Intersectionality was a term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. It emerged after the recognition that often feminism represents only the experiences and oppression felt by white middle class women. Intersectionality is meant to highlight how gender intersect with race and class to provide for a method of examining oppression that goes beyond the experiences of privileged white women.
This is easily forgotten. With multiple feminist groups dominated by white middle class women popping up and proudly proclaiming themselves intersectional they fail to understand where the term comes from. They fail to see how it originated as a way to understand the experiences of women who are both raced and classed.
Calling a Facebook group intersectional, doesn’t make it intersectional. Donning a pin that says ‘If it’s isn’t intersectional it isn’t feminism’, doesn’t make you intersectional. Showing a film which features a couple of privileged black actresses doesn’t make your group intersectional.
Intersectionality comes from making the voices of working class and women of color heard. If you look around your feminist group and it’s never heard the voices of women from a migrant background, a women with a foreign accent, a women with a hijab, a women who’s grown up poor, then it’s not intersectional.
Intersectionality comes from recognising that while white women make 77c to the white mans dollar, black women make 65c to a white man’s dollar. It’s recognizing that oppression is based as much on how your race changes the way you can occupy a space. It’s recognizing that a white women is always going to have an easier time with police then a black man. It’s recognizing that a white middle class women wouldn’t be followed around a department store by the clerk but a black man will. It’s recognizing that being white means something. It means privilege.
Intersectionality is recognizing that having more women CEOs doesn’t solve the fact that women on the factory floor are still underpaid. It’s recognizing that attending university and understanding complex concepts such as male privilege, is a privilege. It’s recognizing that feminized workforces such as nursing and midwifery have seen wage stagnation over the last few years. It’s recognizing that middle class women face a different type of sexism as they can afford to participate in performing femininity. It’s recognising that your class means that you experience sexism in way that working and underclass women don’t.
Intersectionality is recognising as a non-indigenous person of color you still have settler privilege. It’s recognizing that by participating in ‘Australia Day’ you’re perpetuating the same colonialism as white people. It’s recognising the internal oppressions of your own community, whether it’s against our First Nations people, Islamophobia or queerphobia. It’s recognising your experiences of racism cannot ever be conflated to the experiences of racism and colonialism that Indigenous people face everyday in this country.
Appropriating the term intersectionality to make yourself feel better about your class and race privilege is a disservice to Kimberle Crenshaw. It’s a disservice to every raced and classed women who has had to struggle to make their voice heard in the world. Whether it’s within academic discipline where intersectional studies are coopeted by white women, within feminist activist circles where those with an accent are treated with the same condensation that they would in the wider world, or the inability to understand that certain feminist activities are inaccessible to disabled women, misuse of the term intersectionality does more harm then good.
It paints a space as safe for poor women, for women of color, while doing nothing to facilitate their experiences. In our neoliberal world it becomes another marketing tool, except instead of a old white men trying to sell you a bar of soap, it’s a white middle class women trying to sell you their brand of shitty white feminism.
Just because your feminist space doesn’t allow for someone to say outright racist or classist things doesn’t mean it’s intersectional. It just means that you’ve managed to reach the base level at which which general human decency starts.
So white girls of the world, the next time you claim to be an intersectional feminist consider this. Have you considered how your race plays into your everyday interactions? Have you considered how your class affects your everyday interactions? If not, sit down, get uncomfortable, and start recognising your own privilege.
Disclaimer: If this article makes you uncomfortable, you’re probably feeling white guilt and/or class guilt. And if you think that’s uncomfortable, well that’s got nothing on how the working class women and women of color dealing with your white liberal feminism feel.