I had a firm, much needed wake up call at the Women’s March in Eugene, Oregon last weekend. One of the last speakers took the microphone and made a comment about how there were only one, if not two, women of color who spoke at the rally. An eruption of applause burst out, clapping in agreeance, but acknowledging it is only one part of the solution. The ignorance I was taking part in is a toxic and regressive environment that you may be promoting, even if you think you have progressive political and social beliefs.
Women of color, women of the LGBTQIA+ community, women with disabilities, and other minority groups have been fighting this fight for hundreds of years. Their feet hit the pavement, signs in hand, with voices demanding equality for everyone far before white women did. It’s not fair that we haven’t participated until now. It’s time we demand and refuse to back down. It’s time we will accept nothing less than full-fledged inclusivity. It’s time we use our privilege to give equality to the people whose voices we’ve ignored and who we have left in the shadows for a shamefully long time.
Intersectional feminism is essential. Every woman’s story is different and deserves to be heard. Many people, including myself are familiar with the term, but are unsure of or haven’t researched it properly to know how to apply it or discuss it. It was coined by scholar and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams, and in the most basic sense of the term, it’s defined as, “the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.” Thankfully, I know a quite a few incredible women who are patient, intelligent, and willing to take questions and graciously give answers. They offer personal stories, what intersectionality means to them, and suggestions on the things that must be done in order to make equality happen. It’s time to take the backseat and listen—it’s long overdue.
I read a quote once that said feminism without intersectionality is not feminism at all. As a black woman, my experiences as a woman will always be different than those of a white woman, and anyone who is for the equal treatment of men and women have to also be for the equal treatment of WOC and white women. Non-POC feminists can incorporate intersectionality into their feminism (on the smallest scale) by simply acknowledging it. Rowan Blanchard is an amazing example of that.
One question I hear a lot is why feminism is held to a standard of intersectionality that other movements have not necessarily been held to. It’s because, historically, feminism hasn’t been intersectional. With the age of the internet, even the most marginalized communities in the country and world have the chance to speak on a platform.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, suffragists like Alice Paul decided on pushing for white women’s suffrage first, as they would most likely lose the South if they worked for all women’s rights. Ida B. Wells was told not to march with the white women marching for suffrage–she did anyway, but not without resistance. Native American women were not able to vote until 1924 and black women were not guaranteed their voting right until 1965. People with disabilities are still barred from voting in 16 states if they are “mentally incompetent or incapacitated.” Trans women still face many barriers with voter ID laws. And that’s just with voting.
The issues with inequality range far beyond voting from incarceration to child custody to wages. If we focus solely on white women, as we have historically, we end up celebrating achievements that are glorified as “reaching equality,” while they actually leave their sisters of color, sisters with disabilities, non-Christian sisters, and LGBT+ sisters behind. Feminism must be intersectional or it will continue to proclaim victory in a war not yet won.
Being a transgender woman, I go through the intersectionality of being considered a woman but have the look of a man. Being judged with discrimination and being wrongly gender-identified is difficult. I want people to not gender identify so quickly, I know it’s hard but if they see a guy dressed in girl’s clothes–identify me as a woman.
Intersectionality to me, means knowing and acknowledging that women of different races and sexual orientations experience different forms of discrimination. If you are a white female, it’s important to understand that you still have certain degree of privilege. As a black woman, I not only have to fight discrimination based on gender, I also have to fight discrimination based on race. The feminist movement has such great intentions, but most of the time you only see white middle class women. I think the reason why people have such an issue incorporating it because historically, the feminist movement did not include women of color or people who identify as females. While Susan B. Anthony fought hard for women’s rights, she was not in favor of equal rights for ALL women, and history books always seem to forget that. It’s so important for the feminist movement to become more intersectional because when all women are united, we are a force to be reckoned with. I truly believe that equality will be achieved if this movement was inclusive of all women. The best way to achieve this is to be open to having hard conversations about history and privilege. Women of color and gender minorities do not want special treatment, we just want equal treatment.
The night before the (great) Women’s March, I was as Obama would say, “Fired up and ready to go.” The thing about protesting is that for it to be effective, people need to show up and have their voices heard. I don’t think we had a problem with turnout on January 21st, but there did seem to be a communication issue on the topic of intersectional feminism. When women were taking to streets during the female liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s, it was overwhelmingly white women fighting white men for their rights and it marked yet another case of people of color being neglected in American history. But it’s 2017 now and we can’t repeat those mistakes. The Women’s March this month needed to be one for all women–white or not, vagina or not–and that’s what intersectional feminism stands for. The poster I made for the protest events read “All Oppression is Connected: racism, ageism, ableism, classism, egoism, sexism. #intersectionalfeminism” for this very reason. I was a minority in the marches I participated in, so I wanted to make sure that my opinion on this whole “pink pussy” brigade was known. Not all vaginas are pink, and again, not all women have vaginas and this cannot be ignored.
Our generation is the one that needs to be correct in this sense and employ this concept that all types of discrimination intersect. We need to keep showing up for each other’s demonstrations, whether it’s to fight systematic racism or raise awareness for the environment or any other social movement. We need to be there for anyone who feels like their social identity is coming under fire because no one should be discriminated against for who they are. There’s already heavy polarization happening in this country and it doesn’t need to trickle into our efforts, in regard to those who supported the Women’s March on Washington. As so many people have been saying recently, so many great leaders and citizens, that now more than ever is when we need to ban together and fight the man and his administration that our neighbors voted for.
A movement working to gain equality for women should be inclusive of all women and recognize that every women does not begin at the same starting line in life, that some have more privileges and advantages than others. Women who are part of other oppressed communities have a very different experience than women who are not. At Toronto’s Women’s March on Washington this past weekend, I saw a sign that read: “We can’t all succeed if half of us are held back.” I assume this was pointed at the disparities that exist between men and women, but I think the sign’s message could be applied to the feminist movement as well.
A victory for one portion of the female population is by no means a victory for all women. Intersectionality is crucial to the movement, it acknowledges the issues that women of every race, creed, socioeconomic class, identity, sexuality, and ability face and it addresses them. I would say one way to adopt intersectionality is by rejecting exclusionary language and supporting diverse voices to express their own concerns because issues like imperiled reproductive rights and the gender wage gap are just the tip of the iceberg.
We can’t say we are activists when our sisters still don’t stand on even ground. Figure out how you can help, and do it. This will be an ongoing post where we will add women’s voices, opinions, and suggestions as we receive them, that way we can continue to learn the ways we can help each other out.