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5 Ways to Practice Intersectional Feminism

Women sitting at the table and around

Intersectionality” isn’t a new term, but it’s gained more attention lately, especially in discussions about racism.

In essence, intersectionality is the idea that a person’s overlapping identities—their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, and religion—all affect the way they experience discrimination and oppression.

Scholar and civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in a 1989 paper about the crossover between race and gender.

She laid out how a heterosexual white woman’s experience of discrimination is not the same as a bisexual Black woman’s experience. Or, for that matter, the experience of a Latina woman who is blind.

Healthcare provides a good example.

It’s well established that women’s pain is taken less seriously and investigated less often than men’s. Doctors frequently dismiss women who complain of pain as being overly emotional or even “hysterical.” The result is that women with chronic pain often suffer in silence.

Black women are treated even worse.

They bear the added burden of implicit racial bias in medicine. Myths about Black people persist to this day and are a legacy of colonialism and slavery.

It’s why Black women have higher rates of undiagnosed disease. They also have higher rates of diagnosed heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers, and higher rates of preterm delivery. Not surprisingly, Black women are generally more distrustful of the healthcare system and may avoid getting the care they need.

COVID-19 has further exposed racism in healthcare as a ‘pandemic on a pandemic’ for Black women. Even being sick in the presence of colleagues doesn’t guarantee greater protection.

This example underscores why a truly inclusive feminism must account for all the ways women face discrimination, oppression, and abuse.

Intersectionality - type of discrimination - word cloud.

That’s what intersectional feminism is about.

Privilege, by its very nature, can serve to mask the lived experiences of others. Inclusive feminism is intersectional feminism.

Here are 5 steps you can take to be a more intersectional feminist:

1: Recognize your privilege.

White privilege has had an outsize effect in the US (and on the world) for centuries. But it’s not the only kind of privilege. There’s also wealth and class privilege, heterosexual privilege, religious privilege, thin privilege, cisgender privilege, male privilege, and many others.

If you benefit from specific privileges, think about how they might be creating blind spots in your life. And how they might be holding you back from practicing a truly inclusive feminism.

2: Listen without getting defensive.

Becoming more intersectional is hard work. Emotions can run high, especially if you’ve never challenged yourself this way. When something uncomfortable comes up, your knee-jerk reaction might be to get defensive or deflect responsibility.

But the reality is that most of us have been perpetrators of prejudice at some point. Whether it’s bias against people with disabilities or those whose bodies don’t conform to our ideals. Introspection requires sitting with discomfort and listening without interrupting. It requires apologizing and being willing to change.

3: Realize it’s your responsibility to get educated.

No one can speak with more authority on discrimination than those who experience it firsthand. But it’s your responsibility to educate yourself and understand the issues marginalized communities face.