What is intersectional feminism?

This month we invited Shannon Rivers to talk to us about intersectionality and its impact on the type of feminism we have all grown up with. Shannon is a consultant specialising in Inclusivity and Diversity within organisations. Here’s what we learned about…

Intersectionality is a word that was first written about by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s. Kimberlé was writing about the struggle that Black and Indigenous feminists and other women of colour faced.

The word “intersectionality” is mainly used today to highlight the different parts of someones identity and is not limited to racial identity. Intersectionality aims to recognise the combination of different aspects of a person’s identity that lead to discrimination. Most commonly, the ways in which being a Black or a Person of Colour (POC) combine with being a woman, disabled, LGBTQ+ and other protected characteristics to create further discrimination.

What it isn’t

Intersectionality isn’t only about how discrimination adds onto other discrimination (or privileges onto other privileges). It isn’t about what it is like to struggle with this and that.

That kind of approach sets up an “Oppression Olympics.” It ranks experiences to decide who has the most oppression. This is impossible to calculate – how can one decide if a Black disabled immigrant has it “worse” than an Asian lesbian?

What it is

Intersectionality is about how marginalised communities struggle with this and that when they are so interwoven that you cannot separate one oppression from the next.

Multiple forms of discrimination are experienced at the same time and are so inextricably linked that you cannot separate the oppression – you must view them together, as linked and compounding.

As an example, let’s use an intersecting road – Road A and Road B. When you are at the cross-section of these roads, you are neither on Road A or on Road B. You are on Road AB. You cannot disconnect them or separate them. It’s mixed.

How it works

Kimberlé Crenshaw argues that intersectionality works like this…

Black women experience racism and sexism in such a way where you you cannot separate out where one stops and the other begins. The racism changes the shape of the sexism; the sexism changes the shape of the racism.

What’s left is a particularly racialised form of misogyny and a particularly misogynistic form of racism which targets Black women specifically.

Thank you to Shannon, highly recommended speaker!

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