On the Corner: Intersectionality is Not Feminist

By which I mean that it is not inherently or always feminist. Unlike other posts, I think I can keep this point short:

If intersectionality is an examination of how two experiences/identities interact, then when neither of those experiences/identities is woman and/or female, it is difficult to see how one might guarantee that the examination is feminist in any meaningful way. Remembering that intersectionality is not only the examination of marginalized experiences and identities, we could read a meaningful examination of any of the following without encountering feminism per se:

Black and Christian

Jewish and immigrant

Disabled and heterosexual

Asexual and queer

As I have explained elsewhere, intersectionality was born of Critical Legal Theory, which discipline has its origins in anti-racism, not feminism. Although the originator of the term, metaphor, and theory (Kimberlé Crenshaw) did so while examining legal cases of specific import to Black women and thus is as feminist in its birth as it is anti-racist, still intersectionality is something else. It could not be intersectionality if it was only about gender and sex, nor could it be intersectionality as we’ve come to understand that term if it was always inclusive of gender and sex.

The essence of intersectional thought is looking at how membership in one category affects one’s experience of belong to (or existing within) another category. It is liminal thought, as Gloria Anzaldúa might say. Too often we speak of intersectionality as a theory that “belongs” to feminism, but this notion both relies on a simplified, frequently erroneous history as well as a drastic limitation of intersectionality’s scope and potential.

On The Corner: Intersectionality and Existence of Privilege

Siggy, over at A Trivial Knot, has a new post up with some interesting things to say about Privilege Theory and its successes and limitations as a lens through which to examine certain social dynamics.

One line in particular resonated with me, not for how I view Privilege Theory, but for how I view Intersectionality. It starts when Siggy asks how to evaluate a theoretical framework like privilege or intersectionality:

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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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