What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a branch of feminism examining the intersections of inequality for minorities, with a special focus on women of colour. This includes multiple experiences of oppression that can’t be separated for minority women, such as sexism, racism, homophobia and other forms of marginalisation. This theory addresses the limitation of mainstream feminism, which positions White women’s experiences as the universal norm. For example, radical feminism in the 1970s argued that the family is a site of extreme inequality and that women should become more independent. This may be viable if you have the resources and desire to cut ties with family, or to refuse marriage, but if you’re a migrant woman or poor minority woman, the family is both a site of struggle and a source of strength.

Women of colour advocate for change within their communities, and broader society, but they are also firmly committed to their (multiple) cultures.

Western feminism has a tendency to force narrow ideals about what democracy and freedom should mean to women. For example, framing religion as oppressive towards women, or shouting down certain cultural practices such as wearing special dress, like the hijab. It’s true that in some societies, women are punished for not following the law and this requires feminist action. In these cases, women’s movement, appearance and bodily practices are restricted and this can be heavily punished by social isolation, lack of economic support, jail time or by death.

Then again, not all women from minority groups are forced to participate in certain traditions that may look restrictive from a Western gaze. For example, my research has looked at young Australian Muslim women’s ideas of empowerment with respect to wearing hijab (Muslim scarf and dress). These women feel that their religion is a resource to fight gender oppression both within their migrant communities, as well as in managing the racism they experience in their daily lives. In this case, experiences of religion, gender, race, sexuality, culture and nationality cannot be treated in isolation.Intersectional feminism fights the invisibility of women of colour within mainstream feminisms, and works with a more diverse understanding of identities to achieve social change.

Image text: “I need inclusive intersectional feminism because I had to scroll through FIVE PAGES to see the face of another woman of colour.”

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