Sunday, March 8, 2015

Feminism is Intersectional

By Ameena Mohyuddin Zia

Patricia Arquett’s sentiments at the 2015 Oscars were not wrong. Wage equality for women is, indeed, an important campaign. Reactions of both the crowd at the event and the media were noteworthy. It is an important fight for the empowerment of society and deserves appreciation and applaud. The wrong comes in dubbing these gestures as reflections of feminism. In light of the recently fueled feminist debate, it seems that as a society we have, yet again, failed feminism. The concept, the term, the ideology, and the movement is misunderstood and its historical patterns unknown.

What is feminism? Is it gender advocating issues affecting one race over the other? One class over the other? One sexuality over the other? Is my feminism more important than your feminism? Feminism is intersectional; without stratifications. Yes, feminism is intersectional.

What Arquett passionately expressed is equality in wage. That is it. Leave it at that. Do not extrapolate it into feminism. Why? Because it deliberately alienates other races, classes, etc. It immediately places a stratified dimension into equality and leaves out the rest of what makes up feminism. Why such an uproar? It insults the rest of the marginalized women, their advancements and achievements in the movement, and more importantly, their plight of oppression.

White middle class women have historically been the face of mainstream feminismIt has neither comprehensively accounted for the economic, racial, and gender exigencies of the minority female experience, nor has it tried to. This idea of feminism, as white privilege, further relegates women of minority along lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality. The average white female advocates of feminism are void of the experiences and ideas shared by ordinary women of minority, their challenges, stories, and links to society, how could they possibly represent and work towards their equality? (This is not such a bizarre concept since representation debate has led countries to adopt gender and religious quotas in various systems).    

White women representing feminism alone is offensive to women everywhere. Why? Because in the 1960s and 1970s, the minority omissions were highlighted as feminist narratives left out the racial discourse. These led to the emergence of black feminism that viewed sexism, class oppression, and racism as inextricably bound to gender. Black feminism argued that liberation of women should entail freedom for all people, since it should require the end of racism, sexism, and class oppression. In the 1970s Alice Walker’s womanism reaffirmed the need to highlight oppression rooted in both race and gender in the feminist space – something that the mainstream feminist movement desperately lacked. It emphasized that feminism was not only a white woman’s privilege.

A decade later Kimberle Crenshaw introduced into the narrative, a space where oppression met systems of inequality (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.). This concept of intersectionality cut across space to understand social positions of women (across race and class) as an inclusive concept. This very space is where systems of inequality find themselves. Similarly, Audre Lorde’s work exposed shortcomings in the field by incorporating oppression of sexuality in the field with a unique focus on identity. Other activists like Anannya Bhattacharjee, Petrona Eyles, Berta Lutz and Kishwar Naheed examined sexuality, politics of sex work, labor and migration, militarization, state repression, and other challenges of the post-colonial, globalized and modern world. The reason feminism cannot be separated from race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, class, or disability is because oppression, domination, and discrimination intersect through these constructs.   

Society should already be aware of what feminism entails. It has been laid out by feminist scholars, activists, educators, and enthusiasts over the course of history. Feminism is intersectional. This lack of comprehension indicates that society has, once again failed both the ideology and the movement. It further exposes that society as a whole is either too lackadaisical to understand oppression or that it deliberately stratifies the marginalized through the hierarchical divisions. Unless we understand that feminism is the space where oppression meets systems of inequality, we will continue to offend feminism itself.

Ameena Mohyuddin Zia is a PhD Candidate in Political Economy at the University of Missouri St. Louis and an Adjunct Lecturer at CUNY’s York College. Her work examines social constructs through both research and visual documentations. She also works as a strategic consultant for development in NYC and is involved in domestic and international philanthropic initiatives.