Feminism is the belief in social, economic, and political equality for women. This statement seems obvious, but the predominant, current feminist wave is directed at middle class, educated, white women and does not include women from other groups. For example, working class women, women of colour, LGBTQ+ women etc. Current mainstream feminism lacks intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the understanding that factors such as race and class have a profound effect on the discrimination a woman may face when she is a part of one or more of these social categories. Intersectionality is critical in speaking to every woman's experience.
So, how is popular feminism not meeting its true aims? Popular feminism is currently seen through the lens of the white, educated middle class. These experiences are seen as the ‘default’ paradigm – because they are primarily affected by a singular issue – sexism. Hence, feminism has solely focused on the line between sexism and feminism.
However, this single focus issue does not include all women, which subverts its aims. This does not in any way demean the origin of the feminist movement but shines a light on the fact that it is not complete. We must recognise the fact that white privilege exists in feminism and it has an exclusionary effect.
Consider the example of the ‘Free the Nips’ movement. Modern western feminism needs to understand the impact of some of their headline grabbing activism. The message is necessary – freedom to own our bodies. But how does a woman from a traditional Indian or African background, or devout Muslim, who may take pride in their cultural expression, support and participate in such a movement?
The idea is inclusive, however, the execution can often be exclusive. This example is not to say that the movement isn’t valid, but to recognise that the movement is a part of a wider picture. True intersectionality focuses on allowing us to own our bodies in all ways.
For example, France banned the hijab for women under 18 in a ‘feminist’ act. How is a law from a government telling a woman what to wear ‘a feminist act’? This simply takes away the freedom of clothing choice, religious freedom, the right to personal expression - a woman’s right. Intersectionality tackles this by looking at what empowers different women and not making assumptions at surface level.
Intersectionality demands that ALL women’s issues be recognised and addressed. This concept is consistent with the morality of feminism. For example, intersectionality looks at how the struggles may be different and more varied for a poor, under educated woman. By attending to the needs of the most vulnerable group, you are de facto attending to the needs of the strongest members of the group.
After all, it’s better to take a whole cake to a party rather than one slice.
Women of colour can be marginalised in the feminist movement when they face other forms of oppression, such as racism. This re-enforces an idea that feminism is only for white women. This excludes women of colour from the very feminist movement that should be supporting them. This is also relevant to many other women who face forms of oppression in conjunction with sexism.
Intersectionality places feminism in the real world. It does not ‘dilute’ the core issues. The essence of feminism is equality for all. Some may argue that single focus issues are more easily understood, however the real world is more complicated. The very definition of feminism requires intersectionality in order to fulfill that definition. A multiplicity of women’s experiences does not dilute the issues of feminism; it strengthens it.