If feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s not feminism.
The push toward feminism being intersectional is gaining popularity among the feminist community.
Intersectional feminism is about understanding the way multiple identities — including race, class, gender, sex and religion — impact women’s experiences, said Danielle Phillips-Cunningham, Texas Woman’s University multicultural women and gender studies assistant professor.
Nursing junior Aarti Patil said feminism is supposed to encompass all women, but people lost focus of that.
The idea of feminism being intersectional can be synonymous with black feminist thought, Phillips-Cunningham said. The theory emerged from black feminist scholars back in the 1980s, she said.
Phillips-Cunningham said the term was first introduced to the academic world by black feminist scholar Kimberle Crenshaw. Crenshaw used the theory of intersectionality to analyze how black women were oppressed by the country’s legal structure, she said.
Phillips-Cunningham said there was a notion that women of color had issues that were marginalized in mainstream feminist movements, she said, and they always argued their experiences were not included.
“Intersectionality was a way of also saying we need to pay attention to the reality that women have similar, but also distinct, experiences,” she said. “In order to truly advocate for the eradication of sexism, we have to look and pay attention to women’s distinct experiences.”
Patil said when women dismiss another’s experiences, it’s detrimental to the feminist movement. She said other women can’t say an issue isn’t as important as theirs if they haven’t experienced it.
Feminism must include every type of women’s issue, because all women are different, English professor Stacy Alaimo said.
One particular issue is how different women experience reproductive freedoms.
Alaimo said cisgendered, white women had access to birth control for a long time, while women of color were often sterilized against their will. A cisgendered person is someone who identifies as the gender they were born with, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Phillips-Cunningham said black women lacked the reproductive freedom white women had since times of slavery, where black women were forced to procreate. In the years following slavery emancipation, there was a fear of black people taking over, so black women were forced into sterilization, she said.
While white women argued for abortion rights, women of color fought for health resources to have healthy children, Phillips-Cunningham said.
History lecturer Wendell Hunnicutt said intersectional feminism is important because minority voices have not always been represented in the past.
“In the 20th century, feminism was white middle-class women,” Hunnicutt said.
These women had the money and the time to join feminist movements, Hunnicutt said. He said although women of color were involved in those movements, their voices were overshadowed by white middle-class women.
Historically, women’s movements were organized by white women who weren’t always mindful of how race impacts women’s experiences, Phillips-Cunningham said. Often, people refer to mainstream feminism as a movement orchestrated by white women, she said.
“Usually, women’s marches have been planned separately, based on race,” Phillips-Cunningham said.
However, Phillips-Cunningham said this more-inclusive movement has been going on for a while but has started becoming more mainstream.
Patil said she believes people are now more educated about the contributions women of color made to society. She said the movie Hidden Figures helped highlight the fact that black women were often behind important issues, like helping NASA send an astronaut into outer space.
Phillips-Cunningham said intersectional feminism is becoming the framework that women’s marches are based off of.
With the combined Jan. 21 women’s marches around the world, Phillips-Cunningham said it was inspiring to see an intersectional framework used to organize it.
Looking at the speakers list from the marches, there was a diverse group of black, Latina, Asian and white women who advocate for intersectionality, Phillips-Cunningham said.
While some may see the women’s march as a triumph, some believe it wasn’t fully intersectional.
In a Refinery 29 dialogue video over black feminist thought, a woman at the intro voiced her frustration by asking the question: “Where were all these white women when the Black Lives Matter marches were happening?”
It’s important to fight for multiple issues that affect all women instead of one singular issue that affects one group, said Yeshimabeit Milner, Refinery 29 guest speaker and Color of Change campaign manager and organizer.
Women, no matter what color, have the opportunity to listen to other people whose experiences are different from their own, get uncomfortable and grow, said ShiShi Rose, Refinery 29 guest speaker and social media lead for the Women’s March on Washington.
Phillips-Cunningham said it’s important to take intersectional feminism seriously and to use it when organizing movements.
Another reason why intersectional feminism is important is because women’s rights and everything women have fought for is under assault, Alaimo said, and women must be allies.
“Everybody needs to come together,” Alaimo said.
Phillips-Cunningham said because of the current political climate, it is more important that women come together now.
The new administration has the potential to roll back on the equality women have fought for, Phillips-Cunningham said.
Using intersectional feminism would help protect women from Trump’s attacks, she said.
Being educated on important issues is the biggest thing for women, Patil said. If people don’t learn about issues regarding women, then they can’t do something about it, she said.
Phillips-Cunningham said it is crucial and necessary for intersectional feminism to take hold among the feminist communities. She said the women’s marches were a testament of what can happen if all women use intersectional feminism to come together.
“It’s basic human rights,” Patil said. “It shouldn’t be a fad.”