The theory of intersectionality is not a new one, first being coined in 1989 by civil rights activist, Kimberlé Crenshaw. However, it is one that many feminists are increasingly coming back to, because of its prevalence in today’s society. The theory of intersectionality deals with questions of how a person’s different identities can combine and thereby create new and unique forms of discrimination. The identities can be social or political, and when dealing with intersectionality, it mostly encompasses race, gender, class, and sexuality.
The main reason intersectionality was established was to give a new dimension to feminism. Since early feminism focused almost exclusively on white, middle-class women, many believed it was necessary to give a different perspective. Acknowledging that women are affected by other forms of marginalisation has sparked much debate within feminism. Some feminists felt that emphasising differences between women detracted from common struggles; they did not like acknowledging that some women might be more privileged than others.
However, others argue this position omits the fact that non-white women experience discrimination on the basis of both gender and race. Despite this, the recent rise of women of colour and LGBTQ+ women on TV ,and the media highlights that intersectionality is gaining more attention now than ever. For example, in politics the former Scottish Conservative leader and alumni of the University of Edinburgh, Ruth Davidson, marked history as the first openly gay female leader of a political party in Scotland.
In television and film, there is an increase in women of colour playing leading roles, such as Jo Martin in Doctor Who; but many intersectional feminists argue that there is still a long way to go in terms of equality. The awards season highlighted the frustrations that many feel about the lack of representation, many choosing to air these frustrations of social media, with the hashtag #BAFTAsSoWhite trending in the UK. The Academy Awards brought more contention bringing #OscarsSoWhite to trend too, despite the success of the South Korean film ‘Parasite’ and its director Boon Joon-Ho. In the acting categories this year, Cynthia Erivo was the only non-white nominee. She was up for best actress in a leading role for playing the titular role in Harriet, a film about a slave who became an abolitionist.
Social media is arguably one of the ways that can bring together the various streams of feminism and amplify voices which have historically not been privileged. Although many believe that while it can be an important tool, ultimately for feminism to become truly intersectional, all feminists need to commit to intersectionality and introspection with authentic empathy and solidarity. Many intersectional feminists argue that white feminists need to help tear down the systems of privilege that benefit them because of their race, but have oppressed marginalised groups, in order to become an advocate and ally for women of all intersections.
Those fighting for intersectionality in feminism argue that real danger is that feminism itself can function in an exclusionary manner: by marginalizing less powerful, and less privileged women, as well as our allies – the very people who most need feminism today. They believe that, if we aren’t intersectional in our fight for equality, there is a risk that the most vulnerable and marginalized are going to fall through the cracks.
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