Feminist Friday: Feminism’s Forgotten Name

Maxine Hong Kingston is one of many feminists engaged in what we would today call intersectional theorizing, though she was writing in that mode at least two decades before Crenshaw would give activists the term intersectionality. Her book of fables and thought, The Woman Warrior (1976), has gone on to be a university staple in many different disciplines. The Woman Warrior is taught so widely, in fact, that the Washington Post includes in a piece about the book and its prominence:

It gained a following that seems, if anything, to have increased over the years.

Thus, for example, Bill Moyers has reported that “The Woman Warrior” and Kingston’s second memoir, “China Men” (1980), are the most widely taught books by a living American author on college campuses today, which echoes a claim made by the Modern Language Association. This rather astonishing information no doubt reflects the various categories of political and cultural opinion to which Kingston’s work appeals, but it also means that “The Woman Warrior” is probably one of the most influential books now in print in this country — and certainly one of the most influential books with a valid claim to literary recognition.

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On the Corner: Postscript to a Beginning

Taking nothing away from the importance of the post on the birth of intersectionality, it was both a bit long, and it was focussed more on what Kimberlé Crenshaw thought than my thinking about her thoughts. There are some nuggets that I think are important, things that we will need to remember as we continue to explore Intersectionality. But I think they are best placed in this separate PostScript:

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On the Corner: The Birth of Intersectionality

Intersectionality as we know it today was given life by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and social theorist. In the talk that brought the metaphor of the intersection into public discussion, she first noted:*1

in race discrimination cases, discrimination tends to be viewed in terms of sex- or class-privileged Blacks; in sex discrimination cases, the focus is on race- and class-privileged women.

She then explained some of the consequences of this:

This focus on the most privileged group members marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened and obscures claims that cannot be understood as resulting from discrete sources of discrimination. I suggest further that this focus on otherwise-privileged group members creates a distorted analysis of racism and sexism because the operative conceptions of race and sex become grounded in experiences that actually represent only a subset of a much more complex phenomenon

But why not simply include Black voices in feminism and women’s voices in anti-racism and call it good? For Crenshaw, it was because the effects of multiple oppressions are not merely linear increases, not merely additive.

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