If you feel like Intersectional Feminism can be hard and confusing, then don’t worry because you’re not alone – I used to feel the same way!
My first brush with intersectional feminism was in a women of colour group on Facebook. And it was intimidating. There were a whole ton of rules (very few of which made much sense to a new person), and if you made a mistake you had to issue an apology with a “self-critique” to ensure that you understood your mistake. It was a crash course in intersectional feminism, but it was a toxic environment, where people were quick to post aggressive rants about staying in your own lane, not making people do emotional labor, not using African American Vernacular English, and a whole ton of other things. And when a new member would comment and ask what these terms would mean, the only assistance they would get is being told to go look it up. I was simultaneously aggressively educated and policed about cultural appropriation, and supporting my black sisters. I also watched as a woman of colour of mixed race got chased out of a thread about bindis by my Indian/South Asian sisters, even when she kept repeating she was half Indian on her mother’s side. It left me feeling disheartened. It can be hard to learn to be a good intersectional feminist. Goodness knows, I’m still learning. I understood the women in that group – they were tired and frustrated. But I also feel like that anger can sometimes turn readers away from wanting to engage and learn – and I don’t want to give you, reader, a taste of the same experience I went through. So, I’m going to try and give you some of what I learned there in a much easier to digest form!
- Don’t use African American Vernacular English. Period. Regardless of who you are and where and how you grew up, AAVE terms are terms we’ve inherited from the black community. It’s not our vocab, and we’ve stolen it. We are not shook, we are not on fleek, don’t tell someone to “go off, sis”. We are doing something very harmful when we culturally appropriate language, so I often try to really think about what words I’m using and why.
- Stay in your own lane – and go talk to your cousins! You’re allowed to listen to people talk about their struggles. For example, imagine two black transwomen discussing their life and perspectives with each other on Twitter. That’s probably an amazing, rich thread that you can read and learn from, but! Don’t add yourself to that conversation and tell them about your own experiences, unless you’re a black transwoman! That’s what staying in your own lane looks like. Another example is when a person not of a particular community speaks on their behalf. For example, a cis white woman speaking on behalf of the black community, or the trans community is definitely not someone who is staying in her own lane. If you’re concerned about something someone else is doing, it’s totally okay to say “hey, I’m not the expert in this situation, but I think you might be (insert thing such as cultural appropriation here), I’d suggest you consult with (insert someone they can contact that is a good representative of the community here)”, rather than stepping in and saying, “hey, you’re appropriating from (insert a community that you do not belong to here), and you shouldn’t do that. Stop this at once!”, because it’s not actually for you to dictate that. And instead of trying to correct and police people of other races and cultures, correct the people in your community that are doing harm. Right now, the thing I feel intersectional feminism needs the most are people who are willing to speak to their “cousins” – the people of their own communities who have not yet learned or fully understood feminist concepts. We need to build more allies, and that was what actually inspired me to create The Desi Vibes, because no one that I knew of was educating my cousins on subjects like safer, happy, consensual sex and healthy kink.
- Ditch the ableism and transphobia. Intersectional feminism is for all! Make sure you’re respecting other people’s preferred gender pronouns, and normalise the use of preferred gender pronouns by also sharing what yours are (for example, hi! I’m Irene and my pronouns are She/Her). Furthermore, consider your choice of words in your metaphors. Saying things like, “that’s crazy/retarded”, “I’m so bipolar right now”, “I sprained my ankle and now I’m a cripple,” are incredibly hurtful things to say because they’re offensive to people with disabilities and implies they hold a lower status. Instead, you can say “that’s unbelieveable”, “I’m really moody right now”, and, “I’ve sprained my ankle and it’s really hindering my ability to get around”. Your words can oppress and put people down!
- Listen to underprivileged communities, even when they’re criticising yours. It may be hard sometimes to be feminist and realise your feminism still needs work, but feminism isn’t about communities tearing each other down, but rather about calling out the racism still at play so that we can all continue to work to improve our worlds. By not listening, we play right back into the exact things we’re trying to work against. Audre Lorde is famously quoted as saying, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. Similarly, if we uphold patriarchy, racism and so on in our interactions with underprivileged communities, we’re not being intersectional or feminist. Marginalised communities have perspectives that may be vastly different from yours – but that doesn’t mean that their experiences aren’t true. Listen to them and work with them towards change.
- Seek out diverse opinions. Similarly to the last point, we can’t possibly consider every single perspective, intersection, and viewpoint. Ask around! There are intersectional feminists in every community that are happy to help share their thoughts and perspectives with you when you’re stuck on how to deal with an issue.
I want to leave you with some more amazing wisdom from Audre Lorde’s piece, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Written in 1984, her words are still relevant today. Lorde addresses the willful ignorance of white feminists who say that they didn’t know who to ask for advice by saying:
“That is the same evasion of responsibility, the same cop-out, that keeps Black women’s art our of women’s exhibitions, Black women’s work our of most feminist publications except for the occasional “Special Third World Women’s Issue,” and Black women’s texts off your reading lists. … How come you haven’t also educated yourselves about Black women and the differences between us – white and Black – when it is key to our survival as a movement? … Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women – in the face of tremendous resistance – as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.”
Let’s work together, intersectional feminist sisters and allies, to make sure we’re smashing the patriarchy while lifting each other up! Did you find this list of 5 things you can do helpful? Leave me a comment if you’d like more lists like this, or lists that go into more detail!
References (as always!)
Lorde, A. (1984). The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (pp. 110- 114). Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press.
Weiss, S. (2015). 6 Ways To Be A More Intersectional Feminist. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/articles/119061-6-ways-to-be-a-more-intersectional-feminist-because-feminism-is-all-about-inclusion