We can all agree that feminism supports the equality of all people, right? And we can all agree that people may have different identities which result in their having different experiences than each other, all of which are valid and worthy of equality, right? OK, good. If we’re in agreement on those two things, then we’re in agreement that making sure our feminism is intersectional is a key in the fight for equal rights.
The term “intersectional feminism” is credited to civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term in her 1989 article, "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics." The article specifically addressed feminism and race, but essentially, intersectional feminism is the idea that each component of our identity — things like race, gender, LGBTQ status, ability, and so many more — does not exist in a vacuum. These parts overlap, compound, and intersect, creating a layered experience of oppression and discrimination. For example, a woman experiences sexism; a black person experiences racism; a gay person experience homophobia. However, a woman who is gay and black experiences all three. Understanding how each person experiences discrimination helps us better understand how we can combat it.
No one expects perfection when it comes being a better ally. And make no mistake: Allyship is inherent to intersection feminism. However, we can all work to make sure our fight for equality is inclusive of everyone. Here are eight ways to make sure your feminism is intersectional.
1. It Includes People of Color
White feminism is often presented as the opposite of intersectional feminism. While is recognizing race is just one component of intersectional feminism, it’s usually the one at the forefront of the conversation. Feminism has a history of excluding women of color from the conversation. Intersectional feminism is the idea that rights of the majority do not usurp those of the minority. It understands that the wage gap disproportionately affects black, native, and Latina women. It understands that racists stereotypes and microaggressions persist, and that we need to do what we can to stop them. It recognizes that “color blindness” erases experiences of hate instead of working to eradicate them. As co-chair of the Women’s March Linda Sarsour has said, “If you want to know if you’re going the right way, brothers and sisters, follow a woman of color.”
2. It Includes LGBTQ+ People
Intersectional feminism knows that equality is not exclusive to straight people (duh). It also recognizes that things like homophobia and heteronormativity persist regardless of laws on marriage equality. For example, the way female sexuality is stigmatized in a culture where being straight is the presumed “norm” is problematic. However, it becomes further complicated when you look at how it’s presented to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and everything in between or outside. LGBTQ rights are human rights, and what is feminism if not the fight for equal human rights?
3. It Includes Trans and Non-Binary People
Intersectional feminism recognizes that equal rights are not exclusive to cis people. It understands that when we talk who is affected by period stigma, we aren’t just talking about cis women. It recognizes that while the statistics on sexual violence are shocking and impact everyone, transgender people are significantly more likely to be sexually assaulted than cisgender people. Intersectional feminism acknowledges that gender is not binary. It understands that while gender norms affect everyone, they do not affect everyone equally.
4. It Doesn’t Ignore People with Disabilities
People with disabilities are arguably one of the most underrepresented populations that exist. Almost one in five people have a disability in the United States, making people with disabilities one of the largest minority groups in the country. Recognizing ableism that exists (in everything from language choices to the way we talk about activism) in turn recognizes the experiences of people with disabilities. If our feminism is ableist, it is not inclusive.
5. It’s Body Positive
Being body positive is, at its core, agreeing with the idea that all bodies are good bodies. Why does body positivity matter to feminism? Well, it’s no secret that women are widely underrepresented and misrepresented in the media. And the kind of women that are represented are pretty homogenous, especially in body shape. Like this video on body positivity states, the average woman in America is a size 14. If we want feminism to include things like equal representation in media, we need to include a more diverse idea of what a woman looks like.
6. It’s Sex Positive
Sex positivity is a key component of feminism as a whole. Simply put, it’s the idea that sex that is healthy and explicitly consensual is a positive thing. It also entails being respectful of other people’s choices and recognizing language that is slut-shaming, virgin-shaming, or sex-shaming in any way. It doesn't sitgmatize or exclude sex workers. Conversations about sex positivity and feminism need to include the full spectrum of sexuality because not all sex is between a cis man and a cis woman. The kind of sex-shaming straight people experience is different from the misconceptions about bisexual people and sex that exist. Intersectional feminism reminds us to be inclusive in those conversations.
7. It Doesn’t Speak Out of Turn
Being an intersectional feminist means being an ally to groups with which you don’t directly identify. And being a true ally means knowing when to pass the mic. To quote Lakin Starling from THE FADER, “Before I pitch an idea, I make sure I ask myself, Am I the right person to tell this story? It’s a blessing to be in a position to amplify the voices of other women in my work, but those women should also be in positions to be in control of their narratives.” We should all take a note from Starling and ask ourselves, “Am I the right person to tell this story?” and make sure we are speaking up, never over.
8. It Isn’t Just Centered Around Yourself and People Exactly Like You
Intersectional feminism is in part about including the rights of people whose experiences are different from our own. It doesn’t prioritize the rights of the most privileged, visible populations. It means working to consistently deconstruct our own unconscious biases and understand the prejudices we’ve all internalized.
If that sounds difficult, good; it is difficult. But simply understanding that these unconscious biases we hold are complex is the first step to breaking them down. Like Jarune Uwujaren and Jamie Utt write in this piece for Everyday Feminism, “Feminism isn’t here for your comfort.” And self-reflection can certainly be unconformable. We need to be willing to recognize and acknowledge when we make mistakes, because we are going to make mistakes. It’s necessary to understand and agree on what is a problem in order to arrive at a solution.
Feminism, at its core, is the belief that people deserve equal rights regardless of social categorizations like gender. Intersectional feminism is the assurance that equality isn’t exclusive. Because if your feminism doesn’t inclusive everyone, whose equal rights are you actually fighting for?