My introduction to the importance of Intersectional Feminism
When I think of Feminism, I think of who I chose to study in university: Julia Kristeva. Judith Butler. Helene Cixous. Luce Irigaray. Nicole Brossard. Daphne Marlatt. I inherently gravitated towards these women because they made sense to me. They knew what I knew – that I was performing a gender I associated with, that I had female body parts, that I was an object of the male gaze and hated it, that I was an unpredictable force, that I was queer but didn’t want to define it. I needed them.
As I began to recognize I stayed in that bubble most of the time, I looked at other women: bell hooks. Angela Davis. Claudia Rankine. Gayatri Spivak. They knew things I would never know – like being a woman of colour and all of its intricacies beautiful and terrible. I loved them.
Soon, I took a long, hard look at what I was reading. On one hand, I was reading my truth – on the other, I was engrossed in truths I could only be an observer of. But I was missing texts on truth I was afraid of because of experiences I was repressing. So, I read Jack Halberstam. I read Carrie Bourassa. I read Amiri Baraka. I read my grandmother’s Native history through what my mom could tell me.
I noticed that my Feminism grew outside of what was traditionally recognized as feminism and I didn’t know where to place it. I present as someone and am someone with a ton of privilege, and I acknowledge this and strive to never take it for granted.
Towards the end of my university education and well into the world of full-time work, somewhere along the way I began to feel like I couldn’t categorize myself as a “Feminist” anymore because I only saw what I now am able to recognize as “whitewashed feminism” or “white feminism.”
I saw a movement founded by and for white women of stature, only accessible if you complied; I communicated with people who saw sex workers as disgusting (I was one myself, at one point) but would have sex with the masses; I saw no sympathy for those who had abortions even though I know so many women demand access to them; I saw women excluded for being transgender; I saw women complaining about not being able to vote until X year (depending on where you live), but not acknowledge that BLACK WOMEN and other women of colour were NOT INCLUDED IN THIS until YEARS later.
Most jarringly to me, I found that I was rejected if I questioned this bullshit. I was wondering where something I loved so much became so fucked up.
Moving from only reading people who reflect my experience to adding those that represent others has proven to me that just sticking up solely for my own identity is, for lack of more accurate phrasing, really fucked up. I quote Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (understanding she’s one of the many White French Philosophers) tirelessly: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” She speaks of how gender is a learned process. Authors, creatives, academics, activists, and average people like myself, have expanded on this through their own performance of gender since 1949...and realistically, the dawn of consciousness.
I do know that my own struggles and histories outside of how I physically present are valid and important. And I do know that there are people in the world who identify as women but look, act, sound, and manifest as nothing like me. I value their knowledge, so I began to seek it out exclusively to see if Feminism was dead or reborn another way. I found the term “Intersectional Feminism” scrolling through the depths of Instagram on a lurk binge; it was an account run by Muslim women.
I had finally found real, accessible people who knew what I knew – that womanhood, in its metaphysical sense, cannot be contained by a standard definition or action. There were article links, images, and more of and by women of colour, queer and non-binary people, women with physical disabilities, women who suffered, women who celebrated. And they were still feminists – just intersectional. I felt like I had fucking struck gold. I felt validated. I KNEW this was important and I had to include it in my life.
Of course, you can’t preach intersectional feminism unless you recognize Kimberlé Crenshaw, a lawyer, activist, and leading scholar in critical race theory. Intersectionality is not new – you can read more about it in the 1991 Stanford Law Review article by Crenshaw, Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color for free here. Crenshaw notes that those at a crossroads of identity – an intersection – are subject to an entirely unique world of violence because of their identity:
Considering this, it is imperative to note the complete point of Intersectional Feminism: all women are, in fact, human, and therefore indisputably deserving of equal, equitable human rights. Intersectional Feminism is important because it includes ALL women, all people – not just the ones you yourself identify as. It celebrates the multiplicities unique to the human experience – performance, socialization, culture, etc. It is important – so, so important.
Also, Crenshaw’s TED talk “The urgency of Intersectionality” is one of the best I’ve seen.
I’ll continue to explore and write about intersectional feminism and keep in mind it is what all I do is rooted in. I also accept that I'll continue to lose friendships and disappoint people who can't align with me on this subject. Not just for myself – but for the betterment of all humanity and in solidarity with of all who should be heard.