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Intersectionality as a concept was introduced in 1989 by Kimberle Crenshaw. It is related to the way social identities overlap with the systems of discrimination, domination, and oppression. Essentially, this means that a few identities intersect and create an identity different than the sum of its parts. The identities include race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, social class, sexual orientation, age, religion, physical disability, mental illness, and others.
Intersectionality is an important element that enables people to understand sexual diversity and gender since society has an impact on these categories. This is related to all cases. Intersectionality helps people study how social categories impact power structures as they intersect. It also explores how social categories like race, ethnicity, and gender overlap to shape one’s viewpoints, life outcomes, and experiences. It is important to understand the key terms. Sex is related to having specific reproductive organs. Gender is more of a social construct because it is related to how one feels internally toward gender and how an individual chooses to label themselves. This depends on how they align with one gender or another. Common labels are woman, man, trans, and queer but there are others as well. Sexual orientation refers to emotional, romantic, spiritual, and sexual attraction that a person has and feels for other people. This is called a gender relationship between the individual and other people. The inner circle of intersectionality when explains specific circumstances of power and privilege which follow one’s unique, personal identity. This is related to one’s family, their opportunities, what a person did with the opportunities they had and what they were exposed to. There is the second layer to this which is related to aspects of personal identity. These are prone to change and include occupation, social status, education, age, or religion. Some of these cannot change, such as caste, work history, indigeneity, and skin color. When combined with circumstances of identity, power, and privilege, the personal factors of identity create a uniquely personal experience. This can be similar to or different than what other people experience.
Additionally, there are other types of discrimination that have an impact on one’s identity. These are ableism, racism, ageism, heterosexism, discrimination, and sexism, as well as many others. Possessing a specific identity is enough to determine if a person will have discriminatory treatment. Discrimination is based on historical practices, ignorance, radical perspectives, fear, and demonization of some identities. The last layer is composed of structures that enable discrimination. These are globalization, war, economy, politics, education systems, and others. These factors interact and that is how a person finds their place where their personal identities intersect with the social forces that foster discrimination. Social structures help discrimination happen. Intersectionality is related to how people understand their sexual diversity and gender. There are other social identities involved in this. When creating inclusive and diverse spaces in public or at work, one needs to be open-minded and accept differences, while recognizing oppression and power that can be revealed in complex ways. It is essential to understand how different identities intersect as they produce different understandings. All of this has an impact on everyday life. Intersectionality drives people’s policies, legislations, and perceptions. It allows people to understand how oppression creates ‘circumstances’ which have an impact on one’s choices. People who come from historically marginalized backgrounds often suffer from oppression.
I was born in Africa, I am Black and I am a feminist. I am not racist and I belong to the majority. I am well educated, self-confident, and capacious. In the US, it is different, as Crenshaw writes:
the black jobs were men’s jobs, and the women’s jobs were only for whites. Thus, while a black applicant might be hired to work on the floor of the factory if he were male if she were a black female she would not be considered. Similarly, a woman might be hired as a secretary if she were white, but she wouldn’t have a chance at that job if she were black” (Crenshaw 57).
This is a result of historical oppression and marginalization based on skin color and gender. However, I belong to the majority in my home country in Africa which means that I am not discriminated against. Additionally, I am a feminist which is also an intersectional element. I am a woman biologically and I identify as such. I also belong to the majority as a cis Black person. However, as a woman, I am vulnerable and more exposed to potential violence than men. Gender and racial oppression exist in the workplace and in public arenas. It is a burden that can be seen through intersectionality. Crenshaw, who identified intersectionality writes, “Intersectionality, then, was my attempt to make feminism, anti-racist activism, and anti-discrimination law do what I thought they should – highlight the multiple avenues through which racial and gender oppression were experienced so that the problems would be easier to discuss and understand” (Crenshaw 58). According to this wheel, I see that I am in a position of power because I am not discriminated against and I feel that I am in control over my own life. I am well-educated which has opened many doors for me and I am using all of the opportunities in my life. As a woman, I identify as a feminist because I want to help end gender inequality.
Men dominate over women today in power relations within a patriarchal society. Feminists need to fight the toxicity that drives inequality. Additionally, there is a divisive class system, poverty, and caste system that establish circumstances for each individual. Personally, I do not feel that I am oppressed and I believe that I can do anything in life by realizing my true potential. This means that when in terms of intersectionality I am in a position of power because I am not affected by oppression and discrimination.
Mia McKenzie writes,
I’ve been thinking a lot about shared female identity. A lot of people seem to think that being born with female parts bonds you in some significant way to other people who are born with female parts. In order to get the most out of all that bonded-female-part-ness, there are events and outings that welcome female-born people only, places where we can listen to the music ‘we’ like and talk about our periods or something (McKenzy 62).
The problem is that many individual women do not feel this immediate connection with each other. There is no ‘shared’ experience that is unique to females. However, the myth that it exists is still strong. Additionally, it excludes trans women because they do not have ‘female parts’. When I locate myself on the intersectionality wheel, I believe that I am privileged because I do not suffer from systemic oppression as an individual. However, I am a feminist which means that I want to fight for gender equality. I am aware of my intellectual capacities which creates opportunities for myself. I have never been racist and I make a contribution to life in a society of equal opportunities.
Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait.” Gender and Women’s Studies: Critical Terrain, edited by Margaret Hobbs and Carla Rice, Womens Pr, 2018.
McKenzie, Mia. “The Myth of Shared Womanhood and How It Perpetuates Inequality.” Gender and Women’s Studies: Critical Terrain, edited by Margaret Hobbs and Carla Rice, Womens Pr, 2018.