Exploring Better Feminism Part 3: 5 Easy Intersectional Feminist Steps To Take

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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

An Open Letter to A White Gay Man

Dear White Gay Male,

Hi.

We took a class together that talked about racism. In that class, we also learned about intersectionality.

Your intersection: A white, openly gay male.

My intersection: A South Asian woman, appearing straight and boring. I’m actually closeted in many regards. If you knew what I got up to at dungeon parties, I am sure your head would spin, but I’m not here to talk about what I get up to.

I want you to know how proud I am of you for wanting to learn how various races are portayed and discussed, but I think you may have also missed a couple important points, so I’d like to emphasize them:

Being gay does not lessen your white privilege.

Being part of the LGBTQ community is indeed a place where there are huge challenges and oppression, but intersectionality is not the Oppression Olympics. One person’s oppression does not cancel out their privilege. Just because you are part of one oppressed community, does not mean you can speak over another.

This class was all about teaching us to consider our intersection and where we have privilege. But you didn’t do that when it came to putting what we were learning in class to practice.

We had a moment in the midst of a class discussion where in the middle of my sentence you cut me off and patronizingly told me you were not arguing with me. Your tone indicated you wanted me to calm down. The class laughed, and I smiled with them, but I want you to understand how incredibly tone deaf and hurtful this action was. In a class on race, intersections, and a whole semester spent unpacking privilege, I was stunned into silence at your audacity. You, a white male, patronised me, a South Asian woman in a class on racism and intersectionality. Let’s just stop and think about for a moment, how convenient it was for you to not realize that you are male, and white, and to forget how your race and gender plays out in your interactions with people – in particular, when speaking to a woman of color. My, what privilege you must carry that makes it so convenient for you to forget your own intersection so that you can shut me down in such a socially humiliating way!

Check yourself, dudebro. Just because you are gay, does not lessen your whiteness, your maleness, your ability to take up space, time, and your ability to have an opinion. That you can exist openly as a gay while male and not be in the closet and shadows as I am is a sign of your privilege. Many South Asian people cannot come out to their family as, well, anything. So think about how privileged you are, even within your own community.

The next time you open your mouth, perhaps you should consider if there is a voice that you are instead better able to amplify. Or, better yet, shut your mouth and listen. Listen to people of color and what we are saying, don’t shut them down.

Intersectionality, to me, is a bit like examining your own racial consciousness. It means being aware of when and where you are privileged and powerful, and when you are not. It’s okay to be a part of a community that is lower on the intersectional privilege grid – and your other intersections mean you can safely speak for your community! This is your privilege doing good things! But it also means being aware of whom you are hurting, who you are stepping on, when you speak.

What you did that day was small, but so are most racist and sexist things (and being gay and taking a class on rscism doesn’t excuse you from racist and sexist behavior). Most sexism and racism is implicit, not explicit. They are small drops into the bucket, until our buckets of tolerance start to overflow with anger and hurt.

Your momentary flippant action was a deep cut in a place where such behavior shouldn’t have happened. It has weighed on me, causing me a wholly unreasonable amount of anger and frustration. But this, I guess, is what happens when people get tired of dealing with microagressions and shit like this.

I hope someday you realize the gravity of your actions and think before you speak to a woman or person of color like that again. I hope you learn the lessons this class was trying to teach.

Til then, may you wave your flag at Pride, but also pause to remember upon whose backs the Pride parades began, and their intersections too.

Sincerely,

Irene Leonis