If there is one word that describes, not so much where feminism is at, but where it imagines it’s at, it is “intersectionality.” This theory, coined by black American academic Kimberle Crenshaw way back in the late 80s to demonstrate how the oppression experienced by black women (but then widened to apply to others), is specific to their gender and race, has sadly become little more than a buzz word.
When I began writing about the need for intersectional feminism some years ago, using the lack of representation of women of diverse backgrounds in various forms of popular culture, my intention was not to suggest that representation was an end in itself, but to highlight one symptom of a vastly unequal society.
It’s been disappointing to see that, as the voices of women from diverse backgrounds — whether race, cultural, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation — have gotten louder, the overall response to our demands has been largely superficial.
To be clear, I am not discounting intersectionality as a theory. Rather, I am questioning its application. At the same time as this word has entered our consciousness, we have also been hit with such juggernauts as “Leaning in,” “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” and “I’m with Her,” all of which demonstrate some form of neoliberalism; that oppression can be overcome through the actions of individuals.
And so, what began as a challenge to western capitalist exploitation has been appropriated by that which is seeks to dismantle. While it may seem that intersectional feminism appears to elevate all women no matter their background, closer inspection reveals it still relies on the continued hidden oppression of women (and men) elsewhere.
Take, for instance, high street fashion chain H&M, which last year became the darling of intersectionality-minded feminists thanks to a hugely popular advert set to the tune of She’s A Lady, but which upended traditional notions of what being a “lady” actually entailed. A black woman picks food out of her teeth with a restaurant fork, a brown plus-size woman struts seductively in her underwear, a white woman manspreads on the New York subway, a –well, you get the idea.