From a young age I was introduced to the term feminism both at home and in school. As a young, white, cisgender, heterosexual boy growing up in a predominantly wealthy, white community in New York City, from my perspective, feminism seemed to portray white women as the only people who needed to address issues such as equal pay. The ways in which I was introduced to feminism was limited to the experiences of white women and did not focus on larger systemic injustices experienced by women of color as well.
When I was in tenth grade, my older sister took Ileana Jiménez’s intersectional feminism class when she was a senior. One night after school, she came into my room while I was doing homework and told me that I HAD to take this class. At first I resisted the idea, as I felt that I understood what feminism was and didn’t see the point in taking the class, and I also didn’t want to be the only guy in the class, even though I learned later that guys do take the class.
At the start of my junior year, which also happened to be during pandemic in September 2020, I took Ileana’s memoir writing class and it helped me to reflect on and look into who I am and how I move throughout the world. This shift allowed me to learn how to understand other people’s experiences.
As eleventh grade progressed, I talked to some of my friends who had taken the class previously as well as to my sister about what the feminism course was really about. They said that the class focused on understanding intersectional feminism and learning the deeper theories in relation to feminism beyond just “equality.” Knowing how much I enjoyed taking my memoir writing and Toni Morrison’s Beloved classes led by Ileana, I eventually decided that I would just take the feminism class and hopefully enjoy it, while also learn some new stuff.
Within our first two classes held in September 2021, I came to realize that I did not, in fact, have as good of an understanding of what feminism really is as I had thought. One of the moments when I first realized this was when we read essays by Audre Lorde in Sister Outsider. In these essays, Lorde talks about the difficulty of being a queer, Black, feminist writer and activist and her struggle to find a space that was willing to discuss how Black women’s experiences were a combination of both misogyny and racism in ways that white feminists were unable to relate to.
Lorde writes: “If white american feminist theory need not deal with the differences between us, and the resulting difference in our oppressions, then how do you deal with the fact that the women who clean your houses and tend your children while you attend conferences on feminist theory are, for the most part, poor women and women of color?”
Reading Audre Lorde was my first real introduction to intersectional feminism. I had heard the term used in school assemblies led by previous students in the feminism class as well as in discussions of feminism both in my community and in popular culture, but had never had a clear understanding of it. In her essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Lorde clearly explains why race and gender matter, and in particular why we must pay attention to the fact that Black women experience racism and sexism simultaneously.
Reading Lorde’s work made me reassess how I had previously defined feminism. When thinking about the basic ideas that I had used to sum up feminism before, I realize now how much this class has taught me to see how even issues such as equal pay can be experienced entirely differently by a straight white woman versus a queer Black woman.
In reflecting on this class and thinking about my new understanding of feminism, I have come away realizing that while I have learned so much more about intersectional feminism, the most important thing I learned is the need to keep your mind open and to keep learning. I came into the class thinking I knew “enough” about feminism and quickly learned that I did not and that truly one can never stop taking in more information. I am learning to move through life with an intersectional feminist view of the world. Since joining the class, I now notice incidents of misogyny and racism in the world around me where previously I had not.