Your feminism is not feminism if it is not intersectional. This is a statement I make in various presentations, blogs and everyday conversation. But many people stop and say, "Uh, Kayla, what the heck does that mean?"
It's hard to put into simple words, and I usually try to explain in a sentence or two, but I find that it just falls short. So here you go, internet. Here is my Crash Course: Intersectional Feminism.
What is feminism?
Let's start with the bare basics here. Most people have their own idea of what feminism is, and it's usually a little skewed from the definition modern gender studies scholars use. We've all witnessed indignant white guys complaining about how feminism is a cancer to society, a way to bring women above men and create an all-powerful matriarchy. Believe it or not, this is not accurate. Shocking.
bell hooks has my favorite definition of feminism: "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression."
I favor this definition because it doesn't exclusively state that feminism is for women or for men. Feminism is often mistaken to be just a women's movement because of the root of the word "fem." At one point in time, feminism only focused on white women, and since then it has evolved. However, it does help to note that when we refer back to bell hooks' definition, most sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression does affect women disproportionately, which is why feminist movements focus on women.
Folks will say that feminism is raising women to men's status. I disagree. Feminism is bringing all genders to the same level. What I mean is power needs to be taken from the patriarchy. I like to imagine a bar graph with one bar that says men, and one that says women. The bar that says men is higher, but instead of just bringing the women bar up to the same level, we bring the men bar down a tad and the women bar up a bit more until it's all dandy and equal. In many ways, bringing our expectations of men down a level actually benefits men. For example, by bringing men off of a pedestal of strength and masculinity, we accept that men can indeed cry and be sensitive, or be survivors of rape and domestic violence.
So here's the TL;DR of feminism: A movement to end all sorts of sexism and oppression, that eliminates patriarchy and levels the playing field. There are a few important things missing here. And that's where intersectionality plays in.
So, what the heck is intersectionality?
Did you catch what was missing in the last section? Let me help you out. Take a few minutes to describe yourself. As for me, I am a young, white, bisexual, educated woman. I also really like Taco Bell and singing "Hamilton" in my underwear. Anyway, my race, sexuality, age and gender all affect the way I live my life, whether I'm aware of it or not. They affects how people look at me on the street, my statistical likelihood of a certain socioeconomic status, how my employers look at me -- the list goes on.
In short, intersectionality is recognizing these various traits and acknowledging that these traits affect the level of oppression and prejudice an individual faces. A white, cisgender, straight male is not going to have the same struggles as a black transgender woman. Here's my quick list of things that can affect oppression and the struggles a person faces:
That's just the start. Among these groups, there are things called target groups and agent groups. The target groups are the groups more likely to be oppressed and have their life affected by said oppression. Common target groups are black folk, LGBTQ folk, women and disabled folk. Agent groups are the ones not affected by oppression on a wide scale: white people, men, straight people, able-bodied people. We acknowledge agent and target groups that an individual is a part of when we work to be inclusive. Generally, if you are in any sort of agent group, it's very helpful to sit back and listen to what someone in a target group has to say about their experiences. (This should go without saying, but don't argue with them about their experiences or shrug them off. In other words, don't be a dick).
If you're still a little confused (no worries if you are, it can get a little confusing), I like to think of intersectionality as describing a sandwich. I could say to you, "Here, have a ham sandwich." But maybe I should mention that the ham sandwich has swiss cheese, mustard and tomato because that's also important. As with feminism, we can't just say, "She is a woman, this is the struggle she faces." We must take into account other factors. If I, a white woman, walk down a busy street in the day time, I will not get a second glance. A black transgender woman would get many glances, and there is a chance she might be assaulted. We all have seen the news and how black people are treated by law enforcement. This is an excellent example of intersectionality in play, because the exact same situation could happen to a white person or a black person, and the situation could play out completely differently perhaps because the black person is a member of a target group. All of these traits are connected in a giant web of oppression.
This is why it's called intersectionality. These different traits intersect with each other to create who were are as humans, how we see the world, and how the world sees us.
Let's combine the two. What is intersectional feminism? Why does it matter?
We already established that feminism is for everybody. But since the first wave of feminism, it has focused mostly on the struggles of white, upper class, straight women. When we practice feminism, we need to keep in mind that everyone is different. There are many different ways to be a woman. We have to make our meeting spaces accessible and safe to all types of people. When we discuss feminism and equality, we cannot just talk about white people.
You cannot be a feminist and be against the Black Lives Matter movement. You cannot be a feminist and be homophobic. You can not be a feminist and use slurs like "tranny" or use the n-word. You cannot be a feminist and stand for your friend's racist joke.
I always tell people that there are feminists who are white and White Feminists. White Feminists focus on their issues, and ignore issues of racism and classism. They tell minorities to "quit being so sensitive". They focus on only a few feminist issues, often things like slut shaming, which is an important issue, but can we talk about the capitalist white heteropatriarchy as well? Can we talk about why slut shaming exists and how it affects different types of women? Can we be intersectional, here? They claim to be feminists and make racist jokes. They claim to be feminist and don't ensure that their meeting spaces for their feminist clubs are accessible to those with disabilities. Some even refuse to accept trans women as real women who should join our fight. They refuse to see that oppression happens on levels. They shout the statistic that women make 77 cents to a man's dollar, but fail to point out that this statistic only applies to white women. Black and Latina women make even less. It's 2016 y'all, it's about time to end this White Taylor Swift Feminism.
Intersectional feminism: a way of practicing feminism that is not only inclusive of all types of people but acknowledges that the type of person you are affects oppression and prejudice. Or, in simpler terms: being a smart feminist who is aware of the world, and listening to the struggles of those different than us.
I'll state again my decree: Feminism is not feminism if it is not intersectional. I hope you agree with me on this one.