If you’re a feminist (and you should be), be intersectional

Fellow Sophie Gordon talks to two student journalists who stopped by the SPLC booth at the national journalism convention in November 2016.
Sophie Gordon talks to student journalists while at the SPLC booth at the national journalism convention in November 2016.

On Jan. 21 — just one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration — people who identify as women (who I will from now on collectively call women because that is what they are) across the world participated in #WomensMarch(es). Women in Paris and London stood united with women in the United States in saying that we won’t stand for a president who thinks “grabbing a woman by the pussy is acceptable, in fighting for equality and the end of oppression. And while I wasn’t able to attend one of these marches myself, I thought I could play my little role by educating you on why you aren’t really a feminist until you are an intersectional feminist.

Intersectional feminism is “the view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity.” So, a woman who is black will experience oppression differently than a white woman. A woman who is transgender or gender nonconforming will experience oppression differently than a woman who is cisgender. A woman who is any kind of sexuality other than heterosexual will experience oppression differently. A woman who has physical or mental disabilities will experience oppression differently than an able-bodied woman with sound mental health.

Let’s talk about privilege for a second. Think of the most privileged human being you can. I bet we all think of the same one. Got it?

A white, heterosexual, cisgender middle- to upper-class, able-bodied male.

Now let’s break this down.

This person is privileged because he is male. Men throughout the world are treated as superior to women. There isn’t a question about this. Whether we are talking about the severe patriarchal systems of oppression in the Middle East or the pay wage gap in the United States, it’s true. The structure of society tells us: men > women.

He is also privileged because he is white. Black men are incarcerated at much higher rate than white men, despite making up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. Other men of color also are incarcerated at a disproportionately higher rate compared to how much of the U.S. population they actually make up.

And because he is heterosexual and cisgender, he is privileged because he’s never had to fight for his right to get married or use a public restroom, unlike members of the LGBT+ community. He’s never been assaulted or killed for the people he chooses to love or how he chooses to identify.

Obviously being in the middle- to upper-class gives him more monetary power than others, but it also means he has access to better healthcare, better housing and a better education.

And finally, he is privileged because he is able-bodied. Those with disabilities are often forgotten about and treated like children who cannot think for themselves. Or they are championed as heros for getting out of bed every morning.

So what does this have to do with feminism?

Different women have some of the qualities of this man, which means they experience some privilege and some oppression. A cisgender woman of color who is in a wheelchair will face privilege in being a cisgender, straight woman but will face oppression due to being a minority and having a disability. Similarly, a white transgender woman will face oppression due to being transgender, but she will find privilege in being white and able-bodied.

Additionally, your privilege can change. If you go from being a middle-class, white, able-bodied woman to a lower-class, white, woman who uses a wheelchair, you’re going to find yourself experiencing oppression you hadn’t before.

Because all people will go through life experiencing different forms of privilege and oppression, it is important for feminists to realize this and be intersectional. It is only when everyone is understanding of everyone and supports everyone that we can come together to make a difference.