What does Intersectionality Really Mean?

Photo Courtesy Of ktla.com | Sophie Wilson ’20 discusses the meaning of the term “intersectionality” in relation to the Women’s March.


Sophie Wilson ‘20
Assistant Copy Editor

“Intersectionality” is a term that has recently gone from being used mainly by academics to being a commonplace buzzword. Responses to the Women’s March have differed greatly, but that key term that has come up as a common thread. Some use it to praise the March, while others lay it out as a criticism. However, its definition does not seem to be as widely known. Its working definition has become somewhat of a synonym for diversity or inclusivity. I have heard it used to imply that the Women’s March included issues affecting people of all different demographics. I have also heard criticisms on the Women’s March for its lack of intersectionality — a comment often met with defensiveness or anger. I think the real problem lies in the mainstream use of the word without a proper understanding.

Believing that “intersectionality” and “inclusivity” can be used interchangeably is detrimental to progress. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that it condones complacency for people who identify themselves as allies. This is because it enables them to feel like they are doing their part by simply sharing their space with marginalized people. It encourages an “every man for himself” mentality, which only ends up furthering the dominant causes. Additionally, it justifies the minimal exposure minority issues get. While people might recognize that the rights of marginalized people such as trans people, a topic that came up a lot in conversation surrounding the march, get less attention, they can justify this by saying that it is just a reflection of the smaller number of members in those minority groups. It can be falsely assumed that once minorities are included in a movement, even with very minimal representation, enough has been done.

The inclusivity approach to intersectionality is extremely problematic. Inclusion alone goes hand in hand with erasure. How it might better be interpreted is: both the inclusion and prioritization of marginalized issues. It is not enough to assign equal importance to all issues within a movement, but rather to give priority to those most often left behind. This is because within the racist, sexist and ableist constructs in our society, being white, male, cis-gendered, able-bodied, Christian and heterosexual is the most advantaged situation. Anyone who falls into other categories is disadvantaged. This means that within a movement of oppressed people, there are still those with more advantages than others. In addition, social constructs dictate that those who are the more advantaged minority get the most attention and are therefore more likely to achieve success.

Given this situation, the interests of marginalized people, such as trans people, queer people of color, women of color, Muslims, indigenous people, people with disabilities and immigrants must be more than just “included.” They must be pushed to the front of the movement. If someone wants to be considered an ally, they must fight for the rights of their less privileged companions. If a movement or event wants to be considered intersectional, it must actively underscore the importance of minority rights rather than just including them at the bottom of a list.

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