Why We Need Intersectionality Week
When a group of Younger Women’s Task Force chapter directors got together at the 2015 AAUW National Convention to talk about our thoughts on feminism, intersectionality naturally popped up in the conversation. After all, YWTF is all about social justice. That discussion led to the idea of Intersectionality Week, a week during which YWTF chapters around the country will host events that highlight intersectionality and how it can be applied to today’s feminist movement. The first-ever YWTF Intersectionality Week will take place May 1–7.
The concept of intersectionality is not new, but the term is gradually working its way into the mainstream. Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and director of the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School, intersectionality acknowledges the multiple overlapping, or intersecting, social identities and related systems of oppression.
As feminists, we must recognize how an issue affects women differently based on their various identities. We must act in all women’s interests, not only the most privileged women’s interests. When encouraging girls to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, are we recognizing that girls of color have additional hurdles to cross? When we talk about ending sex trafficking, do we recognize the particular struggles of transgender women? How can we ensure that we are inclusive of the multiple oppressions that different women face as we work toward equality? These are the kinds of questions feminists should ask themselves constantly.
Sometimes intersectionality brings issues into the feminist sphere that have not been mainstream feminist issues in the past. Police accountability, for example, is a feminist issue. Crenshaw’s #SayHerName initiative draws attention to the black women who have been killed by police but whose names are largely unknown. Black women, transgender women, and immigrant women all have unique experiences with law enforcement that the average white woman does not. The Daniel Holtzclaw trial and the “Cleveland Strangler” case show how the most vulnerable women are victimized and then denied justice precisely because of their race and socioeconomic status.
Another common feminist issue that is not usually examined through an intersectional lens is reproductive rights. We often hear about sexual health and the fight for reproductive rights from a white woman’s point of view. Women of color are often criticized or slut shamed for talking about their sexualities and specifically about abortion. We must learn to create a safe space for all women to openly speak about their experiences and feel comfortable knowing that they are protected.
For decades, social justice movements have excluded or sidelined the most oppressed groups while centering the struggle of the majority. Feminists can’t allow that trend to continue if we claim to believe in social justice and equality. The fact that there has been a lack of intersectionality in past and current social justice movements doesn’t mean they have no value. But it does mean that there is no longer an excuse in 2016. A middle-class, white, cisgender, American-born perspective does not represent all of us. Now more than ever, women of all identities have the tools to elevate their voices, and they have done so with force.
We can see that marginalized voices are increasingly being heard, as some organizations have already begun to incorporate an intersectional feminist viewpoint into their work. The Ms. Foundation recently launched My Feminism Is, a campaign that highlights how people in different intersections define feminism for themselves. The African American Policy Forum was created with the specific purpose of addressing racial justice in an intersectional way. But the work is never enough, and it is never over. Similar to the way AAUW joined them in #HerDreamDeferred Week, an initiative dedicated to elevating the status of black women, you can acknowledge Intersectionality Week. With YWTF Intersectionality Week, we hope to make it clear that intersectionality must be a priority in the feminist movement of our generation. We are ready and committed to doing the work to make that a reality.