The Intersections of Intersectionality

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, to celebrate the first International Day of the Girl recognized by the United Nations (officially on October 11th), LREI’s feminism class orchestrated an assembly informing the school on the experiences of young girls and women around the world.  As a class, we mainly focused on education, gender-based violence, and female feticide or infanticide of girls in India as well as the theory of intersectionality.

LREI’s 2012 Feminism class after delivering our International Day of the Girl Assembly (photo credit: Laura Hahn)

The meaning of intersectionality “joins all areas of oppression and the ways in which they overlap: it is the river from which streams of oppression stem,” as described by my classmate, Cheyenne Tobias, during the assembly.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Not only do issues of gender inform each person’s definition and view of feminism but so do issues of race, class, sexual orientation, ability, origin, etc. Within these intersections “one aspect of [oneself] can[not] possibly profit from from the oppression of any other part of [one’s] identity” said black feminist Audre Lorde in her essay There Is No Hierarchy of Oppression.

Although I did not have a part in discussing and relaying information to our audience about girls in India, I did get to share excerpts from an essay I wrote about my experiences of intersectionality and how it is possible to “experience privilege and oppression simultaneously” as Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz would say in her essay “Organizing 101.”

Before divulging into the topic of intersectionality in feminism class, I had never really thought about how all the different aspects of myself could possibly influence how I was taught to be a young woman.  I also tend to avoid that I do, in fact, experience oppression, whether it is subtle or not.

I am a dark-skinned, middle-class, and well-educated Latina.  In middle school, I was part of the majority and in my high school everyone is fully accepted.  Despite the positive conditions in which I was raised, it is still blissfully ignorant to believe that I would not encounter any injustice because of who I am, how I live, and how I look.

As a Latina, I am taught to be a strong woman so that I can surpass the accomplishments of my parents and grandparents.              As a teen girl, I need to know how to cook, clean, and take care of the children, apparently not because I am a female, but because the men won’t do it anyway. As a dark-skinned person, I am subjected to eyes following me around a store to be sure I won’t steal anything.  As a dark-skinned Latina, I am exposed to Spanish media in which I rarely seem to find women of my color.  As a teenage girl in a Latino family full of women who had children early, I am repeatedly told to finish school first, not to mess up.  The expectations go on and on.

Girls in India have their own experiences with intersectionality as well.  They are not only just girls, they are slaves to the caste system, often uneducated, married early and mistreated for the fact of being female.  In a poorer caste, female infanticide is often practiced because the cost of dowry is too much for the family to pay as a girl normally doesn’t bring in a sustainable income, but a deficit to the household.

In a video created and promoted by the Girl Effect, we learned that globally, girls as young as twelve often have no choice but to sell their bodies and are likely to contract various STDs and HIV/AIDS.

Of course, as a part of the American mentality to take the responsibility of repairing government and solving controversies overseas, our first strides towards doing so would be imposing our views and values on a country that was raised on completely different views and values than our own.  All this would do is cause conflict between our country and foreign countries for butting in, and could possibly cause more violence within the country for those going against the system.

That is why it is important to understand intersectionality.  The theory of intersectionality has helped us realize that no definition of feminism is the same, let alone each girl, which in turn makes each problem different which needs a different method in solving than if we were trying to fight the same issue in our own country.  And that is where the feminism class’s partnership with the Shri Shikshayatan School comes in.  Through them, we can learn the most effective way to help them help their own country.

Learning about intersectionality also helped me to further realize that our country has not fully ended its oppression of all types of women.  Although we have come along way from when women were treated as property, American women are still subtly oppressed, which, in my opinion, is one of the worst types oppression there is.  Through American exceptionalism, our society tends to think that our way is the best way, yet many are completely avoiding the problem at hand within our own territory.  We still have a long way to go.

13 thoughts on “The Intersections of Intersectionality

  1. “Before divulging into the topic of intersectionality in Feminism class, I had never really thought about how all the different aspects of myself could possibly influence how I was taught to be a young woman. I also tend to avoid that I do, in fact, experience oppression, whether it is subtle or not.” – I feel the same way. Intersectionality and its influences was never something I thought about before this class. I also tend to avoid subtle oppression, even to the point where it seems like it doesn’t exist. The fact that it is avoided is part of the problem.

  2. This is a really great piece. I love how you have incorporated a definition that was given by another student as well as your own. I also like how you described details of your intersectionality essay, so people have a better understanding of yourself and the type of life you have. The facts about India were written well, in a way that it didn’t feel like I was just reading a list of boring facts – they were interesting and they definitely “stuck”. I liked that you also related feminism not just to developing countries, but to well established Western countries, because it just proves that female oppression is a global thing, and that change still needs to be done.

    I loved the whole lot! 🙂

  3. Great job Kaitlyn! I felt like I could relate to your thought process on letting intersectionality grow as a concept in your mind. I had a similar experience. I enjoyed reading the more personal aspects of your blog, especially when you talked about what people expect your role to be in society.

    I have one question,
    If you don’t think Americans should be involved in “fixing” governments in other countries, should we just sit back and watch these horrible things happen? what should we be doing instead?

    Again, great job~!

  4. I liked how you commented on the expectations and oppressions and levels of privilege you had and then contrasted them with the girls in India. Also you made a great point by saying that it is through intersectionality that we can look at these different problems overseas.
    Good post.

  5. I agree with your idea of intersectionality. It is a very crucial concept for feminism. I especially loved reading the sentence “No definition of feminism is the same”. Although we have a long way to go to stop all this oppression on all types of women, it is young people like you that can help stop your own oppression as a Latina woman and the oppression of others.

  6. People think that there is no need for feminism because “we have come along way from when women were treated as property” but that isn’t enough, and in some places women are still treated as property.

  7. Cute picture! “American women are still subtly oppressed, which, in my opinion, is one of the worst types oppression there is. Through American exceptionalism, our society tends to think that our way is the best way, yet many are completely avoiding the problem at hand within our own territory.” This was a great way of putting it! Like you said, America likes to try and take care of the problems of other countries, often without fixing our own issues first. I liked how you made the comparison between you and girls living in India, showing that as much as we can help others, we must also help ourselves.

  8. I thought you did a perfect summation of what intersectionality is when you write, “not only do issues of gender inform each person’s definition and view of feminism: but so do issues of race, class, sexual orientation, ability, and origin, etc.”. It clearly defines intersectionality, in a basic and easy to understand manner. Talking about intersectionality at this point provided a deeper understanding of how our main focus on issues of, education, gender based violence, female feticide, etc., are all connected to one another when looked at through an intersectional lens.

    The honesty behind your words when you write, “I had never really thought about how all the different aspects of myself could possibly influence how I was taught to be a young woman” spoke to me, primarily because I too find myself experiencing “privilege and oppression simultaneously”, but have not spent time really thinking about the ways in which I experience oppression.

    You had an excellent point when you said that “all [imposing our views and values on India] would do is cause conflict” and create ” more violence within the country for those going against the system”. Oftentimes, those who seek to “take the responsibility of repairing government and solving controversies overseas” do not think about the possible negative repercussions of interfering, or about the ways that all oppressions connect to one another, and cannot be solved so simply.

  9. I completely agree with your point that “a part of the American mentality [is] to take the responsibility of repairing government and solving controversies overseas, our first strides towards doing so would be imposing our views and values on a country that was raised on completely different views and values than our own… [and] That is why it is important to understand intersectionality. The theory of intersectionality has helped us realize that no definition of feminism is the same, let alone each girl, which in turn makes each problem different which needs a different method in solving than if we were trying to fight the same issue in our own country.” I have the same opinion; trying to make change and helping others is a beautiful thing to do, but I also believe that people that are going through a specific problem or kind of oppression are the only ones that can successfully determine how those issues can be fixed and most effective ways to apply those solutions. I also feel connected to the idea that you raised about a country (or even an individual’s) necessity to face and solve its own oppressions and problems before trying to solve other’s.

  10. I think you did a great job of incorporating your own life story and relating it to the definitions of intersectionality we have learned about. I agree with you when you are talking about the United States’ role in education in India and you write, “…it is important to understand intersectionality. The theory of intersectionality has helped us realize that no definition of feminism is the same, let alone each girl, which in turn makes each problem different which needs a different method in solving than if we were trying to fight the same issue in our own country.” You also raise good points on how the U.S shouldn’t try to force their beliefs on India because then it will just seem like we are imposing our power on them.

  11. very insightful and personal piece. I feel that in reading this piece i have learned a lot about you as well as your upbringing. I found this quote from your piece “Despite the positive conditions in which I was raised, it is still blissfully ignorant to believe that I would not encounter any injustice because of who I am, how I live, and how I look.” to be especially discerning as well as something that I think I can relate to. I think that this is important to keep in mind, not only for women or minorities, but every person as an individual.

  12. I really like the way you gave an overview of the assembly while also incorporating a personal view and opinion. I really appreciate how reflective you were : “Before divulging into the topic of intersectionality in feminism class, I had never really thought about how all the different aspects of myself could possibly influence how I was taught to be a young woman.” I think this is important because you are connecting to the assembly as well as your intersectionality essay. You brought together various lenses to create a sort of window into why international day of the girl is so important!

  13. Your final line, “Learning about intersectionality also helped me to further realize that our country has not fully ended its oppression of all types of women,” encapsulates so much of the work we have been doing in this class. With each reading, video, and documentary that we have watched, we have seen so much of the work to be done one so many fronts not only here in the US but also globally. I’m very proud of you for sharing an excerpt of your intersectionality essay during the assembly and for sharing your thoughts on it here too. It’s important to link your own experience with those of others so that you can take action. Based on your post and what you shared during the assembly, it looks like you understand the power of both storytelling and research as a means to be a change agent.

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