Finding My Definition of Feminism Through Intersectionality

Members of my feminism class and I delivered our International Day of the Girl assembly by focusing on intersectionality (photo credit: Laura Hahn).

The International Day of the Girl assembly was a way to educate our peers and teachers, as well as learn more about our selves. My role in the assembly was to introduce the program with a small speech and read a passage from my intersectionality paper.

This assembly marked a beginning for me, for it was the first time I spoke to a crowd about feminism and my beliefs on the matter.  It was a safe environment to take a step forward and I felt as though my words, whether or not powerful to the crowd, were very meaningful to me. They reflected the time and effort I put into finding a voice within me.

The idea of “white privilege” that Peggy McIntosh spoke about in her piece “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” opened my eyes.  It made me think about my role in being a white woman, emphasis on being white, and how my life has been affected by my race. It was not only crucial for me to realize this, but it was a turning point in how I approach feminism as a whole. I understand better the differences between women’s experiences. By having this additional perspective, I can broaden my lens and be open to and relate to more people.

I feel like the International Day of the Girl assembly was a way for our class to collaborate and recognize each other’s strengths. When listening to my classmates speak, whether reading from our intersectionality essays or providing information on girls education globally, it was clear that we are all driven feminists.

It was not only inspiring to see our class work together, but it was great to see the support we received from our peers and teachers. It was motivating to be a part of our small community of fierce and fabulous feminists, but it was also inspiring to feel like a part of the larger community celebrating International Day of the Girl around the world.

I take pride in being a part of a worldwide celebration.  I feel as though I can now officially call myself a feminist and feel I understand what it means. To become a feminist is to become part of a community that spreads across the entire world.

At the beginning of the course, our teacher Ileana Jimenez asked all of us to define feminism.  At the time, I felt as though I knew the answer, but in reality the definition of feminism is based on one’s own interpretation. Barbara Smith would define feminism as “a struggle to end sexist oppression,” and this “struggle” uniting those people fighting to end the marginalization and oppression of women is the heart of feminism.  While I completely agree with Barbara Smith, I would now add a level of intersectionality to the definition. I would go so far as to say that feminism is a struggle to end oppression.

Feminists are not confined to women nor any specific type of person, as feminists are a community ready to fight for what they believe in and women’s rights are an integral part of the workings of a societal whole. It’s about acknowledging how everything intertwines as we strive to achieve the most from that blend that will allow feminists to succeed. In my original definition I stated, “My grandmother, my father, my mother, and just about everyone around me have been involved in the feminist movement in some way.” But feminism intersects with much more than just the concept of women’s rights.

Through learning about intersectionality I have also found my own personal voice. I have discovered what it means to be white in today’s society. In my intersectionality personal essay I stated,

“I cannot speak authentically for those women whose backgrounds and experiences are outside of my own, but I can speak out and demand that their voices are heard.  For no one can completely recognize his or her own biases and prejudices, nor can they feel what another is going through.  Only by collaborating to bring all these perspectives to light can we strive to genuinely respect each other and make ethical decisions.”

I shared my story about how I live at the intersections of race, class, and gender during our International Day of the Girl assembly (photo credit: Kate Peck)

I don’t think I could have come to this conclusion if it had not been for being pushed to talk about my ethnic and racial background. I think in realizing that I can only speak for what I can truly understand, I grew as a feminist.

I think that part of being a good feminist is helping all feminists be heard; furthering the dialogue so all opinions can be voiced. The only way to effect real change is to be the strongest group we can possibly be, and that comes with self-awareness and acknowledgment.  Together, thousands of voices can be heard.

19 thoughts on “Finding My Definition of Feminism Through Intersectionality

  1. I think you’re on the right track. I wish I had such a great education at such a young age about these things. Great post 😀

  2. I love your definition of feminism as a fight against all types of oppression, instead of the commonly believed “men suck, women rule” mantra.

    “Feminists are not confined to women nor any specific type of person, as feminists are a community ready to fight for what they believe in and women’s rights are an integral part of the workings of a societal whole. ”

    I also related to your theme of togetherness. I whole-heartedly agree that we have to move as a unit in order to get where we need to go.

    But I have one question: Do you believe that there is oppression within the feminist world?

    1. Well as you so eloquently asked, “do you believe that there is oppression within the feminist world?”

      I think there is a level of oppression everywhere, whether subconsciously or consciously. In today’s society, unfortunately, we are almost entirely run by male authority. It goes so far that women’s rights is in the hands of the government, which is predominately male. So by having male figures lead the women’s rights movement in the government there is a sense of oppression. Although it’s FABULOUS to have men fighting for women’s rights, I do believe that women should be able to, collaboratively, make there own rights.

      On the other hand, just within the feminism community, outside of the government, I’m sure there is oppression. As Mandy talked about her experience of being a white women in India, it highlighted the idea that coming in to another culture and thinking that you know whats best for the country is a type of oppression.

      So yes, even within the feminist world there is oppression, its sad but unfortunately true.

  3. Like Nathaniel, I like how you tackled this common perception of what feminism means, as well as what you thought feminism was and how the idea of intersectionality changed your ideals. I think for most of us in the class, before intersectionality, had a misconstrued idea of what feminism was or just an unclear definition of feminism. I am interested in your answer to Nathaniel’s question.

  4. I really appreciate what you did, using your very different perspective as a way to “broaden your lens.” I agree, when you say that it is just as important to talk about privilege as it is to talk about oppression because one does not exist without the other.
    “The idea of “white privilege” that Peggy McIntosh spoke about in her piece “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,”” seemed to be the core of you intersectionality essay, and your blogpost and I think that it is a large part of understanding the ethnic and racial parts of feminism. I’ve come to find that the most uncomfortable solution now is only more uncomfortable later, which is why I like that your post reminds me of Audre Lorde’s call to speech. I think that it is important to do precisely what you are doing and open up another chapter in the book of feminism.

  5. Fantastic post! I think it’s great how excited you are about talking, learning and teaching ideas of feminism to others. I appreciated and understood when you talked about how your opinions have changed, and how you have grown and “found your personal voice” through this class. “It made me think about my role in being a white woman, emphasis on being white, and how my life has been affected by my race.” I went into this in the section of my essay that I read during the assembly, and I loved that you are having similar thoughts and feelings towards both race and gender that I have had.

  6. I valued and respected the fact that you went further then just giving your own definition of intersectionality but you actually said “Feminists are not confined to women nor any specific type of person, as feminists are a community ready to fight for what they believe in and women’s rights are an integral part of the workings of a societal whole”. I agree with your point that Feminism is so “much more than just the concept of women’s rights” and intersectionality is the confirmation of exactly that. It is the verification that within feminism you can’t just try to solve one issue alone without taking in consideration all other systems of oppression. “Feminism is a struggle to end oppression.” All kinds of oppression, because you can’t solve one without looking at another, and this is the whole idea of intersectionality. The only thing I do not completely agree with is “I think that part of being a good feminist is helping all feminists be heard; furthering the dialogue so all opinions can be voiced.” Don’t you think all women should he heard, even the ones that maybe do not indentify with the term feminist? Which could be for lack of knowledge of the term’s real meaning.

  7. I understand that being white, and being from a white background – you don’t really think you have the struggles or face the oppression that other races have, however in this course it’s not the case. People still face oppression, even if they are “white”. The section of your blog about your personal piece was very inspiring. It’s extremely powerful and seems like it had been written by someone far older than you are, but it only goes to show that you can’t base feminism or people’s views on someone’s age. I agree that it was nice and safe to speak out to the school, because you felt like you could share what you had to say and not be judged. You have certainly made me think and appreciate the opportunities we have had offered to us.

    1. When you said that, ” people still face oppression, even if they are “white”, it struck a nerve. I think that white people do face oppression in the general sense but not nearly to the extent that other races do. A part of being white is having these privileges given to you. It’s necessary for white people to acknowledge these privileges to end oppression. We have to not only except it but come to terms with the overwhelming truth that we live in a society where there is a hierarchy and this hierarchy puts white people at the top. It is our responsibility, coming from the top, to change the dynamic and allow for the world around us to realize the importance of true equality.

      1. But, as Audrey Lorde said, “there is no hierarchy of oppressions”. Yes, there are many white people who do face oppression, but just because the oppression that these white people face is different than the oppressions that different racial groups face doesn’t mean that what they experience isn’t “nearly to the extent that other races do”. It’s all relative really. For instance, a white woman and a Latino woman may feel equally subjugated within society, even if the form that their oppressions take is vastly different.

        Also, allow me to note that I do not disagree with you when you write, “a part of being white is having these privileges given to you. It’s necessary for white people to acknowledge these privileges to end oppression”. I completely agree with this statement. Understanding and accepting white privilege is vital if one hopes to understand the systems of oppression that have developed in both America and the world. However, I don’t think it’s fair to say that because white people are given certain privileges, they don’t face oppression that is to the degree of oppressiveness that members of other racial groups face.

  8. I thought that your intersectionality piece was very informative and personal. It gave a different perspective of “whiteness” and what it means to be white, which is something that most people never think about. I wrote about white privilege in my intersectionality essay as well, except your background, being from Dallas, took a really interesting angle in analyzing white privilege. I also liked how you said feminism should be something much broader and isn’t confined to certain racial and ethnic groups. I think a lot of people have to be “pushed” like you were in order to come to terms with who they are and have the ability to truly write about themselves in an honest way.

    1. Well first off thank you, and secondly I have a question.
      I’m curious on how white privilege impacts a white mans life verses a white women’s. Do you think that because your a white man you live a privileged life? does it personally effect your views and perspectives on life? do you think that the privileges are something to embrace or something to fight to remove?

      Something to think about.

  9. I agree with your paragraph about white privilege and Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. I have always known and learned about white privilege, but this article really propelled my knowledge. It too made me realize and think more deeply about how my life has been affected by race.

  10. I appreciate the honest and very personal writing! Being a feminist is something that is very important to you just as it is important to your family. To be honest, I think that it’s very hard to define feminism even though we have a sense of what it is already. Just like you, I thought I had an idea of what feminism meant; to end women oppression and to have equality for all genders. But I did have a sense of feeling that it wasn’t entirely the definition; I was missing a lot more. People can spend hours explaining the definition of feminism. But what I believe is that the definition of feminism cannot be defined in one sentence because so much will be left out. Feminism includes everyone’s voice, which is where intersectionality comes in. I’m glad you chose the quote that you wrote in your intersectionality essay for this piece because it was personally one of my favorites. This is what intersectionality is all about. I will never fully understand in my lifetime the oppressions you face as a white woman just as you will probably never understand the oppressions I face as a Latino male. It would be impossible to trade our shoes. But what we can do instead is bring together all our voices and create the feminist community. Together, we can define feminism and carry out its purpose. Nice work!

  11. I love that you specified feminism as equality for all genders, not men being the oppressors or women being particularly better than men either. I love how you also mentioned that you thought you knew the definition of Feminism when you had first entered the class, but now, you realize that it is based on one’s interpretation.
    Your post, as well as your essay, has also made me further realize that within the institution of white privilege, there is still oppression. This might not be as explicit, but it is still there. Many people I know tend to avoid the topic, but I enjoyed the way you divulged into it.
    Great insightful blog post Josey! Keep up the great work!

  12. Your description of feeling “as though [your] words…reflected the time and effort [you] put into finding a voice within [you]” embodies what I also felt during our assembly. By sharing the facts about an issue that not only relates to us, but also deeply matters to us, I felt that we were doing a truly beautiful thing by spreading knowledge to our peers. It was especially important to me because I often find myself opting to be silent rather than speak about an issue. The IDG assembly gave me the courage to confidently share what I know about an issue that matters to me.

    I also have come to the conclusion that “feminism is based on one’s own interpretation”. It is easy to immediately attempt to create a general definition of feminism. However, as you said, “no one can completely recognize his or her own biases and prejudices, nor can they feel what another is going through”. Because everyone is vastly different, attempting to constrict the word “feminist” or “feminism” into a simplified sentence would be either impossible, or would fail to represent everyone.

  13. When you spoke at our assembly, I was so thrilled and surprised at how engaged and connected you were to your writing and what you were saying. It was absolutely amazing! The amount of emotion you put into it made it clear that these issues are incredibly important to you and as a listener, I thought that if this mattered that much to you, then I should listen and care as well. You talked about “white privilege” and how it impacted you and it is great to read that you started to look within yourself and your role as a white woman. This discovery was another stepping stone on how you viewed feminism and what your role in the feminist movement is. I also love that you talk about how you thought you knew what feminism is before you took this feminist course, but then learned that the “definition of feminism is based on one’s own interpretation.” It is clear that you have defined feminism based of your interpretation and you are once again ready to go out and fight and have your voice heard. I also absolutely love the pride that you have in being a feminist and a part of this world wide movement and a world wide celebration of International Day of the Girl. “Together, thousands of voices can be heard.”

  14. This is an excellent post. One of the most critical lines occurs when you reflect on your experience reading Peggy McIntosh’s white privilege essay: “It made me think about my role in being a white woman, emphasis on being white, and how my life has been affected by my race. It was not only crucial for me to realize this, but it was a turning point in how I approach feminism as a whole.” I think reading this piece as well as leading the assembly with your peers was a major turning point in your development as a feminist thinker and activist. It has led you to make connections between the issue you are most passionate about—reproductive rights and justice—to other issues that various feminist circles are also concerned about as well as to your own experience along lines of race, class, and gender. I’m very excited about where this course will take you and am certainly excited about your upcoming posts as well!

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