You’ve probably heard the word intersectionality thrown around a lot lately. That’s because the concept of intersectionality is at the core of current feminist movements. Intersectionality is a way to pay reference to the fact that we all have many identities and those identities often intersect.
Imagine yourself having a conversation about women’s rights. You might be discussing how race plays a role. This would be the intersection of race and gender.
Examples of intersections are: race, class, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, age, disability, and illness. Other forms of identity can also intersect.
I am a white woman. This is my intersection of race and gender. My experiences are unique to me because I am a white woman. They are not the same experiences that a black woman would have.
In addition, intersectionality forces us to think about privilege. The ways my identity intersects makes me very privileged. I do not have a physical disability. I am a women and people identify me as such which allows me to interact fairly easily in the world (albeit there is still sexism, assault, inequality, etc.)
It is important to understand intersectionality because it reminds us to be conscious of how different people have different experiences. We cannot assume that when we fight for “feminism” or “women’s rights” that we are fighting for what all women want or need. We have to have inclusive conversations and make sure everyone has a voice. In my case, this means listening more than I speak, educating myself on issues that other intersections go through (what does it mean to be homeless? what does it mean to be blind? what does it mean to be gay? what does it mean to be black in America?) so I can think more openly about where I fit in this world.
Another way to think about intersectionality is by imagining yourself looking through a camera. Point your camera at something in the distance. You are seeing this thing through your lens. Your lens is, in this moment, fixed. You see everything in this world with the bias of your identity. I see the world through the lens of a white woman. Now add a filter to your lens of “gay” or “black” or “non-english speaking” and see how different the world looks to you now. How do these new filters challenge how you interact with the world? How does it change your privilege? What is available or unavailable to you in these different intersections?
We can’t truly ever understand how other people think or feel because we cannot crawl into their shoes and walk around as them. We can, however, better understand how we are privileged and how others are not. This can make us more compassionate, allow us to better see how systematic injustices play out, and allow us to expand feminist issues to be more inclusive.