Intersectional Feminism and What We’re Missing

Let me preface my observations by saying that I believe the ideas of intersectionality and kyriarchy are as intelligent as they are realistic, and that they are absolutely necessary concepts to the understanding of systemic oppression. Having said this, I am concerned that we are glossing over the real reason we wanted to incorporate these ideas into modern feminist thought in the first place.

Why? The Black Feminist Manfesto and many other sources of non-white feminist thought all point out that the problem with second wave feminism is that it doesn’t incorporate the experiences of women from non-white cultures. Today when we refer to intersectional feminism, we often discuss how queer fear, racism and sexism compound to oppress non cis-white women in a way that is completely unique to how we have thought about our oppression in the past. Yet throughout this discussion, I am concerned that we are losing out on the comparisons of patriarchies inherent in different cultures.

Definitions: Intersectionality has been defined as the study of the interplay of different oppressions on a person: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc., (1). The term kyriarchy is a very similar term, meant to encompass all of the colors of oppression into one term for oppression, (2). So you could say that intersectionality is the verb form of the concept, the study of the interplay of influences; whereas kyriarchy is the overarching noun for the system of all forms of oppression. Feminism has been defined as the battle against sexism to equate the genders. So it is clear to me that feminism is an aspect in the study of intersectionality and not the other way around.

What we’re missing: It shouldn’t be news that feminism is unpopular both with the mainstream and with those who might support our cause, if only they felt like they belonged. So young feminists have taken up these terms as a way to welcome and encompass those with ethnic or non-cis identities. I agree that it is absolutely necessary to include everyone’s experiences in the philosophies of feminism so that we can better understand the rounded and multifaceted nature of oppression in our society. But here are some points that need more discussion:

  1. Every culture has its own patriarchy. Whenever we discuss intersectional oppression, we often take for granted that the oppressor in question is a rich, powerful, cis-white man, (or as I like to call him, Mr. Monopoly), as European patriarchal culture was designed for and by him. However, every culture has its own unique form of patriarchal oppression that looks very different from that of Mr. Monopoly’s culture. In essence, I am proposing that it is possible for someone to go to work and be oppressed by one set of patriarchal standards and go home to find themselves oppressed by a completely different one. Let me throw some hypotheticals at you:
  • Mr. Monopoly’s sexism toward white women and women of color adheres to the same set of patriarchal standards, because he is indoctrinated by white culture’s version of patriarchy. What the white woman does not have to experience in comparison to the woman of color is his set of racial prejudices, (where begins the province of intersectionality).
  • Conversely, white women and women of color will receive the same form of sexism from a man of color, but that sexism will be a very different form of patriarchy from the one of Mr. Monopoly. In this case, the white woman experiences intersectionality when the man of color’s sexism is tempered toward the respectful because of racially biased codes of conduct. Each culture harbors its own very specific system of patriarchy, which is independent from racial prejudices.

2. This same principle applies to the question of queer oppression. A queer person will obviously have different oppressive factors acting on them than a woman of color, but the patriarchal system in which they are oppressed remains the same.

  • When Mr. Monopoly encounters a transgendered male to female person, he will firstly struggle with categorizing this person in his predetermined gender binary system. Once he has decided on one or the other, he will then treat this person as the assumed gender according to his culture’s patriarchal system, tempered toward the even less respectful due to transphobia. In this regard, transphobia functions similar to racism because it acts as an independent factor.
  • It is important to note that queer and gender oppressions are extremely interlinked for obvious reasons. With many of the recent revelations on the concept of gender, (namely that there could be as many as 5 or more genders3), it becomes much harder to draw distinctions than it does with racist and sexist intersectionality. I posit that because patriarchy still holds a binary view of gender, the oppression a queer person faces is divided thusly:

a. Queer oppression classifies you as an outsider; ranked on a similar scale of respectability as race classifications.

b. Gender oppression forces your oppressor to classify you in the binary and supply the appropriate patriarchal response.

 

Why is this important? The only way to truly devise a comprehensive view of global patriarchy is to compile a complete record of each culture’s specific patriarchy and from there determine commonalities. We need to begin to see this wave of intersectional feminism as the first step in creating a global alliance of feminist thought as well as action. If we convince ourselves that the answers we find in this current wave are the end result, we will fall prey to making the same tempting conclusions that the second wave has been charged of perpetrating: mistaking victory of a battle for the victory of the war.

Utopia cannot be achieved until we are all free. And even though our definition of freedom evolves in step with us, I think we can all agree that we are aiming toward a world where division of labor, economic status and personal identity are determined by the abilities and interests of the individual rather than by superficial classifications. This utopia is within our reach, but it cannot be our destination until we have a better roadmap.

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