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GiGi Katuala

Perlmutter

CMHP 117

October 2018

Intersectionality and Feminism

Intersectionality is “the theory that the overlap of various social identities, such as race,

gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and

discrimination experienced by an individual” (“Intersectionality”). For every issue with society,

there is no way to fight for one cause fully while ignoring the plights of the people who

experience oppression from other sides as well. One movement that could stand to gain from an

awareness of intersectionality is feminism. Feminism should not only work towards equality for

one type of women, but for all women. That should include women of color, disabled women,

and other marginalized groups of women. As of right now, a lot of people do not fully

understand why we need to incorporate the struggles of more than one group when we are

talking about changing things for the better. Intersectionality has grown as people become more

educated but there is still a ways to go.

The issues that intersectionality can help remedy are not new issues. Take for example,

the experience of the black woman throughout history. Black women only hit two of the many

types of people who are discriminated against, yet the issues they face are compounded by the

fact that they are both black and women. Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women’s right

activist, described the difficult situation black women faced in the 1800s in her “Ain’t I A

Woman” speech. While white women were treated as delicate yet subordinate, black women

suffered at the hands of racist mistreatment. Whenever Truth would speak out on the behalf of
black women, white women who claimed she was drawing attention away from suffrage tried to

silence (Smith, 2013, p.3). This silencing is why intersectionality is important. There was a

misconception that just because one fight was happening for equality, another could not occur at

the same time. The hardships from both sides did not stop in the 1800s. In the modern era, Black

women continued to face difficulties because they were both black and women. Even though

they fall into two categories of people who should be protected against discrimination in the eyes

of the law, they could still face another type of discrimination based on the fact that they lived at

an intersection of them both. The court case, DeGraffenreid v. General Motors, highlights their

struggle for equal treatment in the eyes of the law. This case came about when all the black

women working at General Motors were laid off during a recession in the 70s. The layoffs were

based on seniority, but General Motors did not hire any black women until after 1964 so of

course all the Black women lost their jobs. Six Black women came forward with the case on

behalf of Black women claiming they were being discriminated against for being Black women.

The main issue the court had with their claim was that there were no prior decisions that claimed

Black women as a special class protected from discrimination. They had to choose whether they

wanted to be represented as women or as Black people (Crenshaw, 1989, p. 141-143). It is never

that simple though. The discrimination was because of a combination, not for one reason or

another. Often, black feminists have claimed that the law only really applies to white women or

black men, and this court case shows how this thought can be harmful to Black women. If there

had been intersectionality, maybe their case would have gone in their favor because the

discrimination is clear.

Currently, intersectionality has become more widespread but there is still so much more

to be done. Outside of black women, there are women of other races, disabled women, queer
women, women of lower classes, and combinations of these sections of human existence who

cannot only fight for their rights as women. Many women of a more privileged standing are

starting to understand why it is so important to not only talk about gender. As Kathy Davis has

stated, in women’s studies, the texts studied “ cannot afford to neglect difference and diversity

among women” because it is such a crucial part of the experience of many women (Davis, 2008,

p.68). Rarely in this day and age, do you just study gender, which is a step in the right direction.

Now there just needs to be an application of this thought. An example of where the application

needed to happen was the Women’s March. The first Women’s March happened on January 21,

2017 and garnered a lot of support. The only problem was that there were no women of other

marginalized groups who contributed to its organization . Ignoring the women of these groups

makes them “invisible within the feminist movement”(Dastagir, 2017). No one wants to be

invisible within their own movement. From time to time, women of more privileged standing

should step back and let the voices of more types of women be heard. This idea of stepping back

letting others be heard should happen in all social justice movements that encompass more than

one group of people.

When it comes down to it, intersectionality means fighting not only for yourself but

others as well. You can’t fight against gender discrimination without also fighting against

racism. You can’t get equal pay until you raise minimum wage for everyone. You can’t have

marriage equality without equality amongst able bodied and disabled people. There are so many

issues that overlap because there are so many different types of people. There is bound to be

intersections and sadly, the more intersections you have, the more difficulties you face just living

your life day to day. Anyone who fights for women knows what it's like to suffer because of

society’s view and should be able to recognize that outside of themself, there are people who
suffer in the same way as them, but also suffer for even more reasons. It is basically human

decency to treat everyone fairly but that cannot happen until we start fighting equally for

everyone.

References

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: Black Feminist Critique
of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of
Chicago Legal Forum 1989, 139-168.
Davis, K. (2008). Intersectionality as buzzword: A sociology of science perspective on what
makes a feminist theory successful. Feminist theory, 9(1), 67-85.
Dastagir, A. E. (2017, January 25). What is intersectional feminism? A look at the term you may
be hearing a lot. Retrieved October 22, 2018, from
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/01/19/feminism-intersectionality-racism-sexi
sm-class/96633750/
Intersectionality. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2018, from
https://www.dictionary.com/browse/intersectionality
Smith, S. (2013). Black feminism and intersectionality. International Socialist Review, 91, 6-24.