TRIGGER WARNING: MENTIONS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
Feminism has become a polarizing and confusing word for those unfamiliar with it or those who have a false idea of what it really is. I’ve found that whenever I begin to discuss Feminism with individuals who support the patriarchy, their biggest fear is being treated the way women, especially women of color and trans and queer women, are today. I have lost track of the number of times that I have heard the following statement; “Feminism… isn’t that when women are superior to women? Why would I want that? Women are so good nowadays. They can work, make their own money, and live on their own. This new-aged Feminism is just stupid. What’s wrong with the way things are today?”
Those conversations are always rich with irony. You can see precisely the fear that some men have towards being treated the same way women are. The constant fear and anxiety about being attacked, assaulted, abused, cat-called, raped, and many other forms of sex-based violence, is routine among women.
If things are “fine” the way they are, you must believe that the patriarchy is fine too. You must affirm the patriarchy, the system that upholds predominantly male power, which excludes women. The problem with the modern-day analysis of Feminism is that it is mainly surface-level, refusing to acknowledge the deep roots of the patriarchy in women’s everyday lives. Working does not guarantee workplace equity or erase the stigma associated with women, especially women with children working. Nor does the ability for women to make an income abolish all barriers for women in society.
However, upon discussing the patriarchy and women’s lived experiences, it is fundamental to understand that there is no universal experience of womanhood. The patriarchy works in tandem with other systems of oppression and oppressive ideologies, like white supremacy, which contribute to varying experiences for women. A significant critique of second-wave Feminism is that it presented womanhood as a consistent experience for every woman. Factors like race, sex, class, gender identity, gender expression, ethnicity, religion alter a woman’s perception of what it means to be a woman.
Audre Lourde, a notable American thinker, feminist, who describes herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” has written extensively on the dimensions of being a woman. She famously said, “The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knows only the oppressors’ tactics, the oppressors’ relationships.” Lourde demonstrates that some women face more oppression than other women, but it comes down to how each person has privilege and disadvantage assigned to them for reasons they cannot change. Essentially, it deals with how different factors intersect to create other lived realities for women.
Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality in 1989, one of many astounding accomplishments she has under her name as a lawyer and professor. She holds a bachelor’s in Africana Studies from Cornell University and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law, and a legacy of more than thirty years of studying and fighting for civil rights and against racism. To summarize, she analyzed a case called DeGraffenreid v. General Motors, which details how General Motors fired five black women; due to a policy that targeted black women and intentionally laying them off. The judge ruled against them because combining the claims that they were discriminated against not purely because they were black or purely because they were women would be too difficult. Basically, the judge refused to acknowledge the different statuses of being a black woman, hence being discriminated against based on race AND sex.
Crenshaw discusses how “Intersectionality was a prism to bring to light dynamics within discrimination law that weren’t being appreciated by the courts, the courts seem to think that race discrimination was what happened to all black people across gender and sex discrimination was what happened to all women, and if that is your framework, of course, what happens to black women and other women of color is going to be difficult to see.”
This case inspired Crenshaw to create the Theory of Intersectionality in the late 1980s, which would go mainstream during the Women’s March in the mid-2010s. During a recent Ted Talk, she described that “I would go on to learn that African-American women, like other women of color, like other socially marginalized people all over the world, were facing all kinds of dilemmas and challenges as a consequence of intersectionality, intersections of race and gender, of heterosexism, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, all of these social dynamics come together and create challenges that are sometimes quite unique.”