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  • Wed, 11, Jul, 2018 - 5:00:AM

Intersectionality is not optional for feminists

Feminism is a broad concept, right? Recent efforts to make feminism mainstream (which have been relatively successful) have expanded the boundaries of the movement. Inclusivity is great. What’s not so great is when that inclusivity, and broadening of the term ‘feminist’, works to include people whose beliefs work against the core of feminism.

To make the feminist movement more inclusive, there’s a popular catch-phrase: anyone who believes in gender equality is a feminist. The idea is that you could be a feminist without even realising it, just because you believe that women deserve the same rights as men. Just think about that for a second – wait, what? People will trip over the bar if it’s set that low.

If you don’t believe in gender equality, you’re bigoted and should go live in a cave. Believing that women deserve basic rights, because they are people, does not make you a feminist. It just means that you have a sane grasp on the world and are not a misogynist. Making feminism inclusive doesn’t mean including all people who see women as human beings.

So where do the parameters of feminism lie? And who gets to define them? Gatekeeping creates problems of its own. “You can’t be a feminist if…” is a phrase that excludes a lot of people without educating them or helping them join the movement. Cutting down people with beliefs which differ from your own can alienate people from the movement.

The internet makes it possible to educate yourself about the experiences of other women and your own privileges. Falling back on old, uneducated beliefs is not a valid excuse. Instead of making a blunder, it’s easy to learn about the struggles of trans women, lower class women, and women of colour. That distinguishes modern feminism from earlier movements. Intersectionality is possible because of our access to information about a range of experiences.

Issues of race, of class, of sexuality, and of gender identity are central to modern feminism. Striving for equality for all women, however different their experiences are from your own, is key to intersectional feminism. To move forward, we must listen to and understand the experiences that are unlike our own. Without intersectionality, modern feminism is not progress.

That leads to the question: are ‘feminists’ who don’t think about their own privilege, or work to disadvantage other women, part of the movement? Excluding trans women or denying other women choice about their own bodies are common features of certain groups who describe themselves as feminist. But those beliefs are impossible to reconcile with feminism as it stands today and the importance of intersectionality. If you’re only focused on supporting women who are like you, with all your privileges and advantages, then you’re not a feminist.

At its core, what is feminism? It’s not specific to individuals. It can’t be. It supports women in all positions, from every class. Practicing a form of feminism that supports you and people like you, but no-one else, means that you’re not a feminist. Being a feminist means recognising your privileges and your place in the movement. Intersectionality is not an optional, ‘nice-to-have’; intersectionality is modern feminism. 

TAGGED IN

  • Feminism /
  • Intersectionality /
  • Acceptance /
  • Activism /
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Erin
Gourley

Regular Contributor All Articles