Intersectional feminism is not a new concept, but it currently changing the way people approach women’s equality in today’s society. The term “intersectionality” came into fruition in 1989 by Kimberle´Crenshaw as a way to explain just how intertwined race, gender, culture, and other societal factors are when it comes to systemic issues. While the rising popularity and inclusivity of intersectional feminism is a major step forward, this idea of diversifying feminism should cause us to pose the question; why does a movement created with the goal to improve equality need diversifying anyway? In order to understand the need for diversity in feminism, you have to first understand what being a feminist looks like for women of color.
As a black woman in today’s society, there have definitely been times where I have been weary of modern feminism. Take a look at the media today; feminists on tv are portrayed as young, educated, white women. Inspiring feminists who are people of color are rarely highlighted among those impacting the movement. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying our modern society is blatantly whitewashing the movement as a whole, the sad truth, however, is that feminism historically focuses on the issues of white, middle-class women. This historic president has inherently affected the role women of color play in the movement today.
To understand this concept, let’s look at an example; the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The movement, which began in the late 1840’s, lasted for decades and the end result was the 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote. Many influential women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone, were all at the forefront of this movement. They were also all white, middle class, American women who, given the time period, could in no way understand the difficulties and tribulations women of color were faced with during that time. Many women of this nature felt insulted by the very fact that black men were given the right to vote before they were. Once the 19th Amendment was passed, white women were granted access to the political freedom they so fiercely sought after, and women of color were actively barred from exercising this right through voter fraud and other suppressive tactics.
In today’s society, feminism does not imitate that of the 19th century, but is inherently built on those principles. Just as the women of the early suffrage movement had difficulties accepting black male voting rights, modern white feminists sometimes suffer from realizing the intersectionality of race and gender as it pertains to equality. This blockade comes from a lack of experience and a place of privilege, resulting in misunderstandings and preconceived notions. In simpler terms, feminism is a constant challenge for women of color, because of the lack of empathy from white feminist who only see gender as the issue.
Let’s use a hypothetical example. A black women in a predominately white, predominately male workplace may have to navigate the everyday challenges of both sexism and racism in the workforce. A white women working in the same space will be able to relate to the sexists environment of her African American counterpart, but she lacks the experiences of being discriminated against of the basis of race. Modern feminism tends to serve the gender inequities of this workplace issue without taking in account the racial injustices. This inherent form of ignorance suppresses women of color in this movement.
It is important to note that all modern feminism does not look this way. There have been major strides to make the movement more inclusive and more diverse. Be we must also understand that years of suppression of women of color have left us two steps behind and society has a lot more work to do in order for us to catch up.
Nadia Pressley is a 20-year-old student at Mercer University. She is majoring in Journalism and Global Development Studies. Nadia enjoys photography, traveling, and live music. She hopes to work in digital media after graduation.