Intersectional feminism: Recognizing the unique experiences of women in the fight for gender equality

Photo courtesy of Ariele Bonte via Unsplash

By Lily Angel

March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of women throughout history. From activists to artists, women have made remarkable strides in the fight for gender equality. Among the many achievements is the rise of intersectional feminism, which recognizes and addresses the unique and interconnected experiences of discrimination faced by women of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, disabled women, and other marginalized groups. 

Intersectionality has become a critical concept in modern feminist discourse, highlighting how the experiences of discrimination and oppression are not the same for every person. The term was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, to describe the overlapping and intersecting nature of social categories such as race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. 

“We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality, or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts,” Crenshaw said in an interview with Time.

According to UNWomen in simple terms, intersectionality is defined as looking at a person as a whole, taking into account every aspect of their identity. For instance, when we refer to someone as a woman, there’s more to it than just their gender. Intersectionality examines other factors such as income, religion, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Intersectional feminism advocates for those who identify as a woman while also acknowledging their varied experiences of discrimination and oppression. In this way, intersectional feminism is more inclusive than traditional feminism, which argues for women receiving social, economic, and political equality.

Although early feminists created a great concept for aiding women, it wasn’t created for all women.

“When suffragists gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848, they advocated for the right of white women to vote. The participants were middle and upper-class white women, a cadre of white men supporters, and one African-American male — Frederick Douglass. The esteemed abolitionist had forged a strong working relationship with fellow abolitionists and white women suffragists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. No Black women attended the convention. None were invited,” Tammy L. Brown wrote in an article for the ACLU.

The foundation of feminism is based on only helping middle and upper-class white women. 

“A white woman is penalized by her gender but has the advantage of race. A black woman is disadvantaged by her gender and her race. A Latina lesbian experiences discrimination because of her ethnicity, her gender, and her sexual orientation,” Alia Dastagir, USA Today wrote.

Understanding intersectionality is essential for developing a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to feminism that acknowledges and addresses the unique experiences of women from diverse backgrounds. An intersectional approach highlights how discrimination and oppression operate on multiple levels, and how people with different identities may face unique challenges. It’s important to recognize and address these differences to work towards a more just and equitable society for all.

“Intersectionality provides a lens through which we can examine the processes, practices, policies, and structures that increase the risk of students experiencing disadvantage or discrimination because of their intersecting identities,” the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) wrote.

Embracing intersectionality also helps to ensure that the voices and experiences of those who have been historically marginalized or excluded are heard and valued, which is essential in building a truly diverse and inclusive movement.

As a young girl, I would proudly say that I am a feminist but didn’t know that the foundations of feminism would not have included me or people who look like me. I am Chicana (Mexican-American). I am a young woman. But I am also so much more than just my race and gender. Intersectional feminism helps me to process myself as a multifaceted person.

Intersectional feminism is the only feminism that is right for today’s society. I like to think that we have progressed to a point where we are now more accepting of each other but it is important to take into consideration every factor that makes a person because no one is just one thing.