Today I Learnt: Intersectional Feminism And Overlapping Identities
The term intersectional feminism was coined in 1989 by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. It means that you, as a person, have several identities that cumulatively add to the oppression you face. She explained it as, “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.” Intersectionality was first described in her paper, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.” It cited three legal cases of racial and sex discrimination. The paper postulated that your lived experiences as a black woman are significantly different from a white woman or a black man. It was something that was ignored by the court of law.
Although the theory was brought about as an observation specifically with respect to black women, it holds significance in our country. We are a society that is segregated by caste, class, gender, sexuality and so much more. Recently, I read an Instagram post by a transgender woman. She articulated how the queer movement in India and their wins favoured cis-persons. This blew my mind. As a straight woman, I had clubbed the LGBTQIA+ community under one umbrella and branded myself an ally. I had not given a second thought to how wildly different were the axes of oppression each of them faced.
Repeatedly explaining to people the difference between misandry and feminism is not enough. The intersectional lens refutes that it is a man vs woman problem.
Tearing down walls of hierarchy
Intersectionality is not meant to subvert the present hierarchy of privilege with another one based on suffering. The purpose of it is to bring cognisance to the varied realities that each of us face, and break down the walls that separate us. Recognising inequality as an unequal entity in itself brings a paradigm shift. This is true especially for those who are privileged and have unknowingly assumed their places in society.
Feminism aims to bring equality of the sexes. Constantly in our dialogues and conversations, the women we refer to and the oppression they face are not like us. Crenshaw once said, “If you see inequality as a “them” problem or “unfortunate other” problem, that is a problem.” Also, we must also not lose sight of the cause of oppression. In this case, the oppressor is not an upper-caste/able-bodied/straight/cis-man but the caste system, heteronormativity, a social structure that has never favoured the differently-abled and brahmanical patriarchy.
Feminism, over the years, has been twisted as a hackneyed excuse for women to trample over men. Repeatedly explaining to people the difference between misandry and feminism is not enough. The intersectional lens refutes that it is a man vs woman problem. What we need is for cis-women to get equal pay, transgender women to not be asked for proof of their identity, Dalit women to not be told that they are untouchable. These are only a part of a long list of goals we wish to achieve.
“If you see inequality as a “them” problem or “unfortunate other” problem, that is a problem.”
Inequality is unequal
There is no homogeneity in discrimination. It is layered and almost unseen to those who don’t face the brunt of it. Changes in the law are not the end of the structured, ambiguous, and downright threatening inequality that we face. Systemic changes need to be brought about sensitising people to be wary of the implications of our actions. We need to recognise privilege. It is not about suffering in various degrees but acknowledging each of our unique experiences and channelling them to solution-driven changes.
Your feminism isn’t feminism at all till you take into consideration everyone and their right to equality. Intersectionality demands of us a lot more than silent support. We need more than euphemistic compliance. What is required of us is a willingness to tear down walls for everyone.
Aparna Mammen is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv