Special Topic: The Necessity of Intersectional Feminism

For the next two weeks I will be offering “Special Topics” in Feminism for my weekly Must Reads column. I’ll return Sunday May 7, 2017 with a regular Round Up of recent news.

I was prompted to devote a weekly column to Intersectional Feminism after reading an article from Fortune in which Gloria Steinem states that there is no such thing as White Feminism. And, ideally, I agree; there should be no such thing as White Feminism, but I believe there IS. I think we saw part of it in the preparations for January’s Women’s March when the symbology became “pink pussy hats”. Many women of color remarked that they felt excluded because “pink” is not a color that describes them, or their pussies.

I’m beginning the list of reading links with Kimberle Crenshaw’s essay “Mapping the Margins” from 1991 in which she coined the term “intersectional feminism.” It’s an academic article, but offers a beginning, a way into the complexities of the topic. In 2015 Crenshaw wrote a follow up article about why we can no longer wait for intersectional feminism to take hold. Though many millennials take issue with Gloria Steinem and the current “wave” of Feminism, Steinem credits black feminists with teaching her all she knows about feminism. She’s quoted and criticized for saying there is no such thing as white feminism, but many women of color still do not see themselves in the feminism of overall American culture: ie “Nasty Woman” “representative” pink, and white feminist tv, which characterizes white women and often excludes women of color.

When I watched Beyonce’s “Formation” performance at Super Bowl 2016, I was impressed. I couldn’t look away. Usually we’re entertained with old, white Rock n Roll stars playing their golden oldies, but here we had a strong black woman telling her peers, that’s right her audience was women of color, that they count; they matter and they can take up space, as much as they want. For the first time, I saw an artist use her time at such a huge event in a powerful way. Later on Facebook, I saw all kinds of responses from white women demeaning the sexuality of Beyonce’s performance, but I did not see it that way. My experience is that Beyonce’s message was ALL Power, black female power, in all its iterations. So, I have chosen a couple of articles that discuss Beyonce’s feminism, one of which is bell hooks’ response to ‘Lemonade”. There’s also an article in which Annie Lennox disses Beyonce’s feminism, by minimizing the message to “twerking’. And that’s a perfect example of the larger issue of “White Feminism.”

With that in mind, I have assembled several articles from a wide variety of sources and perspectives this week that speak to issues of Intersectional Feminism…what it means and how it applies to the current feminist movement. You’ll notice that many of the pieces reference, speak, and respond to each other. There’s a lot here; you’re not expected to ingest this in one setting. Rather, I offer these points of view as a resource we can return to. Many articles provide essential links to further research. The articles presented here reveal different levels of understanding on the subject…some are academic, others more popular. They offer a range of perspectives and ideas for ROAR readers who represent all levels of involvement and knowledge of intersectional feminism. We’d love to hear from you. Please add comments and readings that you find essential to the conversation.

 


  1. “Focusing on two dimensions of male violence against women-battering and rape-I consider how the experiences of women of color are frequently the product of intersecting patterns of racism and sexism, and how these experiences tend not to be represented within the discourse of either feminism or antiracism. Because of their intersectional identity as both women and people of color within discourses that are shaped to respond to one or the other, the interests and experiences of women of color are frequently marginalized within both. “

“Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”/ by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw/ Stanford Law Review/ July 1991

 


2. “We’d better not speak against misogyny if in the same breath we’re not also speaking against transphobia and homophobia and racism and classism and poverty,” she said. “This is one fight. It always has been.”

“Glennon Doyle Melton: White Feminism Must Be Intersectional, Or Else It Is Nothing”/ by Lisa Capretto/ Huffington Post/ April 7, 2017

 


3. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, a number of writers have pointed to white feminism as an answer to the question of how Trump became president. White feminism, as an ideology and movement, has historically centered middle-class white women to the exclusion of poor women and women of color. Thus, a number of women do not identify with feminism because they do not recognize themselves in white feminism.

“Ready to Ditch White Feminism? Here are 6 Black Feminist Concepts You Need to Know”/ by Melissa Brown/ Unapologetic Feminism/ December 2, 2016.

 


4. It’s impossible to really quantify all the ways in which a television show can be “feminist,” but for most of these shows, “feminist” is a descriptor used frequently by both fans and critics. But while empowering on many levels, these shows have all been called out, at one time or other, for being racist — either by perpetuating stereotypes about people of color, or excluding people of color all together.

“On Watching ‘White Feminist’ TV When You’re a Black Girl”/ by Zeba Blay/ Huffington Post/ May 16, 2016

 


5. “This idea of feminism as a party to which only a select few people get to come: this is why so many women, particularly women of colour, feel alienated from mainstream western academic feminism. Because, don’t we want it to be mainstream? For me, feminism is a movement for which the end goal is to make itself no longer needed.

“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: ‘Can People Please Stop Telling Me Feminism is Hot’”/ by Emma Brockes/ The Guardian/ March 4, 2017

 


6. Here’s the thing about Beyonce’s “Formation”: her latest song and video essentially brings the title of Harris’ book to life. It is ours. It is wholly and undeniable a tribute to Blackness—particularly Black girl power. Beyoncé is no stranger to feminism. There was her 2011 girl-power anthem “Run The World (Girls).” A speech on feminism from writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie runs through her song, “Flawless.” Beyoncé actually performed in front of the word feminist during her On The Run tour with husband Jay-Z. However, Beyonce’s whole approach to feminism (and Blackness) has always been neutral and restrained. That ended yesterday when her newest song and video dropped.

“Beyonce and the ‘Formation’ of Black Girl Feminism (When the Hot Sauce Isn’t Enough)”/ by Aliya S. King/ Essence/ February 7, 2016

 


7. It is only as black women and all women resist patriarchal romanticization of domination in relationships can a healthy self-love emerge that allows every black female, and all females, to refuse to be a victim. Ultimately Lemonade glamorizes a world of gendered cultural paradox and contradiction. It does not resolve. As Beyoncé proudly proclaims in the powerful anthem “Freedom”: “I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner-strength to pull myself up.” To truly be free, we must choose beyond simply surviving adversity, we must dare to create lives of sustained optimal well-being and joy. In that world, the making and drinking of lemonade will be a fresh and zestful delight, a real life mixture of the bitter and the sweet, and not a measure of our capacity to endure pain, but rather a celebration of our moving beyond pain.

“Moving Beyond Pain”/ by bell hooks/ bell hooks Institute/ May 9, 2016

 


8. It seems like a given that feminism should try to help all women, especially those who are most disadvantaged. But privileged women don’t always realize when they’re excluding less privileged groups or how this exclusion harms them — which is why intersectionality is so important. Feminism cannot achieve its goals without intersectionality, and these five facts drive that point home.

“5 Reasons Intersectionality Matters, Because Feminism Cannot Be Inclusive Without It”/ by Suzannah Weiss/ Bustle/ October 19, 2015

 


9. Today, nearly three decades after I first put a name to the concept, the term seems to be everywhere. But if women and girls of color continue to be left in the shadows, something vital to the understanding of intersectionality has been lost.

“Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait”/ by Kimberle Crenshaw/ Washington Post/ September 24, 2015

 


10. The hard truth is white feminists are privileged in ways that feminists of color simply can’t relate to, and it’s not even really their fault. Yes, some white feminists don’t acknowledge their privilege, and that’s wrong. However, our society is also to blame for pretending that race relations in the U.S. are more advanced than they actually are.

“7 Things Feminists Of Color Want White Feminists To Know”/ by Gina M. Florio/ Bustle/ December 4, 2015

 


11. The fact that the feminist movement was so white for so long, says Ashley Farmer, is the reason so many women of color steered clear of it. Farmer is a historian at Boston University, and concentrates on African-American women’s history. She says women of color noticed when their interests and needs didn’t get a full hearing.

“Race and Feminism: Women’s March Recalls the Touchy History”/ by Karen G. Bates/ NPR/ January 21, 2017

 


12. Steinem was adamant about the fact that “white feminism” as a term has no place in the discourse about gender equality. “There is no such thing as white feminism. If you call it white, it’s not feminism. It either includes all women, or it’s not feminism,” she said. Steinem also pointed out that black women were a major driving force of the feminist movement, particularly during her heyday in the 1970s.

“Gloria Steinem: There is No Such Thing as ‘White Feminism’”/ by Valentina Zarya/ Fortune/ March 10, 2017

 


13. Yet your sexist, dismissive words about millennial feminists and Bernie supporters suggest a growing chasm between your brand of feminism and the intersectional feminism that young activists have been leading the charge on. And your bias toward the Democratic Party’s brand of insular, upper-class white feminism — the brand of feminism Clinton herself is so closely associated with — is evident in more than this one controversial statement.

“An Open Letter to Gloria Steinem On Intersectional Feminism”/ by Sarah Grey/ The Establishment/ February 8, 2017

 


14. To feminists, “intersectionality” is shorthand for the idea that women from minority groups — women of color, women with disabilities, transgender women and so on — have been omitted from the record by affluent white women. In other words, glamorous, telegenic Gloria Steinem may be a household name, but important black feminists such as, say, Combahee River Collective founders Barbara and Beverly Smith remain unjustly overlooked.

“Yes, Millennials, Hillary Clinton is a Feminist”/ by Meghan Daum/ Los Angeles Times/ January 21, 2016

 


15. And by “women’s rights,” organizers have taken care to make it clear that they mean all women of all backgrounds: The official platform the Women’s March on Washington places the demonstration in the context of not only suffragists and abolitionists but the civil right movement, the American Indian movement, and Black Lives Matter.

“To Understand the Women’s March on Washington, You Need to Understand Intersectional Feminism”/ by Jenee Desmond-Harris/ Vox/ January 21, 2017

 


16. The problem with positioning an ideology on the far-Left and claiming it to represent women, people of color, LGBTs and disabled people is that this requires all members of those groups to be far-Left which they simply aren’t.

“The Problem with Intersectional Feminism”/ by Helen Pluckrose/ AreoMagazine/ February 15, 2017

 


17. It’s usually not that overt, and most White feminists would deny that this is what’s being said or done, but you notice it in more subtle comments like “Why do you have to divide us by bringing up race?” or “Are trans women really women? There should be a distinction.”

“Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (And 3 Ways to Practice It)”/ by Jarune Uwujaren and Jamie Utt/ Everyday Feminism/ January 11, 2015

 

 


Joyce Hayden left her university teaching job two years ago in order to pursue her own artistic work. An assemblage artist, painter, and writer, Joyce is currently in the process of acquiring an agent to represent her memoir, The Out of Body Girl, which describes her 8 year relationship with a charismatic gambler and the dangerous road that eventually led to her freedom. Her chapbook of poems, Lost Handprint, is forthcoming from Dandelion Review. A freelance editor and writing coach, Joyce’s writing services and a selection of her artwork can be found at her website joycehayden.com. Joyce is available for commission art work, including celebration shrines for loved ones and pets.

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