. Someone that helps us see the inclusionary nature of intersectional, Black feminist theory is Professor Angela Davis. As The New York Times has postulated, Professor Davis was “living it, arguing not just for Black liberation, but for the rights of women and queer and transgender people as well.” To adopt an intersectional framework for thinking of feminist issues is to recognize that no woman is free until we all are free. 


Inasmuch as intersectionality serves to explain political positions in systems of power, the term also describes our lived experiences as members of a society. Kimberlé Creshnaw reflects years after publishing her seminal work: “[i]ntersectionality is simply about how certain aspects of who you are will increase your access to the good things or your exposure to the bad things in life. Like many other social-justice ideas, it stands because it resonates with people’s lives, but because it resonates with people’s lives, it’s under attack.” Intersectionality describes how the mixture of our identities impact our experience in society. It explains why Black women and White women’s advocates in the late 60s for example, had different reproaches to a society that failed them. It explains why women of color experience a different type of misogyny and oppression under patriarchy. It explains why white women may have privilege over black men. It explains furthermore, the precarious status of immigrant women in the world, in addition to the unique ways power systems work to oppress queer women.

Intersectionality complicates the language of liberation, bringing forth a quintessential nuance that describes the difference of experience and allows us to accurately gauge power relations in our societies. An intersectional framework takes into consideration a critical analysis of gender, race, class and other social identifiers to produce an embodying examination of how oppressive systems lead to a singular alchemy of potentially oppressive experiences that must be addressed with their specificities. 

4. Intersectionality and other types of feminism 

For some of us, considering race and class in our feminism may come as second nature. Still, as Crenshaw cunningly points out, intersectional feminism is “under attack” by conservatives and within feminism. Unsurprisingly, the conservative response to intersectional feminist is to accuse feminists of ‘fetishizing victimization’ or claiming disadvantages with a sort of moral superiority. Others claim intersectional feminism has developed into a hyphenation frenzy that envelops feminist movements in a relativism that paralyzes any tangible action. These critiques however seem to avoid recognizing the point of intersectional thinking: to address material conditions of all women, which are inevitably different in a society with varying oppressive systems of power. It is true that intersectional thinking encourages binarism and for nuance; intersectional thinking is about access. The definition of intersectionality furthermore, may get muddied when its origin is not given proper avowal. More often than not, intersectional feminism is not properly recognized as a theory that emerged from Black feminism. Properly regarding the roots of intersectionality means recognizing Black women and their struggle after years of being historically disregarded, thus, illuminates the need for the framework. 

The term "intersectionality" has emerged as a crucial concept in feminist discourse, shedding light on the diverse and complex experiences of women that traditional feminist movements have often overlooked. Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality underscores the interconnectedness of various forms of oppression, particularly for Black women who have historically been marginalized within both feminist and anti-racist movements In essence, intersectionality serves as a powerful tool for feminist activism, offering a more comprehensive framework for understanding and addressing the complexities of gender inequality. By acknowledging the roots of intersectionality in Black feminist theory and centering the voices of marginalized women, we can strive for a more inclusive and equitable society where all women are truly liberated. It is important to remember, none of us are free until we are all free. 


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