March 25, 2013

Gender oppression and intersectionality

I've been thinking more about the work we did at the OSL session last Wednesday. As a group, we were asked to respond to various images and quotes about women, gender and feminism and assemble them into a kind of collage. Lana pointed out that nearly all the images were about WHITE (and Western, and middle-class) women and feminism, and the group ultimately decided to arrange the images in a way that would acknowledge these exclusions, pointing to the wide array of people and ideas that lie outside of these dominant discourses of feminism and femininity.

What I've just been realising, now that I have sweet merciful internet access in my new house (!), is that actually there has been a lot going around the internet recently about the relationships between gender oppression and other forms of oppression, and about how mainstream feminist movements are often reluctant to acknowledge these other forms of oppression or the women who experience them.

One example of this is the shitstorm surrounding the 2012 Radfem conference and its explicit exclusion of trans women. Many radical feminists see trans women as 'men' who are extending their male privilege to invade women-only spaces - a viewpoint that is obviously abhorrent to trans people, or to anyone who is remotely aware of the bigotry, hate and violence that trans people face on a daily basis.

This ongoing confrontation over trans women and their place in feminism was recently further fueled by Julie Burchill's infamous trans-hating piece in the Observer, deleted from the site after objections were raised but still available for viewing here. The awfulest thing about this piece (aside from the nasty, nasty anti-trans language throughout) is the way Burchill engages in a 'more oppressed than thou' one-upmanship, claiming that since she comes from a working-class background she has more right to speak for feminism than others do. As she puts it, "We are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs." *Shudder*

Trans activist and all-round lovely person Ruth Pearce has written a great piece hereresponding to Burchill's article and discussing the concept of intersectionality - a really useful way of thinking about the various interrelated oppressions and how they are connected. The idea is basically this:

Intersectionality is, at its core, the idea that (aside from a very small number of individuals who are spectacularly well-off or badly-off) we are all oppressed, and all privileged. To use some examples from my own life: I am oppressed as a bisexual trans woman, and privileged to be white, abled and middle-class. It does not make sense to say that I am simply oppressed, or simply privileged.

Which is really interesting because just today someone sent me a link to this blog entry on the need for intersectionality in feminism. The author, Flavia Dzodan, has a proper rant about the need for feminists to acknowledge racism - for example, the racist aspects of rape culture, in which women of colour were and are considered 'unrapeable' because they are sub-human. She too calls very memorably and repeatedly for an intersectionalist viewpoint: "My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!"

Anyway, I just think it's interesting that the concept of intersectionality seems to be coming up a lot in public, popular internet fora as a way of understanding the relationships between various types of oppression and various markers of difference. It's a pretty new concept to me - maybe this is different for the sociology folks? Have you all come across this concept before?

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