“Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes” – Rethinking Intersectionality

This post will analyse one framework in gender and development discourse: intersectionality. The first part will explain what is intersectionality; second part will explain why we need intersectionality framework; and last part will discuss what is lacking from intersectionality framework.

“Ouh it’s so sad to think about the good times you and I…”

Intersectionality is the framework to explain multiple dimensions of experiences (including oppression or marginalisation) in marginalised women’s life created by intersection of gender and race (Crenshaw in Nash, 2008). Another explanation of intersectionality is “multiple oppressions experienced by non-white and poor women in particular, but more generally to all women because differences in sexuality, age, and physical ableness are also sites of oppression” (Zack in Nash 2008, p. 10).

Not all women, especially more privileged ones, understand intersectionality framework. Taylor Swift, for example, failed to understand Nicki Minaj’s complain to MTV Video Music Awards this year. Nicki Minaj believed that her “Anaconda” video, despite of being viral trend in pop culture (Gerstein 2015), didn’t get nomination for best video because she is “black”.

Screenshot 2015-12-05 09.20.34

Taylor Swift, a “white”, got her “Bad Blood” video nominated for the best video. Swift believed that all women always have equal playing field. She responded to Minaj by saying:

Screenshot 2015-12-05 09.22.20

Swift failed to understand that not all women has the same advantage as being “white” like her. She didn’t understand the complain from Nicki Minaj about the disadvantages of being black women. Swift didn’t understand the notion of intersectionality.

It’s Taylor Swift in Bad Blood video pitting women against each other

“Coz baby now we got bad blood…”

We need intersectionality frameworks because analysis about different experience of “Third World Women” was absent in feminism works from “First World Country” (Mohanty, 1991). Intersectionality serves several purposes (Nash 2008):

1) it enable us to deconstruct gender / race binaries and understand variation within each gender and race;

2) it helps to understand identities of subjects beyond race or gender categorisation;

3) it helps scholars of feminism and anti-racism to be aware about legacy of exclusion of marginalised subjects in their work and its impact of that exclusion on both theory and practice.

Additionally, Crenshaw argued that intersectionality framework can help feminism scholar to “acknowledge and ground the differences among us and negotiate the means by which these differences will find expression in constructing group politics” (Nash 2008, p. 13).

“Now we got problems…”

There are several critics for intersectionality framework. The first critique is related with analysis on differences among women. Crenshaw analysis has been criticized because her examination did not go beyond race and gender category, such as sexuality, nationality, or class. It also failed to recognize race and gender function as social processes that could change from time to time.

The second critique is related with its essentialism view of black women. Intersectionality theory highlights “black women” experience as if black women are monolithic entity (Nash 2008). The essentialism view that is produced by Western feminists is Third World women as homogenous, poor, and oppressed. Unfortunately, this view has became the mainstream knowledge because Western feminists works is the global hegemon in feminism studies (Mohanty 1991).

The third critique is the missing analysis about privilege. Intersectionality excludes explanation about more privileged group of women. Due to its focus on marginalisation, intersectionality fails to show how race, gender, sexuality, and class securing both privilege and oppression simultaneously. Likewise, it cannot explain intersection of privilege and marginalisation within women’s life experience (Nash 2008).

“My Anaconda don’t…”

For me, what’s lacking from intersectionality frameworks is analysis on agency. Mohanty casted her critics of the mainstream hypothesis of women as powerless, exploited, sexually harassed and weak. She brought up the issues about Western feminism’s lack of analysis on choices or freedom to act of Third World women. In the example of female genital mutilation brought by Dembour (2001), it was apparent that the mothers deliberately chose to perform genital circumcision on her daughter because she wants her daughter to be accepted in the community. Third World Women, just like other women, can act upon their specific knowledge. Although their decision in life could be different from Western women, it does not mean it any less valid.

Another missing analysis in intersectionality is another category aside from race and gender. Momin Rahman piece analyse the element of sexuality and religion with intersectionality framework. In his analysis, the element outside race and gender also create specific oppression and experiences of gay Muslims. Nicki Minaj also raised the issue about oppression to certain body shape in her twitter. Our body, whether it fits with mainstream standard of beauty (slim, tall, long hair, flawless skin, etc.), embodies different experiences and oppression in our life. In other words, it also imperative to include element of sexuality, religion, and maybe another category such as class, status, ethnics, nationality, language-spoken, body shape, etc. in intersectionality framework.

Screenshot 2015-12-06 11.00.39

“So take a look what you’ve done…”

More comprehensive intersectionality frameworks will help us to understand each person’s unique life experiences shaped by all elements in their identity. In the end, understanding intersectionality is also about being aware with our privileges and not taking it for granted. We should never easily judge other people’s life. Because “if you live like that, you live with ghosts…”

Notes:

The title and all the sub-headings are inspired by lyrics from Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood and Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda song. The last sentence is also inspired by Bad Blood song.

The reason why I use Bad Blood lyrics more as sub-headings is simply because the lyrics has more meanings for me than Anaconda song. It has nothing to do with the race of the singer.

Bibliography:

Dembour, M.B. (2001) ‘Following the movement of a pendulum: between universalism and relativism’, in Culture and rights: anthropological perspectives, Chapter 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 56-79.

Gerstein, J. (2015). Nicki Minaj And Taylor Swift Are Going At It On Twitter. [online] BuzzFeed. Available at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/juliegerstein/nicki-minaj-and-taylor-swift-are-having-it-out-on-twitter#.jrNLMo6GZ [Accessed 5 Dec. 2015].

Mohanty, CT. (1991) ‘Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses’ in CT. Mohanty, A. Russo, A and L. Torres, (eds.), Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 51-80.

Nash, J. (2008). re-thinking intersectionality. Feminist Review, [online] 89 (2008), pp.1-15. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40663957 [Accessed 9 Nov. 2015].

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