By Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
This is the second article in our series on women’s rights, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1919. The bill officially became law throughout the United States when Tennessee adopted the legislation in 1920. In our last post we gave a brief history outlining the nearly century long struggle women underwent to finally gain the right to vote in 1920. We left off with the discussion of how a woman’s race or socioeconomic background can cause her to have less opportunities than others; or better put, experience the world differently than others. This is an idea known as intersectionality. This article will continue that discussion and examine how a woman’s position or positionality in society can affect opportunities and resources she has access to. Those influential factors might include race, economic level and other aspects that often cannot be changed. The term was coined by Kimberly Crenshaw in her 1991 work entitled “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Crenshaw is critical of mainstream feminism and explains how the movement overlooked the specific challenges of women of color. She states that her objective in the essay was to “explore the race and gender dimensions of violence against women of color.” Crenshaw goes on to say that “Contemporary feminist and antiracist discourses have failed to consider the intersections of racism and patriarchy.” Merriam-Webster dictionary defines interestionality as “The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.”
How do Girls and Women of Color Experience Society? How do Poor Girls of Color Experience Public Education?
As educators enter their classrooms, how often do they consider that a student of color might experience the world and the classroom in a different way than those of the dominant race? Or a student of low socioeconomics might experience the world in a fundamentally different way than someone from a middle or upper class background through no fault of her own. For example, a female student that is a Mexican immigrant will experience the world differently in many ways from their white counterpart. She might experience hardships because of language, lack of financial resources, social struggles of adjusting to American schools or probably worse of all, she may experience racial prejudice because of her ethnic background.
The womanist tradition (Developed by Alice Walker in 1979 in her short story, “Coming Apart.”) came about because many scholars did not feel that mainstream feminism addressed the distinct and unique challenges that women of color underwent. Womanist scholars argue that women’s rights and issues should not be painted with such a broad brush. Another example of intersectionality is the experience of an African American student at a predominantly white high school; their plight will be different from their white counterparts. Often when people in society see black women they read all sorts of stereotypes into who they are. People may perceive them as not being intelligent, sexually promiscuous, dishonest or mean and violent. This negatively affects how they experience the world. Furthermore, if the African American student is from a low socioeconomic background they may not have access to the same resources as their fellow students; which may include not having money for field trips, necessary equipment and items for extracurricular activities, school supplies and money for breakfast or lunch. Another particularly disturbing example of the impact of intresectyionality is the frequent disappearance of Native American women due to sexual assault and violence. This is a contemporary challenge that is unique to American Indian women. Read further about the topic in this CNN article on the disappearance of Native Women.
Below we have provided some lessons and resources to assist students and teachers in gaining a deeper understanding of how intersectionality affects all of our lives.
Understanding Intersectionality: Lesson Plan | Dolores
Teaching at the Intersections: Honor and Teach About Your Students’ Multiple Identities
Exploring identity and intersectionality in poetry – Lesson Plan
Resources for Teaching and Learning About Intersectionality
Crash Course in Intersectionality
Kimberlé Crenshaw Instructors’ Guide: Free Resources on Intersectionality, Criticial Race Theory across Disciplines
Lesson Plan: An Introduction to Intersectionality
Calculator: Intersectionality Score Calculator
Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color
By Kimberlé Williams-Crenshaw
What’s Intersectionality? Let These Scholars Explain the Theory and Its History By Arica L. Coleman
Why Black Feminism & Womanism? By Alice Walker
In what ways might other women experience the world that is different from the way you experience it?
As a teacher, how would you approach the topic of intersectionality in your classroom?
What resources from above do you find most helpful?
Why is the topic of intersectionality so important to the cause of women’s rights?
Something that is very important to me is that I am continually deepening my understanding of how things such as gender, race, and social class effect different areas of life. As a middle-class white female, I believe educating myself on these things is incredibly important. As a future teacher, I believe it is important to think about these things and how they affect the lives of my future students. This article did a great job of “examining how a woman’s position or positionality in society can affect opportunities and resources she has access to” and prompted my thinking about how to create a classroom environment that empowers all students, but specifically one that empowers and advocates for students who find themselves in a certain position in society. Education is incredibly valuable but if education is not equally accessible and attainable for students of color, we are doing it wrong. Our perception of students who are different than us must change. The Ted Talk, “The Urgency of Intersectionality, which was linked in one of the extra resources, gave a great overview of what intersectionality is. I believe it is important for teachers to have an understanding of this.
Intersectionality is a term that I learned two years ago in a class and it stuck with me. I had never understood what it meant or what it looked like in the real world before that. Now that I understand it, it cant’ be ignored. It’s important to note that the fight for women’s rights is not just about gender. As a white woman, I see the struggles that women face when it comes to rights, but I do not particularly see what a women of color or a low socioeconomic background may face for example. That is why during this fight for women’s rights it’s important that all women come together and support each other.
I really appreciate the more nuanced approach at “intersectionality” in modern feminism, but I bristle a bit at having it co-opted by only one group, when it is experienced by all marginalized groups, no matter their gender or orientation, class or color. The most salient point of this discussion for me is that “intersectionality” is becoming more mainstream. To me, the awareness of so many overlapping streams of ways groups and individuals are marginalized is what is important. To focus on only one is to do a disservice to the other. It’s all marginalization. It’s all brutal. Excluding narratives because they do not neatly fit into one argument undermines the whole effort. I kind of imagine it as several streams coming together to form one mighty river- so much more powerful as one, without minimizing the individual impacts.