Study Notes

Feminism: Intersectionality

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 6 Nov 2018

The concept of intersectionality serves to highlight how various biological, social, religious and cultural categorisations interact with one another.

This enables us to recognise the multidimensional character of injustice against women (particularly black women and working-class women). Intersectionality therefore seeks to identify a system of oppression that takes us beyond the traditional feminist conception of male oppression.

Rather than identifying patriarchy, with its attachment to singular means of social differentiation; intersectionality takes a more nuanced perspective. The obvious consequence is that black and working-class women’s experiences of patriarchy are fundamentally different from that experienced by white, middle-class women.

Intersectionality is an important aspect in terms of comprehending contemporary feminism – principally in the context of the fourth-wave of feminism. It is a particularly appealing concept to those who do not wish to identify themselves as a feminist due to the ideological baggage associated with the term. It also reminds us that progress towards female emancipation has thus far been skewed towards white, middle-class women.

The leading proponent of intersectionality is bell hooks (the pen name of Gloria Watkins). She employs the term intersectionality to advance our traditional (and somewhat limited) understanding of social oppression.

In her book ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ bell hooks outlined the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women and demonstrates how it serves to devalue black womanhood. She also analyses the role played by the media and within education in the construction of a white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy.

Ultimately, bell hooks concludes that systems of oppression perpetuate themselves over time and that intersectionality is characterised by the mutual relationship between race, capitalism and gender.

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