When there’s no name for a problem, you can’t see a problem. When you can’t see a problem, you can’t solve it.
The titular words are those of Michael Kimmel, Professor of Gender Studies at Stony Brook University at a lecture he gave recently, where he discussed the importance of including men in the battle for gender equality. The following are the words of Kimberlé Crenshaw, an activist and law-professor when she spoke about her theory of intersectionality, which she developed, in her words, “to highlight the multiple avenues through racial and gender oppression were experienced so that the problems would be easier to discuss and understand.”
One big liability of the current feminist movement is that it more or less rose to recognition from white anger. Anger towards politicians, towards the wage gap, towards certain industries, towards men. But it fails to take into account the age-old struggles that have been playing out on the sidelines of this media coverage. Unfortunately a lot of women who speak out against these aforementioned issues place them as a priority (which of course they are), but in the meantime fail to recognise that one size may not fit all. They expect the struggle and its public attention to accommodate and represent all women.
Being a white woman in a world where many do not want her to be able to maintain her right of legal abortion is not the same as being a Hispanic woman, or a woman who wears a hijab, or an LGBTQ woman. Each additional ‘label’ points towards another form of oppression, another struggle to face. An individual can claim a large number of privileges, like for instance being middle-class, white, straight, but still face gender discrimination. But the reality is that all our identities are intersectional. A disabled woman is going to face a different challenge with the wage-gap or with representation in certain industries than a woman who is not. Intersectionality is necessary to highlight these differences, because a movement for women’s rights must reflect the unique experiences of all the women of various backgrounds who are part of it. Feminism is all about fighting for all perspectives to have an equal footing and an equal value, which is incompatible with prioritising the concerns of certain groups over other marginalised ones. Ms Crenshaw put it perfectly when she said during an interview with the New Statesman, “Intersectionality draws attention to invisibilities that exist in feminism, in anti-racism, in class politics, so obviously it takes a lot of work to consistently challenge ourselves to be attentive to aspects of power that we don’t ourselves experience.” It is exactly that what is necessary to ensure feminism, and the third-wave movement that has recently come along with it, speaks for everyone, and not just a privileged few. Having privilege can mean either assuming others have the same kind of entitlement, or not giving one’s advantages at the expense of others a second thought. This is because questions of prerogative are often disguised under social norms which have evolved throughout history, and now, due to society in many places being considered more progressive, are not necessarily taking precedence. In comparison to those who do possess a certain degree of privilege, those without are usually much more aware of what they are lacking.
It can be easy to want to forget about differences and wish for everyone to get along when you have never been treated as a lesser person because of those differences. But as always, communication and attentiveness are what build the bridges between these dimensions that make up individuals, and putting a name to the problem is the first step towards solving it. Privilege is invisible to those who have it, but discussion has continuously proven to be an eye-opener.