Intersectional Feminism

By Cera Yiu

cw: anti-blackness, LGBTQIA2S+ phobia, classism, transphobia, misogyny

The term “intersectionality” was coined by Black legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. It originated from the Black feminist movement in order to address the ways in which Black women were experiencing multiple oppressions such as racism and sexism, and were marginalized from both the Black liberation movement and the mainstream liberal feminist movement. Intersectional feminism aims to explain that people’s identities are complex, multi-layered, and overlapping. One cannot attempt to examine these oppressions in isolation because they inform each other. For example, a working-class woman of colour cannot experience her life separately as racialized, as a woman, and as working-class. She lives her life simultaneously as a working-class woman of colour. An intersectional approach to feminism acknowledges these layered identities, and how they impact people’s personal, social, and political interactions with the world.

The goal of intersectionality at its core is to highlight the ways in which mainstream feminism often centres on white, middle-class, cisgendered, and able-bodied people and does not reflect the ways in which women’s experiences are influenced by other identities, oppressions, and backgrounds. Subsequently, its focus on “women” often translates to cis women and therefore excludes and erases trans* women and non-binary people from feminist spaces and communities, which inhibits the much-needed solidarity work amongst people who experience gender oppression and misogyny.

Intersectionality can be a fancy term that is often used without a real understanding of what it means and the responsibilities it entails. As such, an intersectional feminist movement must be built on a commitment to community, accountability, and solidarity for all people who experience gender oppression. This does not only involve educating ourselves about other people’s needs and struggles, but also entails actively supporting those struggles and acting as allies. Even further, as people who also have overlapping privileges, we must be accountable for the ways in which we uphold and perpetuate systems of domination such as white supremacy, settler colonialism, transmisogyny, classism, heterosexism, and ableism. Finally, an intersectional feminist movement needs to be anti-colonial and centre trans women of colour – Black women and Indigenous women – whose work have laid the foundations for anti-racist and trans-inclusive feminisms.

Intersectional feminism provides the framework necessary for us to work towards the liberation of ourselves and our communities, without relying on mainstream feminist thought, which has often ignored, or outright devalued, the many unique and complex struggles and identities that make up other feminist movements.