Something odd has happened, however. The term “intersectionality” has begun appearing in common usage. Previously confined to academic analyses of social configurations, it now takes over the discussion of gender equality in more practical circles.
The way this happened shows us a lot about resistance in the power centers of our culture to equal rights for women. It also shows us a deep weakness of the Left in American politics, a weakness with important effects on every forthcoming election.
Intersectional feminism, boiled down, says that you can’t have gender justice without racial and economic justice, too. Ordinary feminism is too white, too privileged. White women are marginalized, yes, but a non-white woman is more marginalized on account of race, ethnicity and class—separately or together—on top of gender.
Watch out for that word class whenever you hear it. Americans have an uneasy relationship with the concept. We’ve been denying it as un-American for generations. “I’m as good as you, maybe better.” That belief fuels reality TV, and spills over into the political arena as we are manipulated to hate “elites.”
We used to desire to “rise” in social terms. We wanted our children to “better themselves.” Now, perhaps believing that rising very far is nearly impossible, we appear to deny the value of anything worth striving toward.
I hope that won't become the effect of intersectionality on women’s rights.
When you couple racial, social and economic justice with gender equality you pretty much guarantee that none of it will result. The proponents will spend their passion, energy and industry on the ideal as they see it, while the power structure rocks on, unaffected. Barring violent upheaval, it is hard to see how that can change.
The oppression of women predates issues of race and class, as we define them. In many ways, it is the Original Sin. How can a man be expected to take his rib seriously unless, by breaking it, he feels pain?
And yet, where justice is concerned, we are closer to achieving it in the area of women’s rights than in either of the other areas of concern to intersectionalists.
I’ve never met a white feminist who didn’t desire equality for non-white women. I’ve never met a white feminist who wanted to see non-white women oppressed. We ride in the same boat.
And when we allow concepts such as intersectionality to fragment our determination, we enable our failure. When we allow or force our gains, as a subset of women, to come at the cost of other women, we guarantee failure for all of us.