By Campaign Agent Michelle Blick
Feminism: equal rights for the many or for the few? It has been disputed for years that feminism is not as all-encompassing in advancing the rights of all women, regardless of background, race and identities.
Intersectional feminism is a term introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw, referring to the acknowledgment of intersections additional to gender, that women fit in to: including race, class and ethnicity. This is beyond the traditional view of thinking about these factors as separate, and considering the struggles associated as cumulative, it instead considers the different oppressions experienced from these characteristics as intersecting. This contrasts the popular view that the oppression of women is a unitary struggle, affecting all women in the same way. Furthermore, the overlapping nature of struggle means that oppressions cannot be looked at in isolation. For example, you cannot view the historical oppression of the black race and then view the oppression of women in assessing the experience of black women, it is a unique experience, more strenuous than holding both characteristics separately.
The traditional feminism movement has aimed for the political social and economic equality of the sexes. There has been an attempt to dismantle projected identities of women which have been socially constructed. In doing so, it has intended to advance women’s rights, and break the glass ceiling that has historically oppressed women and continues to in present day. First Wave feminism began in the late 1800s, most notably with the objective of universal suffrage and legal equality. Second Wave Feminism followed in the 1960s; in the wake of modern liberation, women demanded rights over their bodies and equality in employment. The foundations of feminism, shown in these early movements have, however, been recently critiqued as non-inclusive, due to a lack of recognition on the basis of class and race. Feminist Bell-Hooks argues that this is because white middle class women or wealthy black women, at the forefront of feminism, have been reluctant to give up their own privileges in the name of ‘sisterhood’.
In this way, the movement has been deemed as Eurocentric and classist. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s initial focus in her papers is the intersectionality of Black women and other women of colour. She outlines the ways in which the feminist movements consistently failed to express the experience of black women, who face: negative stereotypes including being ‘the help’, hyper-sexualisation in popular culture such as music videos, and appropriation of their culture in creating passing trends out of common aspects of black women’s appearance.
This gap in the first and second waves lead to the emergence of Black Feminism. The creation of Black Feminism had many implications including recognition of this exclusion in Third Wave feminism which started in the 1990’s. Third wave feminism also managed to identify the problem of inattentiveness to women of lower social classes. Women make up over half of the minimum wage earners in many countries, whilst there is also evidence that, overall, women disproportionately bear the class struggle. The glass ceiling that early feminism sought to destroy, however, aimed mainly at the advancement of middle income and elite women into high powered positions. There is reason to believe that newer brands of feminism are currently working on class solidarity within the movement, but there has still been a lesser focus on class, with the daily emergence of new issues such as increasing sexual harassment and violence against women.
Overall, there have been indications that intersectionality is widely recognised now. The Womens’ March in January displayed this, as women held placards reading quotes such as ‘If you don’t fight for all women, you fight for no women’, showing an increased extent of realisation. Furthermore, the advancement of diverse feminists has repackaged the movement to a wider audience. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author and feminist has contributed to this repackaging by expressing the necessity of intersectional feminism and getting rid of displaying a ‘single story’. Whilst there is still work to be done on inclusion, the feminism that we see in 2018 has undeniably diversified from the early stages, now reaching a wide range of women and also gaining increased support from men.
Sources and Further Reading
- Hayley Miller, ‘Kimberlé Crenshaw explains the power of intersectionality in one minute’, Huffington post , (11 August 2017)
- Caroline Dorey-Stein, ‘A brief history, the three waves of feminism’, Progressive women’s leadership ( 22 September 2015)
- Lasha, ‘Bell Hooks Vs Beyoncé’, Salon, (18 May 2016)
- Cheryl Diane Parkinson, ‘The sexualisation of Black women in the media: isn’t it time for change?’ The Fem (21 September 2016)
- Kathleen Geier, ‘ Does Feminism have a class problem’, The Nation 11 June 2014)
- Michelle Blick, ‘Be a Voice : The Womens March’, Talk-Politics (6 February 2018)
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘We should all be feminists’, TedxTalks (12 April 2013)
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons