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Intersectional arguments and research findings have had varying levels of impact in feminist theory, social movements, international human rights, public policy, and electoral behavior research within political science and across the disciplines of sociology, critical legal studies, and history.

—Ange-Marie Hancock, Associate Professor of Political Science and Gender Studies[1]

Intersectionality: a fun guide[2]

Intersectionality is the phenomenon in which individuals experience oppression or privilege based on a belonging to a plurality of social categories. The term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989.[3][4][5]


Individuals do not fit neatly within any one category, but live as people with racial, gendered, abled and sexual identities, privileges and forms of oppression are interlinked and cannot be addressed alone.[6] The relationship between a person's various social identities is more important than a single social identity when it comes to implementing social justice. For example, one might be an upper middle class black cisgender straight woman. This individual would experience life as a woman, as a black person, as a cisgender person, as a straight person, and as an upper middle class person at the same time while importantly also facing oppression because of the interaction[7] of these identities.[8] In other words, social identities are not additive, they are intersectional.[9]

Intersectionality reveals what is not seen when categories such as gender and race are conceptualized as separate from each other. The move to intersect the categories has been motivated by the difficulties in making visible those who are dominated and victimized in terms of both categories. Though everyone in capitalist Eurocentered modernity is both raced and gendered, not everyone is dominated or victimized in terms of their race or gender. Kimberlé Crenshaw and other women of color feminists have argued that the categories have been understood as homogenous and as picking out the dominant in the group as the norm; thus women picks out white bourgeois women, men picks out white bourgeois men, black picks out black heterosexual men, and so on. It becomes logically clear then that the logic of categorical separation distorts what exists at the intersection, such as violence against women of color. Given the construction of the categories, the intersection misconstrues women of color. So, once intersectionality shows us what is missing, we have ahead of us the task of reconceptualizing the logic of the intersection so as to avoid separability. It is only when we perceive gender and race as intermeshed or fused that we actually see women of color.[10]:192-3

There are a great number of categories into which one could be placed which tend to dictate one's chances of experiencing privilege or oppression, such as:

A subset of the axes of privilege intersecting and extending into their equivalent axes of oppression.

Everyone has an identity in each of these categories or, perhaps more correctly, on each of these spectra. The vast majority of people do not have universal privilege on every single one of these axes of oppression. An individual's privilege is, therefore, a function of where they currently stand. So if they stand at a number of intersecting oppressed identities, e.g., transmisogyny, or misogynoir,[11] they will receive oppression from multiple directions, as well as the non-additive oppression of the interaction(s) of their identities. Conversely, it is possible for interacting privilege to confer non-additive benefits. Thus, if somebody has privilege on many axes, it is possible for certain benefits to cancel out or minimise some of their oppression due to affecting the same factors.[12] It is also important to note that separate axes of oppressive can still be closely related, such as language, class, and educational background or disability and body type.

History of the term

A Stonewall protester holding a banner depicting the intersectional nature of the 1969 riots.

Feminists and social justice theorists and activists more broadly have had a concept of intersecting social categories for some time, but it was not until 1989 that the black feminist scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw first coined the term.[3] Since then, it has had a profound effect on how social critics and academics, and specifically feminists (being part of the bedrock of third-wave feminism) think, talk, and write about the world:[13]

consider the 1976 court case that led Crenshaw to begin theorizing intersectionality, Degraffenreid v. General Motors. The gist here is that General Motors had been hiring white women to work in administrative positions, and hiring Black men to work in industrial positions, but not hiring Black women at all. A group of Black women sued General Motors under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, alleging that they had been discriminated against on the basis of race and gender—which seems like a no-brainer, right? But incredibly, they lost the case: the US District Court found that, because General Motors had hired (white) women, the company wasn’t discriminating on the basis of gender, and that because General Motors had hired Black people (who were men), the company wasn’t discriminating on the basis of race. This might be one of the Top Ten Most Facepalm-Worthy Rulings of the last 50 years, but that’s seriously how it played out: the court simply refused to wrap its collective head around the fact that neither “women” nor “Black people” is a uniform group with uniform experiences.[14]

The idea of intersectionality grew in large part out of the experiences of people within social justice movements who came to realize that specific forms of oppression that they experienced were not being addressed by the activist movements in which they participated. More specifically, supporters of intersectional social justice have been central to LGBT rights, civil rights, women's rights, etc., movements, but have often, as is the case with the Stonewall riots, been ignored. They have been ignored both in terms of the specific oppression they face as well as their contributions, which have been whitewashed or ciswashed by the media.[15][16][17][18][19]

Why it is important

Many progressive movements have conceptual shortcomings that reveal the need for intersectional critiques. Among them are:

  • Feminist movements which took "women" to be an undifferentiated category, thus failing to address the experiences of women who did not share the cis, hetero, white, able-bodied and middle-class identities of many feminist leaders[20]
  • Anti-racist movements which did not take into account the fact that men and women experience racism differently[21] or that ethnic minorities face similar oppression due to white privilege[22]
  • Radical left movements that assumed that "The Revolution" would undo sexism and racism as a consequence of freeing the working class without addressing those issues specifically[citation needed]
  • Academic research in general, which prior to intersectional analyses, ignored people who did not match the archetype of their "primary" social group[23]

For example, when RH Reality Check first came online in 2006, they quickly came under fire from journalists representing minorities. They were saying that, not only did the staff not have any women of color, but the articles also focused on issues from a largely white, middle class perspective. Over the next 8 years, they consciously added journalists who were from minority groups including women of color and transgender women, along with several male writers. Yet even with their active attempt to recognize and change, the site is still challenged to get better at providing diverse perspectives.[24]

See more

External links


  1. Ange-Marie Hancock (2007). When Multiplication Doesn't Equal Quick Addition: Examining Intersectionality as a Research Paradigm. Perspectives on Politics, , pp 63-79. doi:10.1017/S1537592707070065.
  2. Intersectionality: a fun guide, by Miriam Dobson
  3. 3.0 3.1 Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989). "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics". University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989: 139–67. 
  4. Truth, Sojourner. "Ain't I a Woman"
  5. Another useful history can be found in: Collins Patricia Hill, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.
  6. Intersectionality: a fun guide [now in PowerPoint / presentation formation]
  7. Finding Interactions
  8. Kimberlé Crenshaw Stanford Law Review Vol. 43, No. 6 (Jul., 1991), pp. 1241-1299 Published by: Stanford Law Review, Article Stable URL:
  9. Lisa Bowleg. When Black + Lesbian + Woman ≠ Black Lesbian Woman: The Methodological Challenges of Qualitative and Quantitative Intersectionality Research. 2008, Volume 59, Issue 5-6, pp 312-325 DOI:10.1007/s11199-008-9400-z
  10. LUGONES, M. (2007), Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System. Hypatia, 22: 186–219. doi: 10.1111/j.1527-2001.2007.tb01156.x
  11. Misogyny, In General vs. Anti-Black Misogyny (Misogynoir), Specifically, Gradient Lair
  12. Pager, Devah, Bruce Western, and Naomi Sugie. 2009. "Sequencing Disadvantage: Barriers to Employment Facing Young Black and White Men with Criminal Records." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 623(May):195-213.
  13. Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies Established
  14. Difference Without Dualism, Part III (of 3), by whitneyerinboesel
  15. This Is How Whitewashing Us Out of GLBT History Begins
  16. Interview With an Actual Stonewall Riot Veteran: The Ciswashing of Stonewall Must End!
  17. What are the most blatant examples of ciswashing by the media?
  18. Yet Another News Outlet Fails Queer History 101 by Erasing Trans* People from Stonewall
  19. Does the Stonewall Commemorative Plaque Erase Trans People's Role in Riots?
  20. Toward a Continuum of Intersectionality Theorizing for Feminist Social Work Scholarship. Gita Mehrotra. Affilia. November 2010 25: 417-430, doi:10.1177/0886109910384190
  21. Intersectionality on African American Policy Forum
  22. Intersectionality on Intergroup Resources
  23. Ange-Marie Hancock (2007). Intersectionality as a Normative and Empirical Paradigm. Politics & Gender, , pp 248-254. doi:10.1017/S1743923X07000062.
  24. Anthea Butler, a professor of Religious Studies and Africana studies, as well as a journalist for RH Reality Check examines the history of feminism and women of color
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