Imagine a woman named Sally. Sally runs a soup kitchen. Sally gets some donations, but she also literally gives away all the money she has to feed the poor. Imagine saying Sally is a truly evil person because she does not work on all the needs of the poor. Some poor people need job training – Sally does not do that. Some poor people were unjustly fired or is getting paid too little – Sally does not work for a trade union. Many poor people have some problems with their housing – Sally hardly has any contacts to help with that. Some poor women stay with abusive men rather than being homeless – Sally does not run any domestic violence shelters.
Would this be reason to oppose Sally? Not in the least! It will, however be a reason to see what else, beside what Sally does, could be done to help the poor. Luckily, people do not treat Sally and her ilk that way. Likewise, medical doctors are not slammed for not being psychologists and marriage counsellors at the same time. But there is one group who is slammed for not being everything to everyone: Feminists.
Intersectional feminism is the concept that women may not only be oppressed for their womanhood, but for various other reasons too (race, disability, poverty, sexual orientation, physical strength, etc.) That is true. Thus, intersectional feminism supporters reason that we need to not only talk about the oppression of women by patriarchy, we also need to speak of other forms of oppression. So far, so good.
This means that, as a group, humanity should also care about racial discrimination, ableism, and other forms of discrimination. It does not mean that any feminist who mostly limits herself to campaigning for women’s problems is doing something terrible.
It seems some people are hell-bent on making sure nobody is speaking about issues of womanhood. This is why nobody except feminists are asked if they are “intersectional”. Nobody calls out the LGBT rights community when rich gays do not talk about poverty. Nobody believes anti-slavery advocates were not intersectional enough because they did not fight for free women to have the same rights as free men. The term “intersectionality” seems to mean:
“Girls, look at men too! Some of the problems women have (poverty, racism, etc.) is shared by men – you are bigots to focus on female problems!”
It seems, to me, that we could never be intersectional enough to satisfy critics:
“Your article on how books with female writers are less likely to be published does not contain anything about whether black women suffer more discrimination. Be more intersectional.”
“Your TED talk on how black women are portrayed in a sexist and racist way in pornography does not talk about poverty. Be more intersectional.”
“Your story about being a poor, black woman does not include anything about being handicapped or LGBT. Be more intersectional.”
Suppose some feminist actually did write about being a 1) poor, 2) physically handicapped 3) lesbian 4) woman 5) from a discriminated-against racial minority and 6) an atheist in a Muslim country. It is likely that the article will fail for trying to make too many points at one time. She will also be likely to discuss at least some things she knows nothing about. Ten to one this feminist will still be called not intersectional enough: She does not discuss discrimination against transgender people, nor against the mentally handicapped.
And any given oppressor could feel this story is not aimed at him: “I am the authority over my Christian wife, but this is not the same at all: She is not an atheist, nor a lesbian.” “I get off to women being violently hurt in porn, but I do not discriminate against other races or other religions.” “My female employees are less likely to be promoted than male ones, but they do not have this level of poverty, and does not need to keep their religious views a secret.”
My views on being intersectional?
Focus on what you can do. Nobody can fight on all fronts simultaneously. Do be aware that you do not inadvertently oppress one group while fighting for the rights of another group. Don’t stop others from advocating for issues you are not fighting for. But do not try to be acceptable to the people who use intersectionality as a weapon to silence feminists.
Is my feminism intersectional?
It depends. Am I intersectional only when I actually advocate for all the other issues that feminism intersect with? In that case, I can never be intersectional enough. Or am I intersectional as long as I understand there are other issues, that those also need advocacy, and they sometimes interact with the ones I am able to discuss?