The Future is Intersectional

By Vy Nguyen

“The future is Female” is the kind of feel-good slogan that you see on baby clothes, satisfying calligraphy Instagram accounts, clean and polished vintage shops around Portland, or a quirky laptop case/ Hydro Flask filled with stickers.

We live in a world where too many of us are still scared of a conversation about race, much less take action to solve it. “Helping women” or “Women first” is the easier and more comfortable route for some people to enact their social activism power, but unfortunately, the “focus on women” usually ends up focusing only on white (able-bodied hetero cis-)women.

What about women that are not white, women that are not straight, women that are not cisgendered or women that have physical or mental disabilities? This is where intersectionality, or intersectional feminism steps in.

  1. What does “intersectional feminism”, or “intersectionality” mean?

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With the definition of intersectionality above, the idea of intersectional feminism is that everyone has different identities that overlap, and different discrimination towards those identities can be amplified when added together.

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For example, according to writer Ijeoma Oluo, the author of So You Want to Talk About Race, “What keeps a poor child in Appalachia poor is not what keeps a poor child in Chicago poor – even if from a distance, the outcomes look the same. And what keeps an able-bodied black woman poor is not what keeps a disabled white man poor, even if the outcomes look the same.”

I am a Southeast Asian woman, and I have some disadvantages because I’m a woman and some because I’m Southeast Asian. But I also have some problems particularly because I’m a Southeast Asian woman, which neither Southeast Asian men or white women encounter.

2) What is the history behind the term?

Civil rights activist and professor Kimberlé Crenshaw first used the term in her 1989 paper for 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.” While the idea of intersectionality had existed long before this, it is by Crenshaw’s coinage that came the birth of third-wave feminism.

Crenshaw defined intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Modern intersectional feminism has encompassed more than just the interplay of race and gender and now include any kinds of discrimination, such as class/ socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, gender/ sexual identity, religion, ethnicity, etc.

Feminism has grown to be more than just the inequality of the sexes. Third-wave feminism now strives to protect and give more chances to the disadvantaged ones even if they do not identify as female.

3) Why does intersectional feminism matter?

First-wave feminism of suffragism was led by white feminists and was mostly exclusive to white women. Feminism is traditionally white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis-gendered, and has mainly focused on issues experienced by middle-class women that fit the above criteria, assuming that anyone identified as female shares the same struggles and hardship. For example, it is widely known that a woman makes 79 cents to a man’s dollar. What is not always shared is that the statistic above applies only to white women, and women of minority make even less. In fact, in 2017, the wage gap between white women and women of color is the fastest growing pay gap according to the Economic Policy Institute.

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There have been arguments that intersectional feminism “pits all women against one another”, but this is no difference to the argument of “I don’t see any race”. The denial of the intersectionality force a person of minority to weight the importance of their identities, hence causing identity erasure.

4) What does white feminism mean?

White feminism, while still condoning the traditional feminist idea of equity for equality, fails to acknowledge the experience of identified women of minority in terms of race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, disability, or gender identification. According to Roqayah Chamseddine, a feminist writer, “White feminism tokenizes [women of color] and usurps [their] voices.” White feminism is not inclusive and does not protect all women but typical first-wave feminists, white middle-class hetero able-bodied cis-women.

A well-known example of white feminism is the efforts to ban hijabs, burqas, niqabs, and “combat the systematic patriarchy”, despite resistance from Muslim women that wear them for religious reasons.

Being white does not make someone automatically support white feminism, but it is important for this group to realize their white privileges and use it in ways to support their less advantaged peers and be a true ally to women of minority.

5) How to help

No matter what identity you are of, it is of great impact to recognize your privileges and learn to use those for good. Everyone is born with a voice and an opinion, therefore, privileged ones should give more chance and listen to the more marginalized in order to be a true ally, instead of trying to give a “voice”. Educating yourself on other people’s struggles and hardship is vital, however, it is also equally important not to mansplain.

After all, there is no one-size-fits-all feminism. The future is not only Female, but the future is also Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ+, Native Americans, …. The future is Intersectional.

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