What Is Intersectionality, and Why Is It Important?

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on August 21, 2014. Enjoy!

Have you ever heard the term “intersectionality” and wondered what it means? If so, this post is for you.

What Is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a sociological theory describing multiple threats of discrimination when an individual’s identities overlap with a number of minority classes — such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, health and other characteristics.

For example, a woman of color may face sexism in the workplace, which is compounded by pervasive racism. Similarly, trans women of color face exceptionally high levels of discrimination and threats of violence. Looking through the lens of intersectionality, it’s not hard to see why: these women potentially face anti-trans prejudice, sexism, misogyny, racism and — due to the ignorance surrounding trans identity — homophobia.

While intersectionality is traditionally applied to women, a person of any gender may be affected by this phenomena of overlapping minority status. A man from a Hispanic background could face xenophobia in today’s America despite being a naturalized citizen. If that Hispanic man is in his 50s, ageism might add to the discrimination he could face in trying to secure employment.

More precisely though, intersectionality describes the hierarchical nature of power and the fact that belonging to multiple discriminated classes can mean that one’s issues are ignored.

Who Invented the Term?

The term intersectionality itself is attributed to legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw and her 1989 essay “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” — though the actual thought behind intersectionality emerged much earlier, with academics recognizing the problem in the 19th century.

Crenshaw coined the term to express the particular problems that immigrant women of color face — and, crucially, why their issues were being ignored by both the feminist  anti-racism movements of the time.

Often, intersectional experiences reveal that existing legal and policy mechanisms are stacked against people with a multiple minority identity. And these institutions may fail to account for critical cultural differences.

A Controversial Word

Within each separate movement — whether feminism or anti-racism — some individuals claim that intersectionality actually harms their personal cause. The arguments against intersectionality tend to focus on proving it to be a meaningless term.  If a woman experiences racism then that’s racism. If she experiences sexism then that’s sexism. There is no need to overlap these forms of discrimination, so the school of thought goes.

But a strong body of evidence suggests that discrimination does overlap. While we might deal with the issues separately, denying that convergence could leave people vulnerable.

That’s not to say that intersectionality as an analytical tool doesn’t have its problems, however. A chief concern is that, for both scholars of racism and feminism, it remains a rather murkily defined perspective – and one that we are still struggling to effectively apply.

The Modern Civil Rights Movement

While accepting that intersectionality needs refining as a tool, a majority of social commentators and mainstream feminist and racial justice groups believe intersectionality does have an important role to play in today’s civil rights movements.

Take the gay rights movement that is often called upon to speak for the wider LGBTQA community. These figureheads are overwhelmingly whitecis-gendered, able-bodied men and women — and that can be a problem, given that they are representative of only one aspect of the LGBT community.

And in terms of feminism, the closing of women’s health clinics and the passing of antagonistic anti-abortion measures can disproportionately affect women of color — particularly those from lower economic backgrounds.

As such, while intersectionality might not be a perfect term, recognizing its uses and limitations helps to ensure that we don’t overlook the challenges faced by people who belong to multiple marginalized groups as we strive to achieve a more just society.

Photo Credit: Dimitar Belchev/Unsplash

201 comments

John N
Daniel N22 days ago

Thank you for posting

SEND
Ingrid A
Isabel A1 months ago

thank you

SEND
Kevin B
Kevin B5 months ago

Thanks for posting

SEND
 .
.6 months ago

This is the most wonderful thing i have ever experienced. I visited here online on the 17 june and i saw a marvelous testimony of Tracie Aldana from United States on the forum about the good works DR.tunde I never believed it, because have never heard anything about such miracle before. No body would have been able to convince me about it not until DR.tunde did a marvelous work for me that restored my mairage of 4 years by getting back my husband back i just as i read on the internet. I'm carolina peter I was truly shocked when my husband knelt down pleading for forgiveness to accept him back. I am really short of words to use to show my appreciation to DR.tunde For his a God sent to me and my entire family for divine restoration of my mariage. Contact him now for any kind of help via Email:babatundesolutioncentre1@gmail.com or you can contact his whatsapp mobile line +2348143581382 Also specialise in treating all kinds of illness, HERPES VIRUS, HIV AIDS, HEPATITIS B, CANCER, BRAIN DISEASE, PREGNANCY AND MORE.

SEND
Janis K
Janis K6 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

SEND
Frances G
Past Member 7 months ago

thanks for sharing

SEND
Elizabeth B
Elizabeth Boerema9 months ago

I thought that we weren’t supposed to be labeling people and putting them in boxes... were all just people anyway... isn’t that exactly what this is doing? Categorizing people?

SEND
Caitlin L
Past Member 10 months ago

Thanks for this

SEND
Kelsey S
Kelsey Sabout a year ago

Thanks for posting.

SEND
Past Member
Past Member about a year ago

Real and genuine love spell to get your ex Boyfriend/Girlfriend back urgently!contact Unityspelltemple@gmail.com is the best spell caster online and his result is 100% guarantee.
My ex broke up with me because he can't forgive me for a mistake I made, I tried all i could to get him back but all to no avail until i saw a post in a relationship forum about a spell caster who helps people get back their lost love through Love spell, at first i doubted it but decided to give it a try, when i contacted this spell and he told me what to do and i did it, Then he did a urgent Love spell for me. 28 hours later, my boyfriend really called me and told me that he miss me so much, So Amazing!! So that was how he came back that same day,with lots of love and joy, Then from that day,our relationship was now stronger than how it were before, All thanks to Dr.Unity. he is so powerful and i decided to share my story on the internet that Dr.Unity is a real and powerful spell caster who i will always pray to live long to help his children in the time of trouble, If you are here and you need your Ex back,Do not cry anymore, contact this powerful spell caster now. Here’s his contact:
Call/WhatsApp: +2348071622464 ,
Email: Unityspelltemple@gmail.com ,
Website:https://unityspelltmple.blogspot.com .

SEND