Part Two (Women’s Rights)- Intersectionality, Race and Gender: Understanding how Race and Socioeconomics affect Women’s Life Experiences

Intersectional Theology: A Prophetic Call for Change--

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.

Lesson Plans/Resources 
Understanding Intersectionality: Lesson Plan | Dolores
Teaching at the Intersections: Honor and Teach About Your Students’ Multiple Identities
Intersectionality Activities
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

Discussion Questions
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? 


  1. I think that it is crazy that women alone are looked down upon due to their sex, but I could not imagine being a woman AND being a race that isn’t superior or living in a low social class. I am extremely grateful for all that comes my way as a white woman, but I believe that every woman no matter the race should have the same. Women are consistently looked down upon, and this is something that needs to change. No matter your race, sex, religion, sexuality, I believe that everyone should receive the same rights. I know that men are viewed as “superior” to women, but I believe that, that is time to change. Only thing that should be measured in the workplace is qualifications. I really like how some places will hide names when going through the application process, so you can’t automatically assume the race of an individual. Women of another race should be able to receive the same opportunities as I do as a while woman.

  2. As a white middle-class female, this article helped me put myself in the shoes of women who are likely experiencing intersectionality discrimination. Not only my minority peers and fellow adult citizens, but also my future students. I do my best to take people at face-value, setting aside any potential stereotypes and experiencing who they are through the interactions I have with them and learn about them. That being said, it’s important that I’m actually taking the time to interact with and hear the stories of women who are different than me. I can also be a role model to my students in treating all my students with equity, regardless of gender, race, or economic status.

  3. I enjoyed reading the extension of this article. I like how you tied in the fact that Women Rights is more than just a Female vs Male type of fight. In fact, it is another fight within the female gender itself. Intersectionality is a topic that not many women in the predominate race will think about. I didn’t think about this until this semester. During this semester, I was placed at a school where I am no longer the dominate race. Although this doesn’t directly relate to women’s rights, it’s harder to teach in this placement due to the demographics. Without being placed in this school, I never would of thought about the struggles other races face when trying to “fit” in.

  4. Although we have come a long way since the passing of the 19th amendment, I believe that there is still a fundamental mindset that needs to change within our society. As mentioned in the article, women of Females of Color and/or lower socioeconomic statuses have a vastly different experience in the public education system. I believe that it is our job as a society to keep in the forefront of our mind the intersectionality at play before making assumptions about individuals. Something that this article has brought to my attention is that there is a fine line to walk between being understanding and being patronizing. There are many resources available to those experiencing financial difficulty through family resource centers, but what resources are available for those who experience discrimination for simply being who they are?

  5. The concept of intersectionality is the overlapping of many different social categorizations like race, class, disability, socioeconomic level, and gender as they apply to a person or group of people. Intersectionality especially impacts those who are already a part of marginalized groups. For example, an African American woman in the workplace is likely to face discrimination from her white counterparts, but an African American woman who has a disability and is homosexual will face even more discrimination and be put at a greater disadvantage. As a future educator, I must be aware of the fact that not all of my students will view the world in the same way. Just like Dr. Childs stated, a female student that is a Mexican immigrant will experience the world much differently in many ways from their white counterpart. When a child is experiencing hardships and struggles due to a language barrier, lack of financial resources, racial prejudice, etc. they are unable to focus on things like reading every night and staying focused in class because they are just trying to live and make it by. When I am teaching, I want to do my best to make all of my students feel included by reading and studying about people from different minority groups, so all of my students feel like they can relate to what we are learning about. I also want to have those hard conversations with my students about discrimination and how people are viewed and treated differently due to things that are completely out of their control. Also, depending on the grade level, I think it would be interesting to teach them about privilege and how it is not just about how hard you work, which is a common misconception. I don’t want any of my student to feel guilty for the privileges they were born with, but I just want them to be aware of it, so we can all strive towards having a more inclusive classroom community (and world). This is a great video that helps explain privilege in a very visual way- . Again, depending on the age of my students, I might play this video or find a more “kid friendly” version to have an intentional conversation about privilege with my students. I could also modify the questions and do the activity from the video with my students.

  6. To suggest that the discussion of women’s rights is absolute and simple would also suggest that all women are cut from the same cloth in society. As a nation of immigrants, we have distinct lives and experiences depending on our background, and women witness feminism in distinct ways. Equality is often subjective to ones own background and livlihood. What one woman might strive to achieve may be commonplace for another woman in today’s society. We cannot assume that any person of any race or gender has ease of access to any of the accomadations or liberties enjoyed by others. Because of this, our teaching cannot contain any bias that would exclude a student on the basis of something that is out of their control.

  7. My understanding of intersectionality as defined by Kimberle Crenshaw is a framework set up to help people understand what it is like to have multiple forms oppression (such as race, gender, economics…) affect you. So, when we ask how multiple forms of oppression can act on someone, it does not follow the rules of addition. For example, if someone is black, Muslim and gay, the oppression that person feels is not racial inequality plus religious injustice and marginalization of their sexuality at different times rather, one feels them all at once.
    It is essential to talk about intersectionality in classrooms because of the fact that not all classrooms are uniform and because “mainstream” feminist education does not discuss aspects of personal identity issues that a minority person may be experiencing. In college, I think one of the most insightful exercises I did was called a privilege walk and it taught me about my privileges and how a person’s life has more facets to it.

  8. Reading this article has helped me gain insight on yet another situation I have not experienced. To start is the class side of intersectionality. In the end if I was a poor white male, my life would have many different experiences compared if I was a poor white female, such as females having higher chance of sexual assault or sex trade. Now then you can add in race and the women of color who are poor have an even higher chance of ending up sexually assaulted or some other horrible situation. If anything feminism is a step in the right direction for equal rights, but I agree with this article that it does not cover the intersectionality of race and class, keeping it broad and only covering specific groups of women.

  9. This is a great, informative addition to the first article. It is important that we acknowledge that women of different races may experience things differently. All women struggle with fighting for equality, but women of color fight for respect and equality. This article was a great introduction to intersectionality.

  10. I think that it is definatley important that the idea of feminism is broad-end. All though feminism is fighting for equality for all women some women of color or low socioeconomic status will still have disadvantages to white women. They need to have a movement to support them as well because they do experience the world differently than white women or white men who have quite a bit of money. As a teacher I think its important for me to help bridge the gap and be an ally for this group. I think its also important to inform all my students about these movements so they can be knowledgable and help be an ally as well.

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