Intersectionality: uniting marginalised communities

June 20, 2024

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Aidan Monks discusses how coming together promotes solidarity to drive social change

Of all the ideas that Malcolm X pioneered in the 1960s, the politics of intersectionality has been one of the most influential. He understood that the fight for racial equality could not be separated from the struggles against economic and social injustice. This interconnected approach to liberation is still relevant today. We saw this recently in the online backlash against radio presenter Julia Hartley Brewer when she verbally discriminated against a Palestinian guest, accusing him of “not being used to women speaking” after he criticised her pro-Israeli stance.

The online consensus was that Brewer’s remarks were racist and wrongly weaponised the fight for gender equality by dismissing global suffering. She has been accused of ‘liberal feminism’, precisely what third-wave feminists and black feminists attack as being exclusively white, ‘Western’ and elitist.

The online left, including many self-identifying ‘feminists’, stressed that Brewer’s rhetoric failed to recognise that all liberation struggles, from Gay liberation to the Civil Rights movement to the women’s movement, are interconnected.

For instance, women’s rights are uniquely intertwined with trans liberation, extending the theories on gender by 1960s-70s feminists. The notion that gender is not solely biological dates back to Simone de Beauvoir.

The Trans-exclusionary radical feminism (TERF) movement contradicts the inclusive ideals of ‘original’ feminism, rooted in a patriarchal view of womanhood. Despite second wave feminism’s achievements, many women were marginalised.

The fusion of feminist values with gender theory, critical race theory, and anti-imperialism after the 1990s threatened liberal feminism

Angela Davis‘s book, ‘Women, Race & Class’ emphasises intersections of identities and struggles. Liberal feminists often overlooked the marginalised status of racial and religious minorities. bell hooks critiqued the ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’, emphasising universal liberation.

The fusion of feminist values with gender theory, critical race theory and anti-imperialism after the 1990s threatened liberal feminists, like Hilary Clinton, as it challenged established power structures and notions of ‘womanhood’ and ‘privilege’.

All social struggles are connected by the idea of occupation, whether it involves land, freedom, values or control over women’s bodies. Black activists in the ‘60s saw the similarities between their own experience and those of Palestinians and South Africans living under apartheid, the heritage of occupation; black feminists simply broadened the discourse to include female experience.

While the term ‘intersectionality’ (coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw) was not part of Malcom X’s vocabulary, his philosophy encompassed class, religion and colonial discourse, contributing to intersectional solidarity during the Civil Rights movement.

The Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign, in the UK, during 1980s Thatcherism boldly exposed the intertwined nature of oppression and reasserted the crucial role of class in discussions surrounding systemic mistreatment. By shining a spotlight on the marginalised, it ignited conversations on the enduring impact of class dynamics intersecting with issues of race and gender.

Feelings of  low class, low privilege and low self-esteem are certainly driving forces behind modern-day misogyny

In my previous article I talked about treating men who succumb to extremism as ‘victims’ rather than sadistic perpetrators in an effort to counteract sexism. Anti-feminism often stems from instability and insecurity, which frequently arises from poor socio-economic circumstances. Victim-blaming is typically deflective. Part of the appeal of figures like Andrew Tate or Jordan Peterson is that they emulate an image of success, particularly the luxurious lifestyle that wealth permits: Tate flaunts velvet dressing gowns and a fleet of cars, while Peterson opts for tuxedos.

Feelings of  low class, low privilege and low self-esteem are certainly driving forces behind the ‘fragile extremism’ of modern-day misogyny. Therefore, excluding class from the conversation about gender, race, sexuality or even religion, alienates a large audience that right-wing figures exploit. How can women claim oppression when people struggle to pay taxes or feed their children? Who is oppressed if not those facing such hardships?

While it may seem counterintuitive to encourage men to be ‘feminists’ (another liberal cliché), the struggle for gender equality ultimately needs to win men over by addressing their experiences of oppression. Intersectional practice is crucial for fostering collective solidarity, which history has shown is essential for social progress. Without reducing the teachings of various third-wave feminist and black writers to tools for alleviating the (generally) white male condition, the ‘use’ of intersectionality as a way of thinking and using rhetoric in unifying progressive struggle is indispensable. It may be the most effective way to promote solidarity and drive social change.

Recent campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo highlight the continued relevance and need to address intersecting forms of oppression. Champion diversity and fight for a world where everyone is treated equally.

Aidan currently studies at the University of St Andrews studying English and Philosophy. He is an avid reader, writer, and film-watcher. His favourite film is Fanny and Alexander by Ingmar Bergman, best book is Nadja by André Breton, and, as well as anything by Daft Punk, he loves Lou Reed’s album Street Hassle.

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