Donald Trump has been a font of inspiration for feminist discourse ever since he first declared himself a candidate for president.  New misogyny seemed to pop up every week.  We thought the world had changed with “Pussygate” (see my previous post), but with his election last month, the floodgates opened.  One theme kept popping up in my feeds: Intersectionality and Intersectional Feminism.

What is Intersectionality?

First articulated in the late 1980s by black feminist scholar and race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality recognizes that multiple systems of oppression can interact to marginalize people. Rather than acting independently, systems based on class, sex, race, gender & sexuality, disability, nationality, religion, etc. interact to generate complex oppression experiences.  From this perspective, we can better understand a person or group’s power/privilege within our society.  For example, an intersectional perspective highlights how a rich, able-bodied, heterosexual, christian, natural-born, white male citizen has the most power in our society.  A disabled, low-income, Muslim, immigrant, transgender woman of color, conversely, has very little power under the combined pressure of many systems of oppression operating in our society.

Powering Up

I had encountered bits of intersectional thinking before the election (the Guilty Feminist Podcast in particular, see my previous post), but it seemed to be everywhere post-election. Many white women were stunned that millions of other white women would vote by their class and/or race rather than by their sex/gender.  Many non-white feminists were not surprised at all and were incensed, calling “white feminists” out for their persistent ignorance when it comes to the interesectional experiences of women of color.  The resulting consciousness-raising was important, but emotions ran high and it was easy to feel defeated.  Fortunately, intersectional feminism has roots in social justice activism and points the way toward improved engagement.

We can think about oppression, but the flip side of oppression is power.  We “white feminists” often focus on our lack of power under patriarchy, and rightly so, but this focus misses the astounding power/privileged we often have under the other oppression systems.  I, for example, am a woman and an atheist, putting me at a disadvantage under the SEX and RELIGION systems operating in the US.  On the other hand, I benefit from power and privilege under the CLASS, RACE, GENDER & SEXUALITY, NATIONALITY, and DISABILITY systems.  I could choose to focus on my lack of power under the patriarchy (and this is important), but I shouldn’t lose sight of just how much power I have and how I can use it to further social justice missions.

My attempt to visualize my intersectional power.

Many feminists have absorbed this lesson post-Trump.  I was particularly moved by Deborah Frances-White’s call to action in Part 1 of the Guilty Feminist Podcast’s Emergency Post-Trump Episode.  As we prepare for the Trump presidency, where does your power lie?  How can intersectionality power up your engagement and activism in the new year?  2017 promises to be an transfomative year.  Lets be ready!

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