Intersectional feminism and Webster womens’ journeys
Story by Hayley Abshear • Photos by ermina Ferkiç
In some southern states, African-American women were not granted the right to vote until the 1960’s. African-American women dealt with not only the sexism of not having the same rights as a white man, but also the heavy weight of racism that came along with the rise of American politics. According to NPR, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton spearheaded women’s sufrage with black equality in mind. They instead found themselves at tail-ends of the fght for equal rights when the 15th Amendment was put in place by Congress. In theory this enabled black men to vote, not black women.
Feminism was founded upon the shoulders of white women and has since imbedded a unique form of systemic racism within the movement. Although feminism has created a platform for women to use their voices to enact change, it has subtly smothered the voices of the minority women in America. Feminism has a face, and it’s white.
So in the midst of this unequal fight for equality, intersectional feminism was born at the hands of those in the movement who seek more inclusion. Intersectionality and its ideals were officially coined by American feminist legal scholar Kimberle Williams Crenshaw. The idea holds that systems of oppression—sexism, classism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, etc.—do not act alone but actually interrelate and create an intersection of multiple forms of discrimination. Therefore, it allows women who experience each system of oppression to use their experiences to ignite change for more than just white women. Not only this, but to look at and listen to different ideas of feminism other than one’s own.
Although the birth of intersectional feminism created an entirely different kind of platform, it is still new to today’s society. The International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) says the term was added to the Merriam Webster Dictionary just in April of 2017. Its ideas, goals and plans of action are only in its toddler years. Because of this, feminism still comes with white features.
Webster University journalism student Kristen Mclauchlin is an African-American woman who does not identify with feminism based on the idea of feminism not being intersectional. She says she believes black lives matter first.
“I do believe that there’s a strict difference between white feminism and black feminism because let’s be right, feminism started for white middle class women,” Mclauchlin says. “And today [the black community] have other issues, we’re trying to figure out how to make a place in this world just by our race. Right now I don’t even have time to worry about myself as a woman, I need to get my race figured out first.”
Women of color like Mclauchlin are seldom included in the change that feminism is fighting for. For example, an issue addressed in feminism is the pay gap between men and women. It is well known that women make 78 cents to every man’s dollar made. However, this is only true for white women. According to a study done by the American Association of University Women, Hispanic or Latina women make 54 percent and African-American women make 63 percent of what men make. The numbers are even less for women with disabilities and transwomen after they transition. Feminism addresses the pay gap in a white light, failing to mention that the numbers of minority women are even lower.
Another concern for Mclauchlin are stereotypes. She believes that black women carry a stereotype that white women will never experience.
“When a white woman walks in the room nobody is gonna be like ‘ugh, she’s an angry feminist,’ unless they come out and say that they are, but when people see me walk in the room they think ‘she’s probably an angry black woman, ghetto, loud,’ we all come with a whole thing. That’s how it is,” Mclauchlin says.
Mclaughlin’s own reality of feminism is not uncommon with women of color. Black feminism is a form of feminism (one of the forms that is intended to be bound with other forms in intersectionality) that not only focuses on sexism, but also racism simultaneously.
Transfeminism is another form of feminism that is for trans-women who view their liberation in conjunction with the liberation of all women. Aideen O’Brien is a Webster University student, trans-woman, feminist and activist. She says that although transfeminism is a branch of feminism, she would like to view it as just one combined idea.
“I don’t want to really categorize myself right of the bat, I’d rather fnd ways to go into mainstream feminism slowly,” O’Brien says. “But I do think it’s important to have our narrative heard and have a place where we can express ourselves and exchange ideas. I just don’t want to only focus on the subgroup of feminism.”
According to a study done by the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans people face heavy discrimination within the home and the workplace showing 19 percent of trans people had been fired or denied a promotion based on their trans identity. While white feminism is fighting for equal pay making 78 cents to every man’s dollar, trans people can’t even get job, let alone trans women.
While every subgroup of feminism aims to inflict societal change, they all have flaws. And like every movement, change must start at the root of the problem. Megan Price, the president of College Democrats at Webster University, says that taking direct political action is the best way to make true intersectional feminism a reality.
“I think we have to recognize that there’s so many different components and unless we hit all of those, we’re not going to be able to take on the issue,” Price says. “The solution comes from protesting and listening to each other, but I also think we have to have some concrete component like having more women of color in the political decision making process.”
The House of Representatives website states that as of 2017 only 67 women of color have ever served in the U.S. Congress. The election of the first Hispanic-American woman to Congress was only 28 years ago in 1989. In the 2017 Fortune 500 there are only 32 women—two of which are of color.
According to Price, this is one of the things that holds minority women back in the feminist movement.
“There is a glass ceiling,” Price says. “There are barriers for all women, but there are additional barriers for women of color because of racism. Until those barriers are shattered then we won’t be able to see equally represented leadership.”
As O’Brien puts it, if someone dies and goes to heaven, heaven is intersectional feminism. In order to achieve this “heavenly” idea it takes a lot of work and patience that Price, O’Brien and Mclauchlin have unique perspectives on: patience executed in protests like the 2017 Women’s March, direct political action or simply having an open heart and mind.
A possible solution that projects a bright light at the end of the tunnel is intersectional feminism. As bell hooks, an African-American author and social activist addresses in her book “Feminism is for Everybody”: “Visionary feminism ofers us hope for the future. By emphasizing an ethics of mutuality and interdependency feminist thinking ofers us a way to end domination while simultaneously changing the impact of inequality.”