Feminism has always expanded in its meanings and the kind of experiences it portrays and holds for women and other marginalized identities. The concept itself has evolved from what it used to be in its early days. Intersectionality is a theory developed by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, a black professor, philosopher and lawyer in America. Some early feminists excluded black feminists from conversations on women’s rights because it was believed that black women were not ‘woman enough’ or did not deserve rights and liberation. But this argument has since been criticized because what is feminism if it does not include all women regardless of color?
Intersectionality to me means examining issues around human lives while recognizing and respecting the distinct socio-political, environmental and legal conditions that have made those issues thrive. This means that intersectionality examines the backgrounds of individuals and each person’s unique situation to provide the required context and nuance needed in providing solutions to those issues. Simply put, no theory on how to make the world better will succeed if there is no intersectionality in the room. It is however noteworthy that for a lot of people, intersectionality is a concept that means ‘more diversity’ or ‘inclusivity’. Intersectionality is a theory and rightfully so but in real life, intersectionality transcends an abstract theory. It is closely tied to the lives of real people whose experiences cannot be limited to just a facet of their life. Human beings are often multidimensional and in a world like this, a world riddled with the patriarchy and the putrid effects of capitalism, the lives of a lot of people are taken with a lot less seriousness or concern than that of others. Human rights are randomly taken away and people are dehumanized not only with words but with governmental policies, and even in spaces where these identities are supposed to matter, there are efforts to step all over them.
Feminism has been enhanced by queer people throughout the decades. From lesbian and bisexual women who existed in the 1800s and 1900s, who defied gender norms and wore clothes that depicted a lack of gender or clear feminine gender while in relationships with other women, to the trans women and queer people who took up cross-dressing extravagantly in the art form known as ‘DRAG’, and to modern times when we have broader ranges to define our individual unique experiences beyond the cisgender heterosexual patriarchal world standards right now. In fact, the movement for LGBT+ rights in America which later extended to the whole world was started by the revolutionary act of a woman, a trans woman who hit a police officer that was performing a raid in a gay bar with her bag.
It is no longer denied that intersectionality has remained one of the contentions of modern day feminism. This has resulted in an unnecessary division between the Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists and Progressive or Trans Inclusive Feminists. While the trans exclusionary radical feminists premise their feminism on principles of bio essentialism that define women as uterus carrying individuals, there are other feminists who recognize that there is not a universally determined standard of womanhood and while traditionally, women are defined as people with vaginas and can carry pregnancies, not every woman falls into that category. We are all not the same kind of woman. This has generated controversies in feminism but the real question we should be asking is this: why are we having controversies over human rights? There are women who just want to exist and as who they are; why do we deem it okay to invalidate their identities and experiences? Where human lives are being taken arbitrarily because of gender expressions and queerness and non-conformity to traditional societal expectations, we should be aiming for a world where we can all safely exist.
While interviewing Anita Kazhing’a Holland, a Zambian feminist, she said:
“My freedom means nothing when others are not free. It’s delusional to think you can achieve any form of equality when half of us are still being killed and harmed due to bigotry. How does that even work? In what world are we free when others aren’t?… if any of us wants to live in a better world, then we have to start fighting for each other.”
It should simply not be up to anyone to tolerate or accept another for who they are, who they are born as and this means that we expand our spaces for people. Feminism is a movement predominantly for the liberation of women and this should include all types of women – the queer women, the black women, the trans women, the disabled women and people outside of the gender binary. If the gender binary has been a tool of oppression for women in the past, why do we kick against people moving away from it? Moving away from the gender binary does not mean that womanhood or masculinity in itself is lost. It signifies that these binaries no longer necessarily define us or our roles in the society; our importance, worth, rights and lives in the society. Yet, a lot of feminists see moving away from the boxes of gender binary as an attack on feminism. Anita Kazhing’a Holland, during the interview, added:
“we are too focused on our own voices, what we know and what we feel is needed, without realizing that we are constantly drowning out the voices of marginalized people. Let’s hear what marginalized people have to say, what they need from us to create equal spaces for them. And when we listen, we have to actively work to make sure others listen too. And how we get to listen is by making sure our platform and spaces are places they can be heard without the fear of abuse, gas lighting and cisplaining”
It is not a new thing for women to have multiple identities and our feminist politics should be able to make space for these identities without othering women. Feminism is not for the cisgender woman alone, neither is it for the heterosexual woman alone, nor the white woman alone. Feminism that does not include all women is almost dormant because it operates on the framework of oppression and does not seek the liberation we so desire for every woman out there.
Furthermore, intersectionality includes every identity a person holds – their religion or lack of it, their gender expression, their sexual orientation, their race, tribe or ethnicity and the role each aspect plays in their life. Oppression as they say in Nigeria, is like Jollof Rice; it will be served to everyone. This is why it is important that while practicing feminism, we must be able to hold ourselves accountable: to learn, unlearn and relearn as the theory grows, to be better than the oppressors.
In conclusion, as Phoenix, a Nigerian feminist said:
“Intersectionality in feminism simply means inclusiveness; holding a safe space for all women, not just a category of women. Honestly, feminism that isn’t intersectional is faux. How would you say you stand for women but not all women? Also, the oppressed can be the oppressors and that is what happens when feminism isn’t intersectional.”