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In celebration of Women's History Month, join the Steinem Sisters Collection for HerStory: Intersectional Feminism.
What is intersectional feminism?
Intersectionality is the buzzword to end all buzzwords. Depending on who you ask, it can be the most important theoretical innovation in feminist history; the cancer that’s killing the left; a critical tool in on-the-ground organizing; or totally meaningless liberal academic jargon that doesn't connect to the real world.|
Recently, intersectionality has saturated feminist discourse, but use of the term has become vague because many feminists, even those that call themselves “intersectional feminists” don’t understand what the term actually means - often misusing and misapplying it.
In its simplest form Intersectionality is a concept used to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (such as racism, sexism, ableism, and so on) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. Renowned law scholar and critical race theorist Kimberle Crenshaw first introduced the term “intersectional” in relation to feminism in her 1989 paper “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.”
Although intersectionalism was not directly connected to feminism until Crenshaw, you can see the roots forming in the 19th century with abolitionist Sojourner Truth, Black Liberation scholar Anna J. Cooper, and civil rights and anti-lynching activist, Ida B. Wells. These early black feminists challenged the idea that civil rights work and the oppression of black people was separate from the women’s suffrage movement which focused almost exclusively on those issues affecting middle-class white women. With a few exceptions, the trend of disregarding the lived experiences and multiple-identities that keep black women and other marginalized women oppressed continued throughout the 2nd and 3rd waves of the feminist movement.
Recently, as intersectional feminism has gained traction and activists purposefully work towards inclusiveness, feminism has begun to decenter itself. As feminists, it’s important that we pay attention to the fact that feminism is about more than ending sexism - it’s also about ending all interconnected systems of oppression that effect different women in different ways. The things our privileges allow us to take for granted are the reasons we need intersectional analysis to do truly inclusive feminist work. Without it, it’s easy to center feminism around either our own experiences or the experiences of those who are already the most privileged in society.
How to practice intersectionality?
No matter what work you do or what your privileges are, take care to step back when things aren’t about you, educate yourself on things that don’t affect you, and pay attention when people speak of their own experiences.
Intersectional feminist practice asks us to be willing to make mistakes. Adopting an intersectional framework is not an easy process. It involves seeking to understand things that are difficult for you to understand, empathize with people who are not like you, to step back instead of speaking over others, and opening yourself up to a high level of accountability.
And above all, intersectional feminism isn’t here to make you comfortable, quite the contrary in fact. If your doing it right, intersectional feminism should challenge you, stretch you, and make you uncomfortable. But the difficulty of intersectional feminism is a difficulty and discomfort that is meant to inspire change.
Thus, we have to be willing to take up the critical reflection and self-work necessary to push back against our privileges and to create an intersectional ethic and lens through which our feminism is crafted.
You will make mistakes; we all will. But if we want to realize relationships, communities, or societies built upon justice and not oppression, we have to keep doing the work.
HerStory: Intersectional FeminismMarch 9, 2019 | 2:00 p.m. | Sanger Branch Library
Explore intersectional feminism and the ways women's overlapping identities — including race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation — impact how they experience oppression and discrimination. Featuring a panel of the Toledo region’s most celebrated women’s activists and forward-thinkers, HerStory will investigate how the feminist movement can be more diverse and inclusive. Our panel will also invite discussion from attendees.
Other Women's History Month Events and Upcoming Steinem Sisters Collection Programs (Spring 2019)
A Sampling of the Steinem Sisters Collection
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