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Intersectionality,The Way Forward

“The point of feminism is you shouldn’t have to be a man to be treated with equal respect”

Kimberle Williams Crenshaw

Feminism is quite simply a belief in the political, economical and cultural equality of women and it is a movement that has flourished into omnipresence. With roots that can be traced back to the earliest eras of human civilization, it has undergone changes each time a new wave brushed ashore. When Plato laid down in his Republic that women have “natural capacities” equal to men, he was met with grave criticism, with roman consul Marcus Porcius Cato arguing that “As soon as they begin to be your equals, they will have become your superiors!”. The latter’s audacity would not have survived a minute in the current world, and that’s owing to how far the movement has come and how much has been achieved.

The second wave of feminism that ran from the 60’s to the 80’s, was dominated by ‘white, middle-class’ views, which lead to Kimberle Crenshaw, a professor and civil rights activist, coining the term ‘intersectionality’ in the year 1989. Defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or

disadvantage”, it was until recently a legal term that was used predominantly in academic circles. The term seeks to shed light on how the various systems of oppression and privilege overlap and how this overlapping creates new form of discrimination for some, and enhanced privilege for others. Intersectional feminism considers the various ways in which a woman experiences discriminations.

According to Crenshaw, all inequality is not created equally. She had begun working on her theory of intersectionality upon noticing the way African-American women were discriminated against on the basis of both gender, and race. She says. “The basic term came out of a case where I was looking at black women who were being discriminated against, not just as black people and not just as women, but as black women. So, intersectionality was basically just a metaphor to say they are facing race discrimination from one direction. They have gender discrimination from another direction, and they’re colliding in their lives in ways we really don’t anticipate and understand.”

If this discussion still fails to shed light on theory, the following hypothetical situation might. Imagine an Indian woman, from a low-income household who only has a school education. At this point itself, the individual’s gender, economic status and level of education are all factors that influence her treatment in the society. Now, imagine that she’s physically disabled and a Bahujan. There now comes into existence two more layers on the basis of which

she shall face discrimination. Hence, this individual shall face discrimination based on all these various characteristics that constitute her identity.

A common misconception that arises when a discussion on intersectionality ensues is that the issues faced by the privileged are not issues, and that is exactly what that is, a mere misconception. What it actually means is that the issues that the privileged face alone should not define feminism, but rather it must take into consideration the various issues faced by those who are victims to the layers of oppression. What is a common occurrence that acts as an obstacle to intersectional feminism is that individuals who are part of the dominant privileged group come to believe that their privilege is ‘natural’, and something that they cannot shed. Now while this is true to a certain extent, many forget that they can utilise their voice, the voice they have owing to their privilege, to make the lives of those who aren’t privileged better.

Many feminists in India have raised their voices against the mainstreaming of the feminist movement and have iterated the need for an approach that is understanding of the situations of marginalized communities. In India, especially, the existing cultural and societal framework, only forwards the need for intersectionality. As according to Ruth Manorama, a renowned feminst coming from a marginalized group, a Dalit woman in India carries the burden of caste, class in addition to that of gender, and so advocates of intersectionality must address these overlapping identities.

Reality is far from such incorporation though, with the mainstream movement still zooming in on gender and patriarchy while ignoring these pyramids of difference arising out of  social entities. This points to a lack of awareness amidst the upper-class savarna feminists about the struggles of marginalised

women. Belonging to the former category, I as a feminist, have had to educate myself thoroughly before advocating for intersectionality and its need in the Indian society. Such education began for me by understanding and unlearning certain concepts, which I shall explain as follows.

Firstly, not all women are the same. It’s always easy to talk about how we’re all one in a million, but when it comes to practicing it, such differences are rarely acknowledged. Such an assumption hampers the feminist movement to a large extent, with many systematic oppressions faced by minority communities being ignored since the spotlight will be on what the majority demands. It is only by going beyond such a binary thought process and by acknowledging the various niches of oppression that the Indian feminist movement shall blossom into an inclusive one.

Secondly, privilege exists. While the existence of male privilege is clearly recognized by most, the privilege possessed by women from the upper-class, higher-castes are rarely acknowledged. In the context of intersectionality, privilege may be considered as unearned advantages that arise out of a person belonging to a particular group, whereby dominant group members have more access to resources as compared to members of socially-excluded groups to erase such privilege is impossible, but if awareness is brought about amidst the upper-class, higher-caste feminists, it will aid in building a movement that will not efface the struggles of the minority community.

HOW TO BE AN INTERSECTIONAL FEMINIST

While transforming into an intersectional feminist cannot happen overnight, there are many things one can do to aid in the forwarding of the movement. The first thing would be to educate yourself, about the intricacies of social identity, the various factors that contribute, the nuances that exist. We all have to start somewhere, and educating oneself is always a great place to start. A single mn article or book or poem might be the entity that changes the way you see the world. Something as simple as using your voice, your privilege to shed light on the issues faced by marginalized communities can make a world of difference. In the era where social media is an all powerful tool, a single story you put up about an issue might influence one other person to do the same, this one person shall influence another and this chain shall continue till multiple people become aware of and receptive to the issue.

To talk of receptiveness, one has to open their eyes and ears and actively listen to the various diverse communities and groups. To assume you know what’s best for someone else is rarely right,and what ensues may be an absolute waste of resources. Listening and learning about their issues, its roots, what keeps it thriving shall aid in dismantling this structure and to do actual good for such individuals. Lived experiences shall most definitely outweigh any theoretical information that one might possess.To be accepting of criticism is another important aspect. To be criticized and to take it in the right stride is not the easiest thing to do, but if you fail to listen, it is not going to do anyone any good. Thus, recognizing, listening and being receptive shall be key aspects that have to upheld in ones journey to be an intersectional feminist.

To conclude, it can’t be feminism if it’s not intersectional. While many might not agree to this, a single quote by Audre Lorde comes to mind, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Gouri N
Writer

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