Intersectional Feminism: Its Meaning and Origins

Although it’s been a popular buzzword for the past few years, not everyone is familiar with this term. Perhaps you’ve heard it in conversation but still don’t entirely understand what it means. Intersectional feminism has been around decades – it was a term created in 1989 by a woman named Kimberle Crenshaw.

This American professor, who wrote on it as part of a race theory paper, defined it as the study of different intersecting social identities and how the systems of discrimination and oppression relate to them. In short, intersectional feminism is the acknowledgment that different women go through oppression in a variety of ways, with varying intensity.


Race inequality or sexism are often discussed as isolated matters. But in reality, lots of people experience both of these things simultaneously, along with a list of other inequalities such as class, gender, or immigrant status.  


Intersectional feminism puts the spotlight on individuals who are at the brunt of this overlapping form of bias and oppression. It adds a more inclusive and diverse dimension to a previously two-dimensional exploration of feminism.

 What is white feminism, and how do we avoid it?

White feminism is a narrow form of feminism that only highlights the struggles white women experience without addressing the unique struggles and various forms of oppression experienced by different ethnic groups.

While a patriarchal society might oppress a white woman, she has the advantage of her race to help her move through the world. A Black woman, however, has to deal with the perception of both her race and gender. An LGBT woman of color is persecuted even further based on the overlapping of these three identities. An LGBT Latina and an LGBT Black women will also have vastly different experiences.


For white women to denounce white feminism and practice inclusivity, it’s vital to deconstruct any potential privileges they might benefit from in their own lives and the systems behind that privilege held strongly in place. This process might be uncomfortable, but remember that understanding the root of your discomfort can help many others in the world.


Why did the Women’s March in Washington popularize the term?

The term intersectional feminism became more mainstream in 2017. This was due to the initial organization of the Women’s March in Washington DC.

 It began on Facebook but did not include women of color as organizers. Today, its leading organizers include African American civil rights activist Tamika Mallory, and Linda Sarsour, a Muslim woman who leads the Arab American Association of New York. The Women’s March now has a list of guiding policies, one of which succinctly states the essence of the overlap: “gender justice is racial justice is economic justice.”


Why is intersectional feminism so important in 2020?

Now more than ever, all generations of women are developing their passion and activism surrounding feminism’s new definitions. At the end of the day, intersectional feminism helps us understand our fellow human beings a little better, allowing us to advocate for each other more powerfully. 


Reproductive justice has always been threatened in North America, and intersectional feminists are essential in that fight. But the topic of abortion is one that’s filled with grey areas. While feminists demand the right to “choose,” the discourse surrounding this “choice” is problematic. It assumes all women will be economically able to pay for an abortion if they decide they want one. 


Recently, a whistleblower brought to light the horrifying procedures of forced sterilization in ICE detainment camps. By prioritizing attention to abortion rights, this inhuman reproductive injustice is pushed to the side, once again elevating the privilege of middle and upper-class white women over less financially able women of color. 


How this relates to you and how to be an intersectional feminist

We’re all such complex women – why try to flatten us into one basic definition? Make a list of all the different identities you have. These can include class, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, language, nationality, and economic status. 

Try to make additional lists for all the other women in your life – it’s an effective way to develop empathy and become a better ally for the prejudices someone might face. Explore the concept of power. Who is powerful in this world? Power can be the ability to say no, or not talk about something because it does not affect you.

Women are confronting all kinds of vulnerabilities right now, and we need to protect each other. Ultimately, we must stop comparing marginalized struggles and who suffers more.

All we can do is acknowledge and listen to each other’s experiences with an open mind and heart, and most importantly, stand up for each other. What intersectional feminism stands for is the empowerment and rights of every single woman while taking into consideration our differences. One difference we shouldn’t have? Our desire for unity and collective strength.

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