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Why intersectionality matters when it comes to the feminist movement

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

One-size-fits-all feminism doesn't work for anyone

Despite being a well-established movement, feminism seems to be getting a boost in the media lately as more and more celebrities proudly proclaim themselves a member. But beyond the media-lite version of feminism is a movement that is still struggling to find a way to include and support all women, to embody an intersectionality that will buoy more than just white women of a certain class.

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Intersectionality is a term coined by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 and revolves around the point that all forms of of oppression, domination or discrimination, like racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, etc., are interconnected and should be addressed. Unfortunately, it is sorely lacking in feminism, particularly "white lady feminism."

White lady feminism is a catch-all phrase for mainstream, Western, cisgender, able-bodied and usually white feminists who are usually comfortable middle or upper class. Yes, it's not all white women, so if I'm not talking about you, don't get all upset — you'll be fine, trust me. (Maybe pass this along to someone who does need it.) Their voices may have farther reach because of larger platforms, but this feminism is exclusionary and fails to address the very real needs of the majority of women while not reflecting their very real and diverse experiences.

For instance, when it comes to both the wage gap and violence, the reality is very different for those not represented in white lady feminism. While we normally cite the fact that women make around 77 cents for each dollar a man makes, black women make 64 cents and Hispanic women only 54 cents to that same dollar. When it comes to gender-based violence, white lady feminism rarely talks about the higher rate of sexual violence that impacts bisexual women or that transgender people are 27 percent more likely to experience hate violence than cisgender folks.

It's never easy to feel critiqued, especially if you feel like you're working to help others. But when it comes to feminism, we need to be open to understanding our very real shortcomings so we can address them and truly uplift everyone. The immediate reaction when anyone brings up the lack of intersectionality within feminism is defensiveness. Instead, we should be working harder to include more voices and address more overlapping needs.

Hana Shafi's essay "The trouble with (white) feminism" explains the trouble with white lady feminism. She writes: "And the truth is, in white feminism’s attempt to save women of colour, they have done the opposite. Their pursuit to save women of colour oppresses us further; it erases our lived experiences of racist and sexist discrimination. By insinuating that women of colour need saving, white feminism has undermined our capability to liberate ourselves through our own means."

So, how can you be a decent advocate and ally without falling into the traps of white lady feminism?

Educate yourself! It is not the role of marginalized people to inform you. Between libraries and Google, you pretty much have the world at your fingertips and have the ability to learn more about many things. Check out Crunk Feminist Collective, Back Girl Dangerous, Racialicious, Radically Queer, TransGriot and Viva la Feminista just to start.

Recognize that one-size-fits-all feminism doesn't work, and try to find ways to elevate the experiences of others. Realize that you (or those like you) don't always have to be at the center of the conversation.

Listen! Privilege works in many different ways, and one of them is the inability to realize that you're monopolizing the larger conversation. So, when others, especially those who are not like you in some way, are talking — listen!

Realize you'll probably make mistakes, and that's OK. That's how learning happens. But when a mistake is made, own up to it, apologize and work on making sure it doesn't happen again. And while your intentions may have been noble, they honestly don't really matter. Let's make feminism a movement that truly welcomes and fights for all women.

One-size-fits-all feminism doesn't work for anyone

More on feminism

What's the story behind #FeministNewYearsResolutions?
Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists is a call to action: Will you step up?
#HowToSpotAFeminist tweets show people still don't understand feminism

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