Updated: Feb 19, 2019
With live in a society a rife with inequality. Whether we like it or not, that is a factual statement. While some areas progress and change farther each day, others relapse and create highly unjust situations for large groups of individuals. We live in a culture centred around a hierarchal system, which takes personal characteristics – like racial group, gender identity, sexuality, age etc. – and uses them to establish one’s worthiness of respect and social standing. The prejudicial nature of our civilisation is to blame for the highly unbalanced social, political and economic power of different groups and the resultant labels we place on them. Many people have a basic understanding of how systems of inequality work individually – we even have separate names of the alternate forms of injustice; racism; sexism; homophobia; ageism. A knowledge that is lacking however, is one of how these systems interact and overlap with one another and how that in turn alters the experience of the victim and produces hybridised forms of injustice. This is the concept known as INTERSECTIONALITY.
Intersectionality is the notion that no form of oppression operate individually, but they instead intertwine and function cohesively. Rather than racial and gender inequality being two mutually exclusive events, they are connected and create different forms of injustice for individuals in the marginalised position of both groups. This means that it would be impossible for society to treat one form of inequality without addressing the others because of the way they have such deep-rooted connections. The concept was originally coined to help better explain the societal experiences of black women and has since been a staple branch of modern feminism. It’s a concept that is in desperate need of a higher level of understanding and appreciation because mainstream western feminism tends to spotlight the issues of young, white, heterosexual women as the ‘collective’ female experience – which is obviously not the reality for a large proportion of women. Perhaps by championing intersectional feminism, the mainstream feminist voice will become more reflective of the diversity of experience that different women face nationally, while also increasing the inclusivity of the cause.
An understanding of intersectionality is beneficial for both majority and minority feminists because not only does it offer mainstream, often white, feminists a raised-consciousness of the goings on outside their highly-understood, highly-publicized bubble but it also paves the way for the issues of minority feminists to be put on the mainstream agenda and benefit from its privilege. It is an ignorant opinion to believe that ethnicity and racial privilege doesn’t directly affect the gender inequality that women face. For example, one huge feminist campaign subject, the gender pay gap, is literally shaped by racial inequality in the UK. A 2017 report by The Fawcett Society found that the full-time working pay gap, comparing ethnic minority women to white men, varied from -5.6% for Chinese women, having reversed the pay gap, to 19.6% for Black African women. While the pay gap is narrowing for every racial group, it is doing so at varying rates, with Black African women continually suffering the smallest changes. Every ‘equal pay day’ in and around November, is the day in which ‘women’ effectively work for free until the end of the year and is based on women as a collective, not taking ethnicity into account. Therefore, it would probably be better described as the day in which ‘racially privileged women’ work for free until the end of the year, since if racial identity was accounted for, the picture would be a lot bleaker and the day would be even earlier for BAME women. It's nonsensical that the ethnic discrepancies of the gender pay gap aren’t reported more in mainstream media channels. The is why intersectionality is so important – to ensure that the prioritisation and benchmark of importance for feminist issues isn’t based on whiteness and racial privilege. The erasure of BAME voices in western feminism needs addressing through education and a greater appreciation of intersectional feminism.
It's also necessary to highlight the fact that it’s a multitude of gender issues that other forms of inequality have an effect on too, not just work and the pay gap. Representation; emancipation and autonomy; stereotypes and beauty ideals; violence against women; the list goes on. The feminist experience of all of these issues differs heavily when other characteristic factors come into play also. Sexuality, is just one other factor like racial identity that can also affect one’s experience of gender inequality. While all branches of feminism have the same end goal, of gender equality in mind, they do however, set their own agendas based on experiences that differ to that of the mainstream. All intersectionality aims to do is create an awareness that the gender inequality different women are facing, is shaped not purely by their gender identity, but by other characteristics like race and sexuality too – the experience of young, white, heterosexual women is not representative of all women and shouldn’t be adopted as the norm.
Mainstream feminist media and advocacy needs to distance itself from the idea that all women are focused on tackling the same feminist objectives, while at the same time being careful not to undermine the inclusivity of the cause. Some people argue that intersectionality divides feminists by promoting the evaluation of female experience based on severity, and the subsequent prioritisation of certain issues over others. Surely a cause championing inequality would want to fight every issue on a level playing field? If a deeper disgust is being demanded for intersectional experience, would feminism lose it's credibility? I think not. It appears that people are only bothered about the inclusivity of feminism when 'white' women's experience is threatened. The experience of BAME women has been more often than not, excluded from mainstream feminist rhetoric for decades and so spotlighting their agenda alongside that already circulating, can only make feminism a more inclusive movement. Only then will feminism become more representative of the wider female voice and more welcoming to people of all backgrounds.
**I have simply scratched the very surface of intersectionality here and would highly recommend anybody remotely interested in feminism to read up on it from the hundreds of thousands of books and articles there is out there. I also invite feedback and debate on this post because I often see counter arguments to intersectionality the more I read about it and I am really interested in hearing what other people think about the concept.**