Being an Intersectional Feminist

Identity, as ambiguous and obscure as it is, has been constructed in a certain manner. It does not define the personal characteristics that a person might have, but lays down what other people perceive about a particular ‘community’ s/he belongs to. The stereotyped characteristics of that community become the person’s defining characteristics as well. The man-made systems of separations load us down with more than one identity. That is when the intersection of identities come into play. Living at these intersections of overlapping identities corresponds to the paradigm of living under several systems of oppression because identity as an institutionalized system has the implicit or explicit characterisation of the ‘othered.

Second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s focused on the slogan “The Personal is Political”, which had the aim of identifying women’s cultural, domestic, and systemic inequalities. It envisioned a revolution that highlighted the underrepresentation of women in socio-political institutions. However, critique has it that the second and third waves remained restricted to the upper-middle-class ‘elite’ women only. To challenge this criticism comes the fourth wave which sees women’s lives as intersectional - demonstrating how race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender, and nationality are all significant factors when discussing feminism. Intersectionality comes from discriminations based on several subjugations at the same time. It looks at, not just one type of inequality that is gender-based, but all forms of it. For instance, the discrimination that comes from being a Muslim woman, that is, being doubly marginalized, leads to intersectionality.

This extension of feminism also includes people of the LGBTQ+ community. It becomes important to focus on the ‘inequalities’ faced by the people of marginalised groups, rather than the ‘differences’ that they share. Being different and being unequal are not the same things. The idea of being cosmopolitan does not stem from ignoring the differences, but by maintaining and respecting these differences and creating safe spaces for all identities, whether overlapping or not.

For conservatives, nationally as well as internationally, this intersectionality becomes a dangerous idea, one that intends to change the status quo through the “slippery slope of utopian egalitarianism”. More often than not it is the shift from this status quo that has the potential of uprooting the pillars of patriarchy. In the west, the concept of intersectionality is not uncommon. It was Kimberle Crenshaw who coined the term and gave her theory of intersectionality in 1989 in her paper ‘Demarginalizing the intersection of race and gender’. While it gained immense popularity among many people, it also attracted the critique of many. Ben Shapiro, in one of his videos, described intersectionality as “a form of identity politics in which the value of your opinion depends on how many victim groups you belong to”. He further expressed that it is usually those people who are at the top of the ‘identity hierarchy’ that attack intersectionalism for using identity politics because they are the ones who fear losing their spot in the hierarchical pyramid of identities. As Crinshaw says, intersectionality is not just concerned with the shallow questions of identity, but the deep-rooted systemic and structural overlapping discriminations.

In the Indian context, many discard the idea of intersectionality as being a ‘product of the west’ and hence, unbefitting in the Indian context. However, the idea of intersectional feminism being as basic as overlapping subordination becomes a universally relevant theory. While it may differ from society to society, relativity does not hamper the basic tenets of intersectionality. The Indian society has been witness to numerous marginalised identities being oppressed, be it socially or economically or both. The intersection of socially as well as economically oppressed identities is recognisable in this country.

Moreover, the nomenclature becomes pivotal as it provides an impetus for public recognition, acknowledgement, and most importantly, welfare policies. The idea of intersectionality makes the feminist theory more self-identical, and propels the feminist movement to be an umbrella movement that accepts and fights against several forms of marginalisation faced by people of the ‘second sex’. However, a lot needs to be done for creating an impact that initiates not just dialogue but effective action also, about and among the vulnerable and marginalized sections that are still missing.

India, being a diversity-rich country and a country that still has casteism rooted in its structures, the idea of intersectionality needs to be explicitly accommodated in the feminist movements. It must not just include intersectionally oppressed women, but all genders that face intersectionality of various sorts because ‘FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYONE.’

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