Understanding Intersectionality

by Abi Risser 8 months ago in controversies

A Multiplicative View

Understanding Intersectionality

It isn't uncommon to hear people compare the discrimination that they face in an additive manner. For example, if you compare someone who's part of two minority/"othered" groups against someone who is part of four, my additive standards it could be argued that the person who identifies with the four groups faces more discrimination than the other, therefore the person with only two labels is "more privileged". I've seen charts on various social media platforms with titles along these lines for people to find out how much discrimination they face.

Don't get me wrong, I think it is very important to understand your privileges. I acknowledge that I do benefit from white, cisgender, able-bodied, and educational privilege. Sometimes people need to be made more aware of that. But in terms of understanding discrimination, intersectionality creates a better understanding of how it works and how it's impacted our society.

According to An Introduction to Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, by Heston, et al., intersectionality is defined as "a mode of analysis integral to women, gender, sexuality studies. Within intersectional frameworks, race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and other aspects of identity are considered mutually constitutive; that is, people experience these multiple aspects of identity simultaneously and the meanings of different aspects of identity are shaped by one another" (38). What this means is that gender and race go hand in hand in how a person is interpreted by society; a person's race impacts their gender experiences. The text also explains that in addition to race, other characteristics such as class, age, and sexuality also can have a great influence on how your gender is perceived.

Basically, 'experience' is key in understanding sectionality.

A good example of this comes from early feminist movements. First Wave feminism was a very white-woman movement. A lot of feminists left out black women when they were fighting for equal gender rights. In leaving out women of color, the experiences they face are also left out. How white women are viewed by our society is very different from how women of color are viewed and treated despite both being impacted by sexism.

Similarly, masculine presenting queer women also have different gender experiences than feminine presenting women. In my Women and Gender Studies course, we looked at data taken from women working in the tech industry. Despite all being women, masculine presenting women were treated with more respect and given more opportunities to advance in their career than feminine presenting women, who were talked over, catcalled, and/or stuck in more secretary/customer service jobs despite having the same qualifications as their masculine presenting counterparts.

"Unfortunately, if the analysis of social problems stops at gender, what is missed is an attention to how various cultural contexts shaped by race, religion, and access to resources may actually place some women’s needs at cross-purposes to other women’s needs. Therefore, this approach obscures the fact that women in different social and geographic locations face different problems" (Heston, et al., 39).

While there have been a significant amount of advances in our society as far as equality, there's also still a long way to go. Looking at our world with a critical, intersectional lens will help in understanding what obstacles are still being faced by various social groups, especially if you yourself don't feel as though you're being discriminated against. Everyone's experiences are unique due to the multiple characteristics that make up a person's identity.

Without understanding intersectionality, understanding how discrimination works in our present can be difficult. Sure, men as a whole typically do not face discrimination. But with the concept of intersectionality in mind, we must ask ourselves a few questions: How do the experiences of a white man differ from that of a black man? Am upper class man from a lower class man? An able bodied man from a man who is disabled? A straight man from a gay man? And so on.

Abi Risser
Abi Risser
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Abi Risser

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