Sophie Perry is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.
I am a feminist.
Now, I was unashamed to say that long before Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech at the UN made it somewhat fashionable. For as long as I can remember my feminist identity has always been an intrinsic part of my identity, as much a part of what makes me me as my ginger hair or Black Country twang. It is for this reason that it would be more accurate to describe myself as an intersectional feminist because as someone who is both gay and working class I understand that, in Audre Lorde’s poignant words, ‘there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives’. Intersectionality is, in my opinion, perhaps the most important element of the ‘fourth wave’, or, modern feminist movement. I make this statement because, as it may go without saying, feminism as a social, political, economic and cultural movement has had a contentious history due to its colonialist, classist and heterosexualist past. Whereby feminism’s first and second waves were most concerned with issues faced by the specific paradigm of women who are white, straight, middle class, cis gendered and abled bodied. Intersectionality thus works as an inclusive and diverse experiential lens which attempts to examine the ways in which modes of discrimination overlap and intersect. Through this, intersectionality acknowledges the complex struggles faced by women of colour, queer women, trans and non-binary women, disabled women and men and boys controlled by patriarchal expectations. Intersectionality enables feminism to have a far greater impact and reach in society because it attempts to include everyone. With these things in mind, I posit this article as examination of the way in which intersectionality as a feminist mode can lead to a ‘Global Feminism’.
When discussing a topic such a feminism it is obviously sensible to start at the beginning. The concept of ‘intersectionality’ as an academic tool was first inaugurated in feminist theory in 1989 by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, where she utilised the term in her work ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’. Crenshaw argues that the experiences of black women cannot be examined in terms of independently being black and being a woman, instead these two spheres coexist and continually reinforce each other. However, discussions of intersectionality as a mode of feminist thought did not necessarily begin with Crenshaw’s work, whereby it has been used to acknowledge how black women had been excluded from the feminist movement for hundreds of years. One famous example is Sojourner Truth’s speech ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ which was delivered at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio on May 29th 1851. The speech serves ‘a powerful rebuke to many anti-feminist arguments’ of the day and is a clear discussion of the ways in which black female experiences were excluded from the early feminist movement.
Kerry Washington reads Sojourner Truth’
Although it is clear that intersectionality as a concept and academic tool has been around for many decades it has only made it to mainstream feminist discourse in recent years. At a first glance it certainly seems like it could be just the next feminist buzzword, another apparently non-issue phrase used to politicize what does not need to be politicized. It is, instead, much more than that and incredibly important to the modern-day feminist movement which is ‘in danger of losing momentum’, says Ava Vidal, ‘unless it recognises that not every feminist is white, middle class, cis-gendered and able bodied’. The hard-to-argue-with inclusivity of intersectionality has to me been both rational and common sense for years but has inaugurated fiery debate and controversy within feminism, mostly from white feminists and TERFs – whom are often one and the same. Now, when I say ‘white feminism/feminists’ I do not necessarily mean feminists who happen to be whit
e, the term is actually short-hand for the problematic nature of western feminism with its colonialist, classist and heteronormative past and present. White feminism being a privileged position of feminism which only focuses on the struggles of white women who often more than not fit into the specific paradigm Vidal mentioned, ignoring the integrated forms of oppression faced by other groups. TERFs on the other hand is an acronym which stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, a movement of feminism which, as the name may suggest, seeks to exclude transwomen from women’s issues and spaces. Controversy has arisen where white feminists and TERFs feel attacked by intersectional feminists whom question and pull them up on their exclusive behaviour, often through social media platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr. The insurgence of intersectionality into feminist discourse therefore being viewed by both white feminists and TERFs as an active attack on their beliefs and practices.
If you have read this far in this article without getting bored then you might identify as a feminist, or at least be interested in women’s rights and equality. If that is true, then what I have written might have prompted you to wonder ‘Is my feminism intersectional?’ or ‘Am I intersectional in my actions?’. This is an interesting and important area of thought because it was reading an article on white feminism a few years back that prompted me to question my own intersectionality, encouraging me to think about the historical and modern narratives of feminism that I had been taught. If you want to become more intersectional in your feminism then I have outlined a number of areas below to think about, with subject specific issues highlighted as well. It is important to remember, however, when reading my diagram that all areas of oppression are inherently interconnected in some way. Thus, for example, while something such as ‘breastfeeding’ is a gendered issue which is connected to the body it is also a cultural one, as the sexualisation of breasts is a cultural variant rather than biologically deterministic. In simple fact: if you do not think that one area of issue belongs then you cannot claim to be intersectional or inclusive in your feminist thought or actions.
In my attempt to make this diagram as comprehensive as possible I understand the language may seem a bit dense. Feminism, like any -ism, is a subject rich with jargon, acronyms and buzzwords that sound a bit like gibberish to anyone who isn’t up date with the latest issues. The language used in feminist discourse, and particularly in terms of intersectionality, has a number of academic and non-academic sources which is the reason for the vast variety of terms the movement utilises. While many words obviously derive from gender and queer theory, political, psychological, sociological and philosophical thought have also been important in shaping the language that feminists use. In recent years the internet has become a hot pot for new buzzwords and acronyms, the sheer accessibility of the internet means that people from outside the academy can create and share language that helps to explain and validate their experiences of oppression. For this reason, I have also created a small list of key and commonly used phrases below for anyone looking to expand their feminist vocabulary, I place emphasis on the ‘small’ because a whole book would be needed for a truly comprehensive dictionary. With that noted, a glossary of feminist terms was created in 2013 by JASS (Just Associates) through their Mesoamerica branch and although not completely comprehensive it is an extremely useful tool.
|Glossary of Intersectional Feminist Terms for the budding Intersectional Feminist|
|Ableism||‘A pervasive system of discrimination and exclusion that oppresses people who have mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. Deeply rooted beliefs about health, productivity, beauty, and the value of human life combine to create an environment that is often hostile to those whose physical, emotional, cognitive, or sensory abilities fall outside the scope of what is currently defined as socially acceptable’ JASS’s Feminist Movement Builder’s Dictionary, 2013|
|Ageism||Prejudice against a person or people because
of their age
|Class||A social rank or position based on various factors such as income, wealth, family history, education and power|
|Classism||A system by which differential value is assigned to people of different class groups|
|Culture||‘The particular ideas, norms, customs, traditions and social behaviour of a group of people or society’ Oxford Living Dictionaries, 2018|
|Ethnicity||A social construct in which groups people are united based on a common language, history, religion, culture or background|
|Feminism||‘A range of theories and political agendas that aim to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women due to sex and gender as well as class, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, geographic location, nationality, or other forms of social exclusion’ JASS’s Feminist Movement Builder’s Dictionary, 2013|
|Feminazi||A derogatory term used by antifeminists to refer to a radical feminist or, sometimes, just simply people who identify as feminists|
|Gender||The social and cultural characteristics that society delineates as feminine and masculine|
|Heteronormativity||A world view that promotes heterosexuality as the default, normal and preferred sexual orientation|
|Homophobia||The dislike, hatred and ingrained prejudice against people with same-sex attraction and relationships|
|Intersectionality||‘An analytical tool that helps to understand and respond to the ways in which multiple aspects of each person’s social identity and status intersect to create unique experiences of oppression and privilege’ JASS’s Feminist Movement Builder’s Dictionary, 2013|
|LGBTQ+||The acronym which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer, the Q is also sometimes used for Questioning. Can|
|Misogyny||The dislike, hatred and ingrained prejudice against women|
|Misandry||The dislike, hatred and ingrained prejudice against men|
|Oppression||A system and social phenomenon where cruelty, unjust treatment and exploitation is directed at the perceived or real differences between groups|
|Patriarchy||A system of society and/or government where men hold the power and women are largely excluded|
|Privilege||‘An unearned resource or state of being that is only readily available to some people because of their social status, such as being male, white, certain nationalities, heterosexual, or wealthy’ JASS’s Feminist Movement Builder’s Dictionary, 2013|
|Queer||Originally a derogatory label used to refer to lesbian and gay people. More recently this term has been reclaimed as a positive way to identify people in the LGBTQ community|
|Race||Refers to the physical features people or groups of people have, most predominantly skin colour. However, race functions as a social construct where racial categories are created by the dominant group in society in order to justify treatment of minorities|
|Racism||The dislike, hatred and ingrained prejudice against certain groups based on skin colour, whereby it is believed skin colour can determine human abilities, capacities and behaviours|
|Sex||Refers to the physiological and anatomical female and male characteristics a person is born with|
|Sexism||The ingrained belief that men are superior to women by virtue of their biological sex|
|Sexuality||Human sexuality is how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings through intercourse, interaction and attraction|
|Transgender Person||A person whose gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth|
|Transphobia||The dislike, hatred and ingrained prejudice against people who identify as transgender|
|Transmisogyny||A form of oppression which combines transphobia and misogyny and is directly aimed at transwomen|
|TERF||An acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist|
If you have taken the time to look at the diagram and the small glossary I have created, then hopefully you have a much fuller picture and deeper understanding of intersectional feminism and the language used to discuss it. It is this kind of knowledge that I think is fundamental to creating what can be called a ‘global feminism’, where concerns of women’s rights, social equality and justice can be moved forward on a global scale. One great example of global feminism in action is Women’s March, which first took place on January 21st 2017, as it is inherently intersectional in its actions as it advocates for a range of human rights and other issues such as women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, workers’ rights, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, the natural environment, racial equality and freedom of religion.  It is important to note that organisers of Women’s March accounted for 673 individual marches worldwide with an estimated 4,956,422 total marchers for the 2017 date.  Political scientists estimated it to be the biggest single day march in US history, with 408 of the 673 marches taking place in the US.  In essence, a global feminist movement where the rights and dignities of all people are achieved can only happen if we as individuals are proactive in our actions, taking the time to understand and educate ourselves on the intersecting issues at hand.
This being noted, I have provided a step by step guide in how to be more proactive in your feminism and feminist action.
1. Follow activists on social media
As we all know, social media is the fastest and most effective way to reach a mass audience in the 21st century. In times gone by it was rallies, speeches and physical human action that brought about change but today a single tweet or Instagram post can be just as affective at bringing about social justice or starting a movement – as the #MeToo campaign exemplifies. Here are a few activists I think are important to click ‘follow’ on all your social medias:
- Alicia Garza @aliciagarza – Garza is one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, as a queer Black woman Garza acknowledges that the epidemic of violence towards Black Americas must be viewed through ‘a lens of race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity’.  Her twitter is a vibrant space discussing all manner of black and minority issues.
- Laverne Cox @lavernecox – Best known for her role as Sophia Burset in the game-changing show Orange is the New Black Cox is passionate activist, she uses her platform to speak and write on trans and wider LGBTQ+ issues. She also produced the documentary Free CeCe which focuses on a transwoman who was sentenced to prison after defending herself in a racist and transphobic attack.
- Dan Savage @fakedansavage – A campaigner for LGBTQ equality Savage, alongside his husband, founded the It Gets Better Project in 2010 in response to the high numbers of suicides by LGBTQ youth.
- Amandla Stenberg @amandlastenberg – Back in the day Stenberg played Rue in The Hunger Games but today she spends her time schooling us on all manner of social justice issues in such an effortlessly cool way.
- Munroe Bergdorf @MunroeBergdorf – Best known for being L’Oreal’s ‘face of diversity’ before being fired for having opinions, she is a trailblazer known for advocating for transgender rights and anti-transphobic policies.
- Malala Yousafzai @Malala – When they say the phoenix rises from the ashes, they were obviously talking about this girl. A human rights activist, particularly in the area of women’s education, she was shot in the head in 2012 by the Taliban for her activism. After making an outstanding recovery Malala went on to promote her beliefs, becoming the youngest person to win a Nobel Prize and then she gained a place at Oxford University. She’s only 20!
2. Get Involved! Join Communities! Meet People!
Now that your Twitter feed is full of activists it is time to take your activism from the online world to the real one. If you are at university then your student union will be the first port of call for finding communities to help extend your feminist circles. Most universities will have some form of feminist or LGBTQ+ society but if not then joining a range of political and cultural societies will be useful. Don’t worry if you do not identify as LGBTQ+ as most LGBTQ+ societies will be happy for you to join as an ally, as long as you understand what being an ally entails and promotes.
If you are not at university, or if you are and want something outside the student union, then there are plenty of other options. You can volunteer at charities in areas such as LGBTQ support, women’s refuge, refugee and asylum seekers and mental health. You can join discussion and debate groups, visit exhibitions and live readings as well as traditional things such as marches and demonstrations.
3. Talk About What You Know
A great way to make change is to make noise, to speak and write and discuss.
You could start a blog where you debate and discuss a range of issues, it’s easy enough with sites such as WordPress and Tumblr at your fingertips. Maybe you could write for other publications such as newspapers, magazines and blogs, such as Breaking The Glass Ceiling.
With all 3000 words of what I have just written I hope you understand that it is my firm political belief that intersectionality is the only key and fundamental way to unite a movement such as feminism so that change can be felt on a global scale. Now, I am not saying it is an easy task by any means at all, to be intersectional means to constantly question yourself, to check your privilege and see things from the perspective of other people – which isn’t always straight forward. However, if you simply listen to minorities, to groups who are marginalized in society for any reason, and hear their perspective then often that understanding will become clear very quickly. For, it is not understanding the struggles of different groups of people and ignoring the validity of what they are saying that is the reason for intersectional feminism in the first place.
Anon,. ‘(1982) Audre Lorde, “Learning from the 60s”’ <http://www.blackpast.org/1982-audre-lorde-learning-60s> [Accessed: 27 February 2018].
Anon,. ‘Our Mission’ <https://www.womensmarch.com/mission> [Accessed: 30th February 2018]. Anon,. ‘Soujourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”’ <https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/content/truth-woman-speech.html> [Accessed: 24 Feburary 2018].
Anon,. ‘Our People’ <https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/staff/> [Accessed: 29th February 2018].Vidal, Ava., ‘’Intersectional feminism’. What the hell is it? (And why you should care)’ <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10572435/Intersectional-feminism.-What-the-hell-is-it-And-why-you-should-care.html> [Accessed: 27th February 2018].
Anon,. ‘Sister Marches’ <https://www.womensmarch.com/sisters> [Accessed: 3rd March 2018].
Broomfield, Matt,. ‘Women’s March against Donald Trump is the largest day of protests in US history, say political scientists’ <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/womens-march-anti-donald-trump-womens-rights-largest-protest-demonstration-us-history-political-a7541081.html> [Accessed: 3rd March 2018].
Crenshaw, Kimberle,. ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’, University of Chicago Legal Forum, 8.1 (1989) 139-167.
JASS., Feminist Movement Builder’s Dictionary, 2nd edn, (JASS, 2013) <https://justassociates.org/sites/justassociates.org/files/feminist-movement-builders-dictionary-jass.pdf> [Accessed: 27th Feburary 2018].
Vidal, Ava., ‘’Intersectional feminism’. What the hell is it? (And why you should care)’ <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10572435/Intersectional-feminism.-What-the-hell-is-it-And-why-you-should-care.html> [Accessed: 27th February 2018].
 Broomfield, Matt,. ‘Women’s March against Donald Trump is the largest day of protests in US history, say political scientists’ <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/womens-march-anti-donald-trump-womens-rights-largest-protest-demonstration-us-history-political-a7541081.html> [Accessed: 3rd March 2018].
Picture credit: https://wideplus.org/