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.
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.