• Ahana Kakar

Intersectionality

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Intersectionality as a concept may be heard by many but is it understood by all, especially when it comes to conversations around feminism?



The constant "women are treated poorly because of their gender" reasonings have taken a back seat since Kimberlé Crenshaw changed the way we explain the adversity faced by women.

This guide will consider:

  • What is intersectionality?

  • The importance of intersectionality within feminism

  • Why does race and class play such an important role in feminism?



What is intersectionality?


Intersectionality was coined and defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw.


As the name suggests, Intersectionality considers how social and political identities like race, class and gender are interconnected and form the basis of discrimination against a certain individual or, alternatively, how these contribute to forms of privilege.



The importance of intersectionality within feminism


Often, feminism can be portrayed as a movement that solely focuses on gender. This is not true.


Over the years, feminism has started to evolve into different branches to acknowledge the different types of adversity that women may face.


Still, we need to constantly ask ourselves: why is intersectionality important within feminism?


We might think that gender on its own has the ability to explain women’s hardship. However, the situation is much more complex. We tend to forget that not all women share the same experiences of oppression, which is why we need to include the concepts of race and class in our reasonings as well.


For example, the gender pay gap exists because women are considered to be ‘inferior to men’. But women might also be paid less according to their race or class, showing how minority groups experience intersectional discrimination. It may not always be about their gender, alone.



Why does race play such an important role in feminism?


It is important for a single privileged group to understand that underrepresented groups have different experiences of oppression. This is largely because of the different histories that have had and still continue to have a tremendous impact on how women of colour are treated.


For example: Kimberlé Crenshaw in her article, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex, has shed light on several court cases in which black women have been marginalised not only because of their sex but also their race. One of them being, the DeGraffenreid v. General Motors case in 1976.

  • General Motors discriminated against black women by not hiring them prior to 1964 despite hiring white female employees before and after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • The court, however, denied it to be a case of sex discrimination along with dismissing the race discrimination claim.

For this reason, the boundaries of sex and race discrimination doctrine may be defined by the experiences of White women and Black men. Any issue raised by Black women should ‘fit-in’ to the standard sex discrimination narrative. If they don’t, such issues are simply considered to be ‘non-existent’.


This example is one of many that show how Black women are discriminated even against white women. White women have the advantage of race even if they are discriminated against their gender. However, women of colour are discriminated against both their gender and race. Therefore, it is important to think about race whilst formulating the causes behind the oppression of women.



Why does class play such an important role in feminism?


The concept of class alone can be forgotten and sometimes overlooked at by those who may sit at the top of the social hierarchy (like policymakers).


The representation of women of colour in employment is frequently left in the hands of those who dominate political and social spheres: white men.


  • The media portray women of colour as “immigrants”who do not have much resources at their disposal.

  • They are faced with hostility in male-dominated fields through low wages (sometimes unpaid jobs) as well as lack of health and safety laws.


For women, the assumption of being ‘working-class’ comes from a judgement based on preconceived notions about their race and gender. Do we see how gender, race and class are interconnected?



On the whole, gender, race and class are all sources of inequality, discrimination and oppression for women – none of them take priority over the other.


When talking about the causes behind the discrimination of women, we should not be looking at these concepts in isolation, but rather see how they are interrelated.


For more resources on non-discrimination, read though our article on Why Workplace Equality isn't Just About the Gender Pay Gap.

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