Intersectionality in feminism is crucial to a better movement

Intersectionality+in+feminism+is+crucial+to+a+better+movement

Collegian | Chloe Leline

Emmalee Krieg, Staff Reporter

With this year being the 50th anniversary of Title IX, it’s worth recognizing other topics within feminism that have gained prominence, such as intersectionality.

Social movements can prioritize what’s mainstream and flashy, leaving behind marginalized groups in the process.

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Feminism, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, social class and disability play different roles in life experiences, and intersectionality tackles the different factors of discrimination and how they affect someone’s life.

“What intersectionality means really is that intersecting oppressions that kind of informs a person’s experience,” said Victoria Benjamin, the interim assistant director for victim services at the Women and Gender Advocacy Center at Colorado State University. “If a person has multiple marginalized identities, all of those work together to create multiple sorts of marginalizations.”

Benjamin, who earned a dual bachelor’s degree in sociology and women and gender studies as well as a master’s in ethnic studies, highlighted the importance of intersectionality and how it is often white women who are the main focus of feminism.

“When we are talking about feminism, oftentimes it privileges the experiences of cis(gender) white women,” Benjamin said.

Savannah Johnson, a student at CSU, pointed out her hesitation with feminism. She is a peer mentor at the Black/African American Cultural Center office, a Giving Back, Empowering and Strengthening Our Culture program leader and the financial officer for the Black Student Alliance at CSU.

“Personally, feminism for me is very cis and very white focused,” Johnson said.

White feminism is used to describe the focus feminism tends to have on white women. A lot of people, like Johnson, do not identify as feminists because of this. Women in minority ethnic groups are underrepresented, and the oppression they face is often not acknowledged. Media can hide under the broad blanket of feminism while only portraying white women and giving them the most credit. 

“People have intersecting identities obviously, like someone’s race, someone’s economic status, someone’s sexual identity, gender identity — all that is going to affect how they’re affected in the whole fem bubble,” Johnson said. “It’s important to have these conversations so it’s not just uplifting one type of woman but all women.”

Recognizing different identities and how they intersect is key to a better social movement. Intersectionality in particular started gaining more prominence in the 1990s.

“Intersectionality is a term that was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, who is a Black legal scholar,” Benjamin said.

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Kimberlé Crenshaw is an American civil rights advocate and a leading scholar of critical race theory. As a lawyer, she helped defend Anita Hill, who testified against Clarence Thomas with claims of sexual harassment in 1991. Hill was another Black woman facing discrimination based on her race and gender.

According to The Guardian, “Hill’s case cemented her idea of ‘intersectionality,’ set out in a paper two years before the hearing. The idea suggests that different forms of discrimination — such as sexism and racism — can overlap and compound each other in just this way.”

During Hill’s case, Crenshaw was also working on another paper called “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color” on the history of Black women being sexually harassed and abused.

In “Mapping the Margins,” Crenshaw writes,Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices.”

The next step toward intersectionality is education about different experiences.

“I think doing self-education (and) understanding what you can about folks with different experiences than you — (or) have different identities than you — is really important,” Benjamin said.

“Approach others with empathy because you don’t know what others’ backgrounds are and others’ experiences,” Johnson said. “Something that may seem obvious to you is not going to be obvious to another person.”

Benjamin highlighted how crucial privilege is and when it comes into play.

“If you’re a person with privilege (or) with privileged identities, it’s really important to contend with those and understand how both privilege and oppression forms your view of the world,” Benjamin said. “For me, I’m a cis white woman, right? And that means a very particular thing about how I’ll experience the world (and) how I’m treated in the world.”

While the first step is to acknowledge certain privileges individuals may hold, the second step is to actively combat ignorance. Learning new things happens all the time; choosing to act on and acknowledge those privileges holds weight and speaks volumes.

“Some people are ignorant, but I feel like ignorance is a willful act,” Johnson said.

Reach Emmalee Krieg at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.