Intersectionality hurts feminist causes- but it’s worth it

by Alanna Carlson | Columnist

Intersectionality has become a hot-button topic in modern feminism. Many feminists today will tell you that intersectionality is a hugely important part of successful feminism. However, a small but vocal minority of people — some of them feminists, and some of them not — have put forth the argument that intersectionality hurts feminism and feminist causes more than it helps.

The argument, often employed by middle-class, heteronormative white women, goes something like this: If we could just focus on one thing at a time — if we could just ignore all the other issues that face women in society today and focus solely on this one thing (reproductive rights, for instance) — then we would get things accomplished so much faster. Intersectionality slows feminist causes down.

And guess what? They’re right. Intersectionality absolutely does make the process of reaching the goals of the feminist movement slower. But that’s not the whole story.

Let’s back up for a minute. Many people are not quite sure exactly what the term “intersectionality” means. Intersectionality is a term originally coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, a leading scholar of critical race theory. Merriam-Webster’s definition of intersectionality is “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.”

The very nature of intersectionality demands that we take the time to see the ways that these different types of discrimination overlap. As feminists, intersectionality demands of us that we look beyond just the issues that affect us personally to see the (sometimes larger) issues that affect other women who may not be just like us. And this focus on diversity does in fact make the progress of feminist causes slower as we work to include and empower women of all classes, races, and other socioeconomic groups. A cause fought on many fronts is by necessity fought at a slower pace than one fought on a united front.

But intersectionality has improved feminism far more than it has harmed it. Intersectionality has allowed women of color like Emma DeGraffenreid and Anita Hill to stand up for their rights. It has allowed us as feminists to fight for causes like immigration reform and healthcare. It has helped those of us who might not have had to struggle with issues like poverty to see how poverty affects women and women’s issues. It has encouraged open dialogue about issues like gender roles, femininity and sexuality that would never have been possible without embracing intersectional feminism.

As Roxanne Gay, the author of the New York Times Bestseller “Bad Feminist” said, “We need to take into account these differences and how they affect us, as much as we account for what we have in common. Without this kind of inclusion, our feminism is nothing.” So, yes, intersectionality does slow down feminist causes — but it is absolutely worth it. Progress is often slow, and change is often painful, but I will trade faster progress for a more inclusive world every time.