What is Intersectional Feminism & Why is it Important?
What is intersectional feminism? Intersectional feminism is a movement that recognizes that there are diverse barriers that intersect when it comes to gender inequality that has historically been left out of the movement’s conversation, further marginalizing women based on ethnicity, race, financial status, and sexual orientation. Taking an inclusive approach, intersectional feminism acknowledges the first and second waves of feminism represented white, western, cis-gender, heterosexual, middle- and upper-class women.
Why is intersectional feminism important? While today’s access to social media and the globalization of communication has been beneficial in many ways to the feminist movement, they have made it increasingly easy to exclude identities from the ‘umbrella’ of feminism. As a result, the problem that exists today is a perpetuation of an exclusive feminist view.
But removing queer, BIPOC, neurodiverse, and economically marginalized women from the feminist, period equity, and reproductive health discussions not only contradicts the entire foundation of feminist principles but invalidates entire human experiences and erases identities.
The answer is found within de-centering cis-gender, white women so marginalized voices may be heard. After all, this is in line with the original spirit of feminism.
Why is intersectional feminism important when it comes to period care? When we look at what is intersectional feminism, we must also consider its contribution toward period equity. In Canada, one of the biggest barriers in the fight against period poverty is the period care industry itself through marketing that perpetuates gender stereotypes. But by focusing only on women (and usually cis-gender, white women), whole communities are excluded from the conversation. Instead, intersectional feminism acknowledges that menstruation is non-binary and not tied to specific socio-economic groups. Simply put, period care is for everyone who bleeds. Using gender-inclusive language helps to break down barriers to period care because everyone who bleeds deserves access to safe, sustainable, and organic period pads and other menstrual products that are right for their body.
Furthermore, menstruation is not the definition of womanhood. As Victoria Alexander puts it in her blog about gender-inclusive periods, "Reducing a woman to her biology is not only misogynistic but goes against everything feminists have worked so hard for. A woman is so much more than just her anatomy and biological functions."
Practicing Intersectional Feminism
Simply put, feminism is not intersectional if it isn’t inclusive. Here are some ways we can all support intersectional feminism.
Reflect on how you can support the individual and the collective. Is privilege skewing your perspective of the issue at hand? How can you support reparations in your community? Speak up when you witness inequality in a power dynamic.
Sisters over Cis-ters
Include all people who identify as women, not just cisgender women. Invalidating someone’s ‘womanhood’ is saying “I will choose how your identity is portrayed to the world. How you identify does not matter.” This is, ironically, doing exactly what the patriarchy does to women collectively every day.
Use a Historical Lens
Know that black women/women of colour have been on the frontlines of the period equity movement, sexual empowerment movements, the body-positive movements, the Stonewall riots, and many more life-changing movements. Considering the historical lens when doing research is very important, as the erasure of BIPOC has been a tool of oppression throughout history.
Check-in with yourself often, make sure the social lens is aligned as it should be, and ask yourself how many groups of people your feminist view excludes.
Intersectional Feminists You Should Know Today
Ready to expand your feminist mind? Here are some of the most intersectional feminist movement’s most influential voices:
Marsha P Johnson: Marsha P. Johnson was a trans-rights activist who played a big role in important moments for the LGBTQ+ movement, such as the Stonewall protests.
Angela Davis: Davis’ work as an activist and professor has highlighted how the impact of class barriers and racism has impacted feminism. She advocates for gender equity but notes how race, class, and gender contribute to this inequality.
Gloria Jean Watkins: Better known by her pen name bell hooks, Watkins is an activist and writer who focuses on how race, gender, and class intersect and impact the oppression of women of colour.
Audre Lorde: Lorde was a writer, poet, and librarian who wrote about feminism, homophobia, sexual identity, sexism, and class. Emphasis was on how it is the oppressor’s responsibility to educate themselves and learn to act in solidarity.
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg): Simpson is an activist, scholar, and poet. She was at the forefront of the Idle No More movement, with work focusing on land reparations and the decolonization of school systems.
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard (Standing Rock Sioux): Allard is an activist and tribal historian who has been leading the fight against the Dakota Pipeline.
Chrystos: Chrystos is a two-spirit poet and activist. Their poetry explores issues of colonialism, genocide, violence against Native people, queerness, street life, and much more.
Frida Khalo: Considered one of the greatest Mexican artists of all time, Khalo used her art to express feminist theories and challenge social injustices.
Edie Windsor: Windsor is an LGBTQ+ activist who led the case of marriage equality at the Supreme Court. Furthermore, Windsor advocates for women’s equality in the realm of science and technology.
Leslie Feinberg: As a transgender writer and social activist, Feinberg dedicated much of her life to promoting transgender issues and raising awareness on the dynamics of gender studies.
Sylvia Rivera: Rivera was one of the first Latina, transgender activists to become a prominent figure for justice and civil rights. Her passion for activism stemmed from personal experiences living on the streets, making her one of the first figures to speak about the lived experience as a resource in social activism.
Yuri Kochiyama: As a lifelong activist, she was an integral part of the reparations and formal apologies for the internment of Japanese Americans through the Civil Liberties Act.
Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink: Mink WAS a Hawaiian-born, third-generation Japanese American who, after being denied the right to take the bar exam (due to being married and having a child), challenged the regulations and subsequently passed the bar. She opened her own practice and later became the first woman of colour to serve in the House of Representatives (USA).
About Hannah Legault:
I myself am a white, queer, cisgender woman. I am privileged to have a home, a basic income, and a university degree. I am a settler living on the traditional territory of Anishinaabeg, Ojibway/Chippewa, and Haudenosaunee peoples. What I am writing is nowhere near an exhaustive collection of anti-oppressive work, but rather a sliver of recommendations to begin your own reading. I must continue educating myself, hold space, and use my privilege in solidarity with trailblazers in intersectional feminism.