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Feminist movements must implement intersectionality to remove an environment of biased stigma in feminism, that a feminist must be subject to the conforms of white, heterosexual, able bodied, middle class women otherwise we will continue to see a divide between women in advocating for feminism.
Intersectional theory was first developed in the 1970’s by a group of African American feminist scholars and activists. They accused the women’s movement of neglecting black women and misunderstanding oppression. They recognised how pathologies like racism and gender were not separate systems and in fact overlapped whilst creating a complex arrangement of privileges and burdens. The term intersectional feminism was coined by critical race theorist and lawyer Kimberle Crenshaw in the year 1989- it is defined as a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together an exacerbate each other. Different factors like race class, sexual orientation affect gender equality and intersections acknowledges this. Intersectional feminism recognises that a cis gendered white woman and an impoverished transgender black woman are not fighting the same battle. This acknowledgement is what makes this type of feminism relevant. It matters because it takes into consideration these overlapping identities that affect the ways in which women experience oppression and discrimination.
Without acknowledging the systemic oppression that exists at every level, it is impossible to come up with reforms and policies that will help on changing the system. Which is why understanding the disproportionality in a situation and comprehending the different levels of power and discrimination that exist at any given point become so necessary. For instance it is necessary to recognise that white women may be victimised by their gender, and a black man may be disadvantaged by their race but none of this ca compare to the level of disadvantage a black woman might have to face as she is disadvantaged by both her gender and her race- the problems they face form a completely different gamut. Only with the help of intersectionality theory can this be addressed. The loud noise created around superficial struggles takes the attention away from actually significant and relevant topics and only though discourse and actionable discussions across all sections can these issues be brought forward.
All through the 1800’s till now, there have been numerous waves of feminism but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the wide range of disparities had been addressed or even acknowledged. The suffrage for black women had not arrived until 1965 which just goes to show how certain section don’t get their due unless they protest for it. in such a situation denying the situational disadvantage is extremely impractical and does not solve any issue.
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that granted American women the right to vote was established in August 18, 1920, ending almost a century of protest. Yet it only gave the right to the middle-class white woman. Even in the Equal Rights Amendments Act for the longest time – discrimination based on sex was not included in the bill. African American women continued to fight even when hurdles such as poll taxes and literacy tests kept black voters disenfranchised until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It was only after those illogical laws were abolished and new reforms brought in that black women voters finally got their rights (Meagher, M. 2019).
Its shocking to observe the disbalance of power that invalidates the experiences of certain women simply due to the lack of privilege. The most significant aspect of this is part where the actual victims of the fight are still being pushed under the rug (Connell, RW, Pearse, R 2014).
The world wants to manipulate the stories to place the entire onus of gatekeeping against sexual abuse on women. Instead of actually brining about change on the structures based on the foundation of power abuse and gender differences, the media and these powerful men are doing everything to move the conversation away from its intention. In USA , even white women who regard themselves as factual feminists and only acknowledge aspects of the struggle that serve their interests, for eg.- the wage gap, family leave etc are also responsible for this. Even through the #MeToo movement, the mercurial rise in the popularity was because of the numerous privileged cis gendered white women that spoke about how they had been sexually abused/ molested in Hollywood. This kind of publicity almost disregarded the decade long struggle of the entire spectrum (Moon, D. G., & Holling, M. A. 2020).
In October 2017, a new term entered our vocabulary- #Me Too. sexual allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein brought into a light so many happenings that it changed the face of feminist movements forever. The term was first used in 2006, when sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke who created this movement to start a dialogue that would bring together all sexual assault survivors from indigenous and underprivileged communities. As happens with every major movement until its recognised, the movement only gathered momentum a decade later because of the unbelievable number of public personalities and people in power associated with each of the allegations that came out. It completely challenged the politics of the movement and shook pre existing power structures. The sheer imbalance of power that exists shocked the whole world yet the attention was only drawn to the struggle of the already privileged white women of Hollywood. The main ideals of the movement were forgotten and despite the mercurial rise so many conversations about asymmetric power relations were dismissed. Yet despite the raising of consciousness across masses about a problem that has existed for generation all one can hear about is how the movement is a way to defame powerful men and end their careers.
Tarana Burke’s main idea was to create a movement at a basic, grassroots levels to create a free space where sexual abuse survivors could come and speak against their perpetrators. It was to create a space that did not make these women feel small or reduced by the incidents that had happened to them. For almost a decade or so the visibility of the movement was limited. The power of empathy and a world beyond violence- these ideas were communicated to them. Yet when it came to mainstream media, men reduced it to a plot that was designed to implicate them. The personal testimony sand lost jobs years of trauma and endless violence was all reduced to the fact that certain women wanted to implicate men in power. Because of the one-sided view, the movement was regarded as shallow a vindicative plot.Yes, all of it to implicate men, how appropriate. This is why we need to acknowledge the presence of intersectionality. To change the conversations, we have around feminism (Boyle, K. 2019).
The noise around imperfect feminist movements often side-lines the actual issues and regards the movement as something superficial and unnecessary. This is why it becomes mor important to bring in ideas of comprehension about different types of discrimination in order to make the conversation more nuanced. Only the demographic that addresses the positive aspect of the feminist histories are being considered as the representation for the movement. Similarly, Tarana Burke is being discredited and only the issue that addresses Hollywood elites is being shown in media. This is creating a further polarized opinion about the feminist movement where the authenticity of the struggle is being constantly dismissed due to how limited it is. Just the binary understanding of gendered violence is not enough, research shows that 1 in every 4 and 1 in every 6 boys faces sexual abuse of some kind. Research also shows how disabled people are 5 times more likely to be sexually abused because they will not be able to defend themselves. People from indigenous communities are 3 times more likely to be sexually harassed because of lack of visibility. And millions of daily wage workers are sexually abused on a regular basis simply because they cannot afford to quit those jobs. The conversation has to be modified now, the whole movement and the politics of it can no longer be reduced to the more elitist, heteronormative, misgendered ,white and higher class demographic who already enjoy positions of power(Griffin, P. 2019).
These differences in statistics must be acknowledged. And systemic changes in power structures have to be introduced so that the complexities can be comprehended. In order to create actionable plans and transformational discourse, the intersectionality has to be addressed. From race to ethnicity to gender each of these sections do not exist without each other. Then how can their implication in legal, political and societal framework be reduced? These conversations are the impetus for changes. Instead reducing it as movement intended to uncover celebrity scandals, the movement and its origin should be acknowledged. It should create room for more conversations about different types of struggles from different parts of the society.
The tension between settler and indigenous communities can characterise the entire countries, a significant challenge for the colonial settler societies is the thorough analysis of the intersection of ethnicities, gender race and disability points. the multiple dimensions held by the state and how the overlap when it comes to the disadvantages faced by many women s must be studied. The dangers of reductionism and essentialism exists and the only way to create an equitable social change is to create an inter categorical approach that is directed towards social justice. The inter categorical analysis implies a process through which conditional exploration takes place of the dominant modes of thinking. Modes of thinking that are taken up to measure the level of disadvantages for white women who are already aided by other systems of power are exposed by testing their capacity in complex situations (Meekosha, H. 2006).
In February of 2018, #MosqueMeToo began trending on twitter that basically spoke of the sexual abuse and sexual harassment that had happened to Muslim women all over the world. Feminist scholar and Muslim woman Mona Ethalway urged women all over the world to share their stories of being sexually harassed while they were on the Hajj. The conversations were similar to the one that surrounded the mainstream #MeToo movement but the fact that they had to be addressed separately tells one a lot about the inclusivity and validation of Muslim women. Muslim women are often associated with notions of being weak or having no agency over their bodies due to their religion. This is also a form of neo colonialism that denotes Islam as a pre modern society. This is all because of how Muslim women are seen and portrayed in western ideologies. Yet, if women like Mona Ethalway are considered, they are prominent figures in the feminist movement and they play a very important role in creating intersectional change with the framework of modernity that must be acknowledged, especially outside the terrain of white feminism that refuses to acknowledge other types of oppression because they dictate a different narrative that might draw more attention (Scharff, C. 2011).
Black women continue to face a disproportionate amount of scrutiny when it comes to expressing their voice or sensuality in the mainstream media as compared to white women.one of the biggest indicators is how WoC are denied that voice when it comes to their self-expression because of pre conceived notions about them. This reduces their confidence and goes against the very ideals of feminism that dictates how women must get all the freedom to exist in their bodies and express themselves in the way they want. This was just one of the instances but the reason why intersectionality must bring in is because a disproportionate amount of focus is on white women in feminism and it ends up weaking the movement. This happens because it does not fully address the full range of issues that affect all the women. When minorities and WoC are not represented constantly, they will feel discourage and issues will continue to get perpetrated (Garneau, S. 2018).
The 1980’s were a particularly difficult time for feminist movement in America as the Equal Rights Amendment had no effect whatsoever. The conservative and hyper masculine rhetoric of then president influence the mindsets of the entire country and deterred from the focus of the movement. The supreme court could not comprehend the actual severity of issues and an ageing predominantly white upper-class feminists failed to address the significant matters that concerned women from all stratas. Low income group indigenous communities, LGBTQ members, WoC, had to be considered to give the movement a well-rounded approach.
It was only in 1993, when feminist author Rebecca Walker, who was a young southern, African American Jewish AND a bisexual activist came up with the term Third Wave Feminism did the world finally get a movement that was all inclusive and completely comprehensive of the issues that concerned each and every member.
It must be noted that black women are discriminated against in ways that do not fit within any legal category they cannot be defined as either racism or sexism- yet they are a combination of both. Thus, the injustices confronted by each member of a particular gender or a race get a legal recourse but the framework usually renders Black women “invisible”. They are also absent form any analysis of oppression because mainstream movements only consider the experiences of either white women or black men which makes the cause even more serious (Gordon, L. 2016). Today intersectionality in feminism also incorporates the values of LGBTQ. the term has been pushed in both academic and activist contexts while emphasizing some aspects of domination. Yet further emphasis is required to understand the implications of the same in order to overcome complexity and divisions. The “ one-size fits all “ version of feminism is not conducive to research or progress in anyway as it is not responsive to all the specific issues.
Privilege conceals itself from those who have it. Feminist movements cannot be truly anti oppressive unless they are intersectional as the oppressions that people are experiencing cannot distinguished or ranked as per priority. 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.
Meekosha, H. (2006). What the hell are you? An intercategorical analysis of race, ethnicity, gender and disability in the Australian body politic. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 8(2-3), 161-176.
Garneau, S. (2018). Intersectionality beyond feminism? Some methodological and epistemological considerations for research. International Review of Sociology, 28(2), 321-335.
Scharff, C. (2011). Disarticulating feminism: Individualization, neoliberalism and the othering of ‘Muslim women’. European Journal of Women's Studies, 18(2), 119-134.
Boyle, K. (2019). # MeToo, Weinstein and Feminism. In # MeToo, Weinstein and Feminism (pp. 1-20). Palgrave Pivot, Cham.
Griffin, P. (2019). # MeToo, white feminism and taking everyday politics seriously in the global political economy. Australian Journal of Political Science, 54(4), 556-572.
Meagher, M. (2019). Contemporary Feminist Theory. The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Sociology, 398-416.
Moon, D. G., & Holling, M. A. (2020). “White supremacy in heels”:(white) feminism, white supremacy, and discursive violence. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 17(2), 253-260.
Connell, RW, Pearse, R 2014, Gender : In World Perspective, Polity Press, Oxford. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. ɒ28 August 2020ɓ.
Gray, P. W. (2018). ‘The fire rises’: identity, the alt-right and intersectionality. Journal of political ideologies, 23(2), 141-156.
Gordon, L. (2016). ‘Intersectionality’, Socialist Feminism and Contemporary Activism: Musings by a Second‐Wave Socialist Feminist. Gender & History, 28(2), 340-357.
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