Kimberle Crenshaw claims that “different things make different women vulnerable”. Intersectionality, a term she coined, does not stop nor start with women. Crenshaw encourages us to “account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.” Today, however, we will discuss how being a woman combines with other aspects of identity to create an overlapping and interdependent system of oppression.
So, what is it that makes you vulnerable?
Crenshaw discusses at length the disadvantage black women are susceptible to. Their challenges are compared to those of Black men or White women, but how can their rights be compared to either of these groups when they only share one thing in common, race or gender? Crenshaw was spot on saying “speaking about feminism without acknowledging race as a factor that needs to be addressed completely defeats the purpose…” Using singular analysis to understand the challenges faced by black women and other women of color creates at an obvious disadvantage.
Women tend to have a longer life expectancy than men, but this isn’t always taken into account when looking at the elderly as a whole. Older women are then underrepresented in this group and seen as either old or as a woman. By not combining these two attributes, elderly women suffer a disadvantage in a time when they are in need of benefits and services.
High-class, middle-class, lower-class. All of these labels can be associated with your image. It’s not as simple as that. Someone wearing sweatpants with holes in them might be just as wealthy as another person wearing leather. People constantly fail to realize this and make snap judgements on almost everyone they pass by. Women are especially susceptible to this as we are compared based on the name brands we wear, the handbags we carry, or the shoes we strut. To be categorized so quickly based on things that don’t actually define you is another challenge women face. To experience this without it being coupled with the fact that women are more susceptible to this kind of snap judgement is what creates yet another form of discrimination.
It is easy to see how outrageous it is to classify people based on such few things. For instance, I am not just a white person, and I am not just a woman. I am a heterosexual, middle-class, highly educated, US citizen. It doesn’t stop there. There are tons of other attributes that make me the person I am today, and I am sure that you could describe yourself in countless ways too. We are all complex. Why is it, then, that we choose one aspect of a person’s identity to assign them a social category? The fault of this accounts for why so many people feel that they are at an extreme disadvantage in their day-to-day lives.
Intersectionality is not limited to the identities discussed. It deals with the overlapping and interdependent parts of any and all aspects of identity. It encompasses everything from sexuality to ethnicity to class and beyond.