Intersectional Feminism: What is it? | FACTUAL FEMINIST

Intersectional Feminism: What is it? | FACTUAL FEMINIST

October 13, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


Intersectional feminism. It’s all the rage
on campus and on social media, but what is it? And is its new popularity a welcome development?
Coming up next on the Factual Feminist. Suddenly intersectionality is on the boards.
News stories are turning up everywhere. Intersectional theory was first developed in the 1970s and
1980s by a group of African American feminist scholars and activists. They accused the women’s
movement of neglecting black women and of misunderstanding oppression. Pathologies like
and racism and sexism, they said, are not separate systems—they connect and overlap—and
create a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. White women, for example, are
penalized for their gender—but privileged by their race. Black men, suffer from their
race, but garner advantage from their gender. Black women—are in double-jeopardy—they
are disadvantaged by both race and gender. Patricia Hill Collins, professor at the University
of Maryland and former president of the American Sociological Association, is one of the chief
architects of intersectionality theory. The textbook she co-authored describes the United
States as a “matrix of oppression.” Beneath a veneer of freedom and opportunity, there
lies a rigid system of privilege and domination. Now most Americans don’t see it, but Collins
and her co-author alert students to the fact that the true nature of their society has
been hidden from them. “Dominant forms of knowledge have been constructed largely from
the experiences of the most powerful.” The text promises to introduce students to deeper
“subordinated truths” by avoiding what it calls “Western” and “masculine”
styles of thinking which could obscure these truths. According to the theory, those who are most
oppressed have access to deeper, more authentic knowledge about life and society. In short:
members of privileged groups (especially white males) should not only check their privilege,
but listen to those they have oppressed—because those groups possess a superior understanding
of the world. Initially, the primary focus of intersectional
feminism was on black women. But the number of victims quickly multiplied. This graphic
from a popular Women’s Studies textbook includes 14 or 15 marginalized identities. The Factual Feminist is concerned. Now there
are social scientists who use a sensible, non-politicized version of intersectionality
to understand complex social identities—I have no quarrel with them. But what concerns
me is how intersectional feminism is taught and practiced on the college campus. I have
many objections—I will limit myself to three.   Problem 1: It’s a Conspiracy theory: If
intersectionality theory were merely a reminder to be sensitive to different kinds of social
advantages and disadvantages, that would be fine. But it is much more than that. It is
an all-encompassing theory of human reality– constructed to be immune to criticism. If
you question it, that only proves you don’t understand it—or are just part of the problem
it seeks to correct. That is why articles by skeptics almost never
appear in textbooks like these. And certain groups—men, for example—are sinners who
are marked with a capital P. If they dare to question the theory they will be told to
check their privilege. Their job is to atone for their unearned advantages and learn from
those they have oppressed. Some men are really taking this to heart. Consider this tweet: @arthur_affect–As a dude who cares about
feminism sometimes I want to join all men arm-in-arm & then run off a cliff and drag
the whole gender into the sea Problem 2: Victim creep: According to this
theory, victimization confers wisdom, moral authority, and prestige. So—in places where
intersectionalists gather—on campus and on social media—there is now a mad scramble
for victim status. I first saw this theory in action in 1992
at the annual meeting of the National Women’s Studies Association in Austin, Texas. The
conference organizers had imbibed the lessons of intersectional feminism and were struggling
to honor all identities. Participants were told to assemble in small groups based on
their healing needs—Asian-American Women, African-American Women, Old Women, Jewish
lesbians, Disabled Women, Fat Women. But none of these groups proved stable. The fat group
polarized into gay and straight factions. Members of the black lesbian group could not
get along—those who had white partners were called out for their privilege and had to
form a separate group. And new identities emerged: A group of  “Women with Allergies,”
formed a caucus and issued a set of demands about not wearing dry-cleaned clothing or
hairspray. It was a conference of scholars—but we did
not resolve all the anger through rational discussion. Instead, intersectionality created
new reasons for anger and devoured itself. The conference ended with songs and healing
rituals. Problem 3: Bullying: Intersectionality tells
us that white males are in charge of the “capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchy” and enjoy
the most “unearned privilege.” On many campuses, that has given marginalized victims
permission to treat them badly. Ironically,members of the insider victim class now routinely
do to others what they accuse the privileged class of doing to them: they stereotype, demonize,
shame, and silence people. But, as often happens with morally inflamed
groups, they soon turn on one another. In 2014, the Nation magazine ran a story about
a conference at Barnard College for feminist bloggers. Now the participants were immediately
denounced by a Twitter mob as “a cabal of white opportunists,” even though it included
several women of color. The very act of holding the conference was considered discriminatory:
it privileged people who lived in New York City and excluded indigenous women, mothers,
veterans. women who are not on-line. The Nation quotes a participant who compared it to a
“Maoist hazing.” Such hazings are now the norm in the feminist blogospheres. If you have wondered why there are so many
millennials on campus are telling people to check their privilege, demanding trigger warnings,
calling people out for micro aggressions, and retreating to safe spaces, here is my
theory: They are in the grips of a conspiracy theory
and have succumbed to the cult of intersectionality. There are human rights catastrophes that bear
directly on race and gender. Black male incarceration in the United States comes to mind, as does
gender apartheid in many Muslim societies. But intersectional theory isn’t uniting
people around urgent humanitarian crises. It is dividing rather than uniting. It is
leading large numbers of talented, idealistic students at the highly privileged intersections
of American colleges to focus on themselves and to enact psychodramas. It’s turning
them inward—away from a world that needs them. Please let me know  your thoughts on intersectional
feminism in the comments section. Do you agree with my analysis? Am I missing something?
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