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The term intersectionality was coined by Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. ”Intersectionality“ represents an analytic framework that attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society. Intersectionality considers that various forms of social stratification, such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, creed, disability and gender, do not exist separately from each other but are woven together. While the theory began as an exploration of the oppression of women of color within society, today the analysis is potentially applied to all social categories, including social identities usually seen as dominant when considered independently.
|Women of the World Festival 2016|
|Kimberlé Crenshaw – On Intersectionality via Southbank Centre on YouTube|
The concept of intersectionality is intended to illuminate dynamics that have often been overlooked by feminist movements and theory. As articulated by author bell hooks, the emergence of intersectionality "challenged the notion that 'gender' was the primary factor determining a woman's fate". The historical exclusion of black women from the feminist movement resulted in many black 19th and 20th century feminists, such as Anna Julia Cooper, to challenge the exclusion. This movement disputed the ideas of earlier feminist movements – which were primarily led by white middle-class women – such as the idea that women were a homogenous category who shared the same life experiences. Recognizing that the forms of oppression experienced by white middle-class women were different from those experienced by black, poor, or disabled women, feminists began seeking to understand the ways in which gender, race, and class combine to "determine the female destiny".
Racial inequality was a factor that was largely ignored by first-wave feminism, which was primarily concerned with gaining political equality between men and women. Early women's rights movements are often seen as exclusively pertaining to the membership, concerns, and struggles of white women alone. However, third-wave feminism – which emerged shortly after the term "intersectionality" was coined in the late 1980s – notes the lack of attention to race, class, sexual orientation, and gender identity in early feminist movements, and tries to provide a channel to address political and social disparities. Intersectionality recognizes these issues that were ignored by early social justice movements. Many recent academics such as Leslie McCall have argued that the introduction of the intersectionality theory was vital to sociology, and that before the development of the theory there was little research that specifically addressed the experiences of people who are subjected to multiple forms of subordination within society.
The term also has historical and theoretical links to the concept of "simultaneity", which was advanced during the 1970s by members of the Combahee River Collective in Boston, Massachusetts. Members of this group articulated an awareness that their lives, and their forms of resistance to oppression, were profoundly shaped by the simultaneous influences of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Thus, the women of the Combahee River Collective advanced an understanding of African-American experiences that challenged analyses emerging from Black and male-centered social movements, as well as those from mainstream white, middle-class, heterosexual feminists.
Other writers and theorists were using intersectional analysis in their work before the term was coined. For example, Gloria Wekker describes how Gloria Anzaldúa's work as a Chicana feminist theorist exemplifies how "existent categories for identity are strikingly not dealt with in separate or mutually exclusive terms, but are always referred to in relation to one another". Wekker also points to the words and activism of Sojourner Truth as an example of an intersectional approach to social justice.
In 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term "intersectionality" in a paper as a way to help explain the oppression of African-American women. Crenshaw's then somewhat academic term is now at the forefront of national conversations about racial justice, identity politics, and policing—and over the years has helped shape legal discussions.  She used the term in her crucial 1989 paper for the University of Chicago Legal Forum, "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics." In her work, Crenshaw discusses Black feminism, arguing that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in independent terms of either being black or a woman. Rather, it must include interactions between the two identities, which, she adds, should frequently reinforce one another.
In order to show that non-white women have a vastly different experience from white women due to their race and/or class and that their experiences are not easily voiced or pinpointed, Crenshaw explores two types of male violence against women: domestic violence and rape. Through her analysis of these two forms of male violence against women, Crenshaw says that the experiences of non-white women consist of a combination (or, intersection) of both racism and sexism. She says that because non-white women are present within discourses that have been designed to address either race or sex – but not both at the same time – non-white women are marginalized within both of these systems of oppression as a result.
In her work, Crenshaw identifies three aspects of intersectionality that affect the visibility of non-white women: structural intersectionality, political intersectionality, and representational intersectionality. Structural intersectionality deals with how non-white women experience domestic violence and rape in a manner qualitatively different than that of white women. Political intersectionality examines how laws and policies intended to increase equality have paradoxically decreased the visibility of violence against non-white women. Finally, representational intersectionality delves into how pop culture portrayals of non-white women can obscure their own authentic lived experiences.
The term gained prominence in the 1990s, particularly in the wake of the further development of Crenshaw's work in the writings of sociologist Patricia Hill Collins. Crenshaw's term, Collins says, replaced her own previous coinage "black feminist thought", and "increased the general applicability of her theory from African American women to all women".:61 Much like Crenshaw, Collins argues that cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society, such as race, gender, class, and ethnicity.:42 Collins describes this as "interlocking social institutions [that] have relied on multiple forms of segregation... to produce unjust results".
Collins sought to create frameworks to think about intersectionality, rather than expanding on the theory itself. She identified three main branches of study within intersectionality. One branch deals with the background, ideas, issues, conflicts, and debates within intersectionality. Another branch seeks to apply intersectionality as an analytical strategy to various social institutions in order to examine how they might perpetuate social inequality. The final branch formulates intersectionality as a critical praxis to determine how social justice initiatives can use intersectionality to bring about social change.
The ideas behind intersectional feminism existed long before the term was coined. Sojourner Truth's 1851 "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, for example, exemplifies intersectionality, in which she spoke from her racialized position as a former slave to critique essentialist notions of femininity. Similarly, in her 1892 essay, "The Colored Woman's Office", Anna Julia Cooper identifies black women as the most important actors in social change movements, because of their experience with multiple facets of oppression.
Though intersectionality began with the exploration of the interplay between gender and race, over time other identities and oppressions were added to the theory. For example, in 1981 Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa published the first edition of This Bridge Called My Back. This anthology explored how classifications of sexual orientation and class also mix with those of race and gender to create even more distinct political categories. Many black, Latina, and Asian writers featured in the collection stress how their sexuality interacts with their race and gender to inform their perspectives. Similarly, poor women of color detail how their socio-economic status adds a layer of nuance to their identities, ignored or misunderstood by middle-class white feminists.
According to black feminists and many white feminists, experiences of class, gender, and sexuality cannot be adequately understood unless the influence of racialization is carefully considered. This focus on racialization was highlighted many times by scholar and feminist bell hooks, specifically in her 1981 book Ain't I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Feminists argue that an understanding of intersectionality is a vital element of gaining political and social equality and improving our democratic system. Collins's theory represents the sociological crossroads between modern and post-modern feminist thought.
Marie-Claire Belleau argues for "strategic intersectionality" in order to foster cooperation between feminisms of different ethnicities.:51 She refers to different nat-cult (national-cultural) groups that produce unique types of feminisms. Using Québécois nat-cult as an example, Belleau says that many nat-cult groups contain infinite sub-identities within themselves, arguing that there are endless ways in which different feminisms can cooperate by using strategic intersectionality, and that these partnerships can help bridge gaps between "dominant and marginal" groups.:54 Belleau argues that, through strategic intersectionality, differences between nat-cult feminisms are neither essentialist nor universal, but should be understood as resulting from socio-cultural contexts. Furthermore, the performances of these nat-cult feminisms are also not essentialist. Instead, they are strategies.
Similarly, Intersectional theorists like Vrushali Patil argue that intersectionality ought to recognize transborder constructions of racial and cultural hierarchies. About the effect of the state on identity formation, Patil says: "If we continue to neglect cross-border dynamics and fail to problematize the nation and its emergence via transnational processes, our analyses will remain tethered to the spatialities and temporalities of colonial modernity."
Marxist feminist critical theoryEdit
W. E. B. Du Bois theorized that the intersectional paradigms of race, class, and nation might explain certain aspects of black political economy. Collins writes: "Du Bois saw race, class, and nation not primarily as personal identity categories but as social hierarchies that shaped African-American access to status, poverty, and power.":44 Du Bois omitted gender from his theory and considered it more of a personal identity category.
Cheryl Townsend Gilkes expands on this by pointing out the value of centering on the experiences of black women. Joy James takes things one step further by "using paradigms of intersectionality in interpreting social phenomena". Collins later integrated these three views by examining a black political economy through the centering of black women's experiences and the use of a theoretical framework of intersectionality.:44
Collins uses a Marxist feminist approach and applies her intersectional principles to what she calls the "work/family nexus and black women's poverty". In her 2000 article "Black Political Economy" she describes how, in her view, the intersections of consumer racism, gender hierarchies, and disadvantages in the labor market can be centered on black women's unique experiences. Considering this from a historical perspective and examining interracial marriage laws and property inheritance laws creates what Collins terms a "distinctive work/family nexus that in turn influences the overall patterns of black political economy".:45–46 For example, anti-miscegenation laws effectively suppressed the upward economic mobility of black women.
The intersectionality of race and gender has been shown to have a visible impact on the labor market. "Sociological research clearly shows that accounting for education, experience, and skill does not fully explain significant differences in labor market outcomes.":506 The three main domains in which we see the impact of intersectionality are wages, discrimination, and domestic labor. Those who experience privilege within the social hierarchy in terms of race, gender and socio-economic status are less likely to receive lower wages, to be subjected to stereotypes and discriminated against, or to be hired for exploitative domestic positions. Studies of the labor market and intersectionality provide a better understanding of economic inequalities and the implications of the multidimensional impact of race and gender on social status within society.:506–507
Interlocking matrix of oppressionEdit
Collins refers to the various intersections of social inequality as the matrix of domination. This is also known as "vectors of oppression and privilege".:204 These terms refer to how differences among people (sexual orientation, class, race, age, etc.) serve as oppressive measures towards women and change the experience of living as a woman in society. Collins, Audre Lorde (in Sister Outsider), and bell hooks point towards either/or thinking as an influence on this oppression and as further intensifying these differences. Specifically, Collins refers to this as the construct of dichotomous oppositional difference. This construct is characterized by its focus on differences rather than similarities.:S20
Standpoint epistemology and the outsider withinEdit
Both Collins and Dorothy Smith have been instrumental in providing a sociological definition of standpoint theory. A standpoint is an individual's unique world perspective. The theoretical basis of this approach views societal knowledge as being located within an individual's specific geographic location. In turn, knowledge becomes distinctly unique and subjective; it varies depending on the social conditions under which it was produced.:392
The concept of the outsider within refers to a unique standpoint encompassing the self, family, and society.:S14 This relates to the specific experiences to which people are subjected as they move from a common cultural world (i.e., family) to that of modern society.:207 Therefore, even though a woman—especially a Black woman—may become influential in a particular field, she may feel as though she does not belong. Their personalities, behavior, and cultural being overshadow their value as an individual; thus, they become the outsider within.:S14
Speaking from a critical standpoint, Collins points out that Brittan and Maynard say "domination always involves the objectification of the dominated; all forms of oppression imply the devaluation of the subjectivity of the oppressed.":S18 She later notes that self-valuation and self-definition are two ways of resisting oppression. Practicing self-awareness helps to preserve the self-esteem of the group that is being oppressed and allow them to avoid any dehumanizing outside influences.
Marginalized groups often gain a status of being an "other".:S18 In essence, you are "an other" if you are different from what Audre Lorde calls the mythical norm. "Others" are virtually anyone that differs from the societal schema of an average white male. Gloria Anzaldúa theorizes that the sociological term for this is "othering", or specifically attempting to establish a person as unacceptable based on a certain criterion that fails to be met.:205
The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (March 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Intersectionality can be applied to nearly all fields from politics, education healthcare, and employment, to economics. For example, within the institution of education, Sandra Jones' research on working class women in academia takes into consideration meritocracy within all social strata, but argues that it is complicated by race and the external forces that oppress. Additionally, people of color often experience differential treatment in the healthcare system. For example, in the period immediately after 9/11 researchers noted low birth weights and other poor birth outcomes among Muslim and Arab Americans, a result they connected to the increased racial and religious discrimination of the time. Some researchers have also argued that immigration policies can affect health outcomes through mechanisms such as stress, restrictions on access to health care, and the social determinants of health.
Additionally, applications with regard to property and wealth can be traced to the American historical narrative that is filled "with tensions and struggles over property—in its various forms. From the removal of Native Americans (and later Japanese Americans) from the land, to military conquest of the Mexicans, to the construction of Africans as property, the ability to define, possess, and own property has been a central feature of power in America ... [and where] social benefits accrue largely to property owners". One could apply the intersectionality framework analysis to various areas where race, class, gender, sexuality and ability are affected by policies, procedures, practices, and laws in "context-specific inquiries, including, for example, analyzing the multiple ways that race and gender interact with class in the labor market; interrogating the ways that states constitute regulatory regimes of identity, reproduction, and family formation"; and examining the inequities in "the power relations [of the intersectionality] of whiteness ... [where] the denial of power and privilege ... of whiteness, and middle-classness", while not addressing "the role of power it wields in social relations".
Intersectionality in a global contextEdit
Over the last couple decades in the European Union, there has been discussion regarding the intersections of social classifications and the need to acknowledge their functions. Before Crenshaw coined her definition of intersectionality, there was debate on what these societal categories were, and how they played a role in the lives of many minorities. What was once a more cut and dry categorization between gender, race, and class has turned into a multidimensional intersection of "race" including religion, sexuality, ethnicities, etc. In the EU and UK they refer to these intersections under the notion of multiple discrimination. The EU passed a non-discrimination law which addresses these multiple intersections; however, there is debate on whether the law is still proactively focusing on the proper inequalities. The European Union is not the only organization that is acknowledging this concept. People around the world are taking a new approach when identifying others identities as well as their own; although, there are still places that follow the traditional process of categorization as stated in the following quote. "The impact of patriarchy and traditional assumptions about gender and families are evident in the lives of Chinese migrant workers (Chow, Tong), sex workers and their clients in South Korea (Shin), and Indian widows (Chauhan), but also Ukrainian migrants (Amelina) and Australian men of the new global middle class (Connell)." This text suggests that there are many more intersections of discrimination for people around the globe, than Crenshaw originally accounted for in her definition.
In the field of social work, proponents of intersectionality hold that unless service providers take intersectionality into account, they will be of less use for various segments of the population, such as those reporting domestic violence or disabled victims of abuse. According to intersectional theory, the practice of domestic violence counselors in the United States urging all women to report their abusers to police is of little use to women of color due to the history of racially motivated police brutality, and those counselors should adapt their counseling for women of color.
Women with disabilities encounter more frequent domestic abuse with a greater number of abusers. Health care workers and personal care attendants perpetrate abuse in these circumstances, and women with disabilities have fewer options for escaping the abusive situation. There is a "silence" principle concerning the intersectionality of women and disability, which maintains an overall social denial of the prevalence of abuse among the disabled and leads to this abuse being frequently ignored when encountered. A paradox is presented by the overprotection of people with disabilities combined with the expectations of promiscuous behavior of disabled women. This leads to limited autonomy and social isolation of disabled individuals, which place women with disabilities in situations where further or more frequent abuse can occur.
Methods and ideologyEdit
According to political theorist Rebecca Reilly-Cooper intersectionality relies heavily on standpoint theory, which has its own set of criticisms. Intersectionality posits that an oppressed person is often the best person to judge their experience of oppression; however, this can create paradoxes when people who are similarly oppressed have different interpretations of similar events. Such paradoxes make it very difficult to synthesize a common actionable cause based on subjective testimony alone. Other narratives, especially those based on multiple intersections of oppression, are more complex. Davis (2008) asserts that intersectionality is ambiguous and open ended, and that its "lack of clear-cut definition or even specific parameters has enabled it to be drawn upon in nearly any context of inquiry".
Rekia Jibrin and Sara Salem argue that intersectional theory creates a unified idea of anti-oppression politics that requires a lot out of its adherents, often more than can reasonably be expected, creating difficulties achieving praxis. They also say that intersectional philosophy encourages a focus on the issues inside the group instead of on society at large, and that intersectionality is "a call to complexity and to abandon over simplification... this has the parallel effect of emphasizing 'internal differences' over hegemonic structures."[a]
Writing in the New Statesman, Helen Lewis adds that in emphasizing internal differences over hegemonic structures, and having complex and at times contradictory recommendations, it can create paralysis because it is not very accessible.
[In intersectionality] the binary dimensions of oppression are said to be interlocking and overlapping. America is said to be one giant matrix of oppression, and its victims cannot fight their battles separately. They must all come together to fight their common enemy, the group that sits at the top of the pyramid of oppression: the straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christian or Jewish or possibly atheist male. This is why a perceived slight against one victim group calls forth protest from all victim groups. This is why so many campus groups now align against Israel. Intersectionality is like NATO for social-justice activists.[non-primary source needed]
Barbara Tomlinson, PhD, is employed at the Department of Women's Studies at UC Santa Barbara and has been critical of the applications of intersectional theory. She has identified several ways in which the conventional theory has been destructive to the movement. She asserts that the common practice of using intersectionality to attack other ways of feminist thinking and the tendency of academics to critique intersectionality instead of using intersectionality as a tool to critique other conventional ways of thinking has been a misuse of the ideas it stands for. Tomlinson argues that in order to use intersectional theory correctly, intersectional feminists must not only consider the arguments but the tradition and mediums through which these arguments are made, Conventional academics are likely to favor writings by authors or publications with prior established credibility instead of looking at the quality of each piece individually, contributing to negative stereotypes associated with both feminism and intersectionality by having weaker arguments in defense of feminism and intersectionality become prominent based on renown. She goes on to argue that this allows critics of intersectionality to attack these weaker arguments, "[reducing] intersectionality's radical critique of power to desires for identity and inclusion, and offer a deradicalized intersectionality as an asset for dominant disciplinary discourses".
Dr. Sharon Goldman of the Israel-America Studies Program at Shalem College also criticized intersectionality on the basis of its being too simplistic. Goldman stipulates that many of the people championed by intersectionality truly are victims of oppression, but her reading of the ideology is that it favors the powerless over the powerful regardless of context. Any group that overcomes adversity, achieves independence, or defends itself successfully is seen as "corrupt" or "imperialist" by intersectionality adherents. The examples Goldman gives are American Jews who, inspired by the abject victimhood of the Holocaust, engaged in politics to successfully advance their ideas into the American mainstream. American Jews are not given the benefit of the doubt by intersectionality adherents because they proudly reject victimization.
Researchers in psychology have incorporated intersection effects since the 1950s[example needed], long before the work of Patricia Hill Collins. Psychology incorporates these effects via the lenses of biases, heuristics, stereotypes, and judgments. Psychological interaction effects span a range of variables, although person by situation effects are the most examined category. As a result, psychologists do not construe the interaction effect of demographics such as gender and race as either more noteworthy or less noteworthy than any other interaction effect. In addition, oppression can be regarded as a subjective construct when viewed as an absolute hierarchy; even if an objective definition of oppression were reached, person-by-situation effects would make it difficult to deem certain persons or categories of persons as uniformly oppressed. For instance, black men are stereotypically perceived as violent, which may be a disadvantage in police interactions, but also as physically attractive, which may be advantageous in romantic situations.
Psychological studies have shown that the effect of multiplying "oppressed" identities is not necessarily additive, but rather interactive in complex ways. For instance, black gay men may be more positively evaluated than black heterosexual men, because the "feminine" aspects of gay stereotypes temper the hypermasculine and aggressive aspect of black stereotypes.
Alan Dershowitz, scholar of United States constitutional law and criminal law, answering a question on the criticism of Israel by intersectional movements he stated that the concept of intersectionality is an oversimplification of reality that makes LGBT activists stand in solidarity with advocates of Sharia, even though Islamic law denies the rights of the former. He feels that identity politics does not evaluate ideas or individuals on the basis of the quality of their character. Dershowitz argues that in academia, intersectionality is taught with a large influence from antisemitism. He states that Jews are actually more liberal and supportive of equal rights than many other religious sects.
Writer and political pro-Israel activist Chloé Valdary considers intersectionality "a rigid system for determining who is virtuous and who is not, based on traits like skin color, gender, and financial status". Valdary also states:
Intersectionality's greatest flaw is in reducing human beings to political abstractions, which is never a tendency that turns out well—in part because it so severely flattens our complex human experience, and therefore fails to adequately describe reality. As it turns out, one can be personally successful and still come from a historically oppressed community—or vice versa. The human experience is complex and multifaceted and deeper than the superficial ways in which intersectionalists describe it.
Intersectionality as a "religion"Edit
Some commentators have described the manifestation of intersectionality as being similar to the way religious faith manifests itself. Notably, for example, conservative political commentator Andrew Sullivan argues that the practice of intersectionality manifests itself "almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained—and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., 'check your privilege,' and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay." David A. French, writer for the National Review, states that proponents of intersectionality are "zealots of a new religious faith" intending to fill a "religion-shaped hole in the human heart". Additionally, he describes "extremist intersectionality" as justifying "intolerance in the name of tolerance".
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