My Feminism May Be Bullshit, But I No Longer Identify As Intersectional

13 February 2014
"My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit".

I first came across this sentiment at a feminist conference a few years ago. I confess the concept of intersectionality was new to me, so I looked into it, and of course it made sense; recognising that forms of oppression - racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism and so on - are interconnected and cannot be separated. Feminists need to consider the effects of race and class in their discussions. Sounds good. I firmly embraced the concept, slapped respect on it, and brandished it when I sent my feminism out into the world.

 In the last few weeks, I've been rethinking that position.

A Twitter hashtag, #reclaimingintersectionality, started trending. I didn't pay it much mind as I've long learned not to get into feminist arguments on Twitter - 140 characters doesn't leave much room for nuance - but I soon noticed tweets by women of colour in my twitter feed debating the issue, pointing out the term intersectionality was coined by a black woman, and had no business being appropriated by white women. That's fine, but where I took issue was the expressed sentiment by one or two people that white women are privileged, period; they have no place in feminism as they don't understand oppression. Well, everyone is entitled to their views and it's not my place to argue. I wouldn't care, but today I saw those same people in my Twitter feed, expressing their outrage at several recent cases of men killing their children to get revenge on their ex-partners, and horror following the sentencing of Simon Gittany for throwing his fiancee Lisa Harum off a balcony. Solidarity had returned, it seemed; feminists need to unite to overcome violence against women, and their kids.

Look, there are many many ways to be a feminist. To be a feminist, you need to acknowledge some shared concept that due to millenia of patriarchy and laws, women are in a less privileged position than men. All women. If you don't think that includes able bodied, cis-gendered white women, why call yourself a feminist at all? Focus on the fight for social justice as it affects your disenfranchised group, not as it applies to all women. White women are in a position of privilege, compared to women of colour. Does that privilege extend to being able to fix all the problems but refusing to as we can't recognise that privilege? No, hardly. And no one is privileged when they're being beaten by a partner or trying to shield their children. Some women may have more ready access to funds that will allow them to leave, women's refuges and support services may fail to offer adequate support to women of colour, disabled women, homosexual women, there may be poor support in rural and remote areas - and all that needs to be examined. All that requires an intersectional response.

But we need to work on stopping the violence in the first place. Some issues are simply universal. If we are to have a feminism that means anything, we need to acknowledge there are issues that affect us all.

"Mainstream" feminism is often criticised for focusing on the nuances, on issues that affect privileged women only. But it seems absurd to argue that feminism is alienating to women because of it's focus on issues that only affect a handful of women, such as unequal representation at senior management level - then to focus on issues that only affect a handful of women, such as whether preoperative M2F transsexuals should be held in male or female jails. Yes the former group is privileged and the latter isn't, but neither issue is exactly focused on making a difference in the everyday lives of women. It seems a feminist conference can't take place without being roundly criticised for failing to devote sufficient time to one special needs group or another - until the umbrella concept of "feminism" is so dissolved as to be meaningless. Well, we need to focus on the universal. Women and their kids are dying whilst we debate whether all cis-gendered panels are discriminatory.

What are these universal feminist issues? Well I'd say, at a national level, stopping violence against women, access to quality reproductive health and the information to make informed choices about our health, and addressing inequalities in income and the superannuation system (and no, this isn't just a matter of privilege...the end point of this disparity is that women find themselves in poverty at a far higher rate than men).

So I no longer identify as an intersectional feminist. Women of colour don't need me to speak up for them on their issues - they're quite able to do that themselves without well meaning whiteys speaking for them. I still have an awareness of the importance of intersectionality - but I'm not going to follow these debates any more. I'm going to focus on the areas I identified where I hope I can help. My feminism will be useful, even if it is bullshit.


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