by Kateland McKenna
Intersectional feminism. Is it a legitimate mentality within the feminist movement or a buzzword serving as performative activism? For those who may not know, the term intersectionality was coined in the 1980s by lawyer and civil rights activist Kimberle Crenshaw. She described the concept as, “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality operate together and exacerbate each other”. An intersectional approach to feminism recognizes the ways in which people’s social identities can overlap, creating compounding experiences of discrimination which in turn can help us to better understand the depths of the inequalities faced and the relationships among them in any given context (i.e. race, gender, class, sexuality, immigrant status. etc).
When applied to feminism, intersectionality recognizes that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all feminism. A white woman’s experience is not the same as a black woman’s experience which is not the same as a hispanic woman’s experience and so on. A disabled woman’s experience is not the same as an able-bodied woman’s experience. A queer woman’s experience is not the same as a heterosexual woman’s experience. Then, consider the experience of a queer woman of color or a lower class, disabled individual as examples. Such overlapping can be seen through all forms of identity or classification within the human experience.
So, what truly makes this type of feminism legitimate? How do we know that it is the way forward and here to stay? Even with academic research and expert analysis there can remain pure speculation. The truth is, there is no way to know for sure if the concept of intersectionality will remain a part of the feminist movement or be lost in the current wave. For me, the concept of intersectionality feels the most genuine and thoughtful of the feminist approaches I have known. I could deal in facts or statistics to point out how intersectionality is the best combatant to the issues concerning women but, as with most aspects of the human experience, I believe personal connection is more significant and also easier to digest. Would you rather read a bunch of numbers or hear about the positive, bonding experiences I’ve had with other people that have helped me to learn and grow as a person?
The Bitter Woman identifies itself as an intersectional feminist website and that is mainly because it was born out of an intersectional bond between two individuals - founder/CEO Atalie Oliva and myself. Atalie and I met six years ago while working a job in retail. With roughly 180 employees in the store, Atalie and I scarcely interacted during my first months there so it came as a surprise to me when one day she started talking to me. She was friendly and welcoming in a way that I have since learned make Atalie a person who is able to bring people together for a positive purpose. A leader. It was instantly into our friendship that it became clear the bond we shared was due to our feminism. In fact, that is the reason Atalie approached me in the first place. Apparently, I was talking openly about feminism in the break room at our job (to the surprise of no one who knows me) and she heard in what I had to say something she connected with.
Over the past six years, Atalie and I have had an innumerable amount of conversations about feminism. We do not always agree or share the same perspective. We can push one another’s buttons. But we have always treated and spoken to one another with respect and support. If we challenge one another it is because we want the other to develop a better understanding and possibly consider a point of view that we haven’t before. My friendship with Atalie has enriched my life more than I could probably ever fully articulate. I believe that this is because our friendship is representative of intersectionality.
Atalie’s background and my background are far more different than similar. Atalie was born and raised in southeast Los Angeles to Guatemalan and Salvadorean families. The neighborhood she grew up in had a majority Latino population. I grew up in a caucasian family in the rural piedmont of North Carolina where there was more tobacco than people. Atalie grew up eating tortillas, frijoles, and queso fresco and I grew up eating pork roast and sweet potatoes.Atalie grew up mostly inside, taking on adult responsibilities like caring for her younger sisters. Reading was her escape. I grew up exploring the woods, swimming in ponds, and playing on a soccer team. Little time was spent inside my house to notice the instability. I was shielded.
Despite our differences, Atalie and I have formed a partnership and support system that has seen us through trying times and will continue to see us into the future. We do not have to always agree or understand one another to know that we have one another’s back. We know that when we seek truth the other will be there to provide what we need to hear. We approach one another first and foremost with belief and positivity, not doubt and antagonism. We are a partnership and because of this we are stronger.
It is partly because of my relationship with Atalie, and it's intersectionality, that I have a positive view of the concept of intersectional feminism. If two individuals from two different cultural, racial, and experiential backgrounds can find common ground based on our hopes for the equality of all women, then I believe an intersectional approach is the most thoughtful and genuine form of feminism in the present moment. Sometimes larger concepts are more difficult to understand when explained through jargon and words meant to try and impress. Often it is easiest to understand the intricacies of life when you apply them to your own personal experiences as I have done in this case through a meaningful friendship. I hope that by sharing this perspective you will feel you have gained a better understanding of intersectionality and can find a way to incorporate it into the relationships in your life.