Intersectionality: A Big Word; A Tricky Concept

I think about intersectionality a lot with regards to feminism, even if I don't always say so. Intersectionality is basically the study of the intersections between different under-privileged groups. Put simply, a lot of people are seemingly unaware of these intersections, or actively dismiss them while promoting the cause of their own.

(One such intersection is between "black" and "homosexual." Black culture has often been extremely hostile to the issue of homosexuality, to such an extent that many gay black men are driven completely underground. There is an entire subculture of black men who identify as straight, but who secretly have sex with other men, colloquially known as "being on the down low.")

Historically, a lot of very prominent feminists have done a terrible job at intersectionality. Major feminist groups and speakers have said racist and homophobic things, and have enacted racist and homophobic policies. Even today, many old-school (a.k.a. Second Wave) feminists not only ignore the issue of transgender rights, but reject transgender people outright.

Many contemporary feminists (including Janice Raymond, Mary Daly, and Sheila Jeffreys) "argue that the feminist movement should not concern itself in any way with the needs of transwomen," to quote Wikipedia. The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is an excellent example of this transgender hatred, as it bans anyone who is not genetically female.

To quote The Angry Black Woman's awesome 2009 article on intersectionality, "This is the biggest evil of Intersectionality Fail: not recognizing that your activism, useful and wonderful though it may be, does not give you a pass on other problematic behavior."

The real problem with ignoring intersectionality is that it keeps us splintered, in fractured groups that waste their time and energy with in-fighting. Ain't that exactly what "they" want? We're all so busy ignoring each others' needs (if not actively attacking each other) that we don't see how much we could accomplish together.

I don't often talk about transgender issues or feminism as it relates to people of color, simply because that's not my truth. I certainly hope no one ever gets the impression that I don't care about those things, or that I feel that feminism is for white women only. I believe that feminism should be in support of the cause of women everywhere, regardless of color or biological gender.

I spent a lot of time thinking about these issues last Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. American women of color are struggling, and I often feel like mainstream feminism overlooks this.

An excellent example is the oft-cited statistic that "women earn 72 cents on the dollar." I have been guilty of saying this myself. But it's untrue: WHITE women earn 72 cents on the dollar. Black women earn 63 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic women earn only 51 cents on the dollar.

In fact, white women are #2 on the list of earning power, followed by black men, black women, Hispanic men, and finally Hispanic women. Odd, though, isn't it, that these additional numbers rarely get included in discussions of wage disparity?


Absolutely! There are so many overlapping fields of discrimination, I'm sure I left out a lot of them - age discrimination (against both the young and old) is definitely one of them!