What Intersectional Feminism means to me

[Content Note: transphobia, racism, sexism, economic disparity)

So on my first post, I was asked to define “intersectional feminism”. The definition of the term “intersectionality” is: “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” What that means, basically, is that what social category a person has does not exist in a vacuum. For instance, I am a white, female, cisgender, fat person. While I have privilege in the forms of being white (race) and cisgender (the opposite of transgender), I am marginalized in the forms of being female (gender identity) and fat (body type). Intersectionality is how those various social categories interact with each other, and how that affects my life and the lives of others.

So what does that have to do with feminism? Feminism is a historical movement that advocates for the equality of women. But the main tenets of historical feminism focus primarily on white, straight, cisgender, economically privileged women. Intersectional feminism is the idea that feminism shouldn’t be restricted by any other social category. The needs and focuses of black women are different than the needs and focuses of white women, just as the needs and focuses of economically disadvantaged women are different than the needs and focuses of economically privileged women, and the needs and focuses of trans* women are different than the needs and focuses of cis women. There are feminists who believe that no trans* woman belongs in a space marked as being for women (they are known as TERFs, or Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists). There are white feminists who downplay or ignore the needs of women of color. There are economically privileged feminists who ignore the needs of economically disadvantaged women.

Intersectionality aims to simultaneously embrace and highlight these differences. I have cisgender privilege, but I acknowledge trans* women as women, because I respect their autonomy, and I recognize that their needs are not the same as my needs. I also expect women who have thin privilege (i.e. women whose bodies conform to the socially accepted ideal) to listen and acknowledge me when I point out problems that I have related to having a fat body and the fat hatred and body shaming I deal with as a result of that. Intersectional feminism means that I believe every woman has a right to be equal, and that every woman has different needs based on her own social categories. As an intersectional feminist, it is my job to validate all women in their lived experiences, advocate for them when they need me to, and push back against anyone who says otherwise.

One of the most important aspects of social justice, to me, is to be patient. No one expects anyone to get it right all the time. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes over the years since I first became involved in the social justice community. I’m a very sensitive person, and it took me a while to learn that someone calling me on my mistakes wasn’t a personal attack. And if you’re really serious about being intersectional, do your research. Chances are, if you see someone using a term or expressing an identity you’re not familiar with, there’s already some information out there about that term or identity. The only wrong way is to not even try.

Some further reading, for anyone who’s interested:

Carrying Feminism (comic)

Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (article with pictures)

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