As we navigate our way through this Covid-19 world, through police brutality and governmental indifference, it is easy to see our struggles as wholly personal. That we are islands, connected by bridges of masks and face time calls. That the oppressions we feel are burdens we share only when the pressure gets too great. In our isolation we see the world through text messages, snatched electronic conversation, and social media, missing the connectivity that helps better make sense of who we are.
We rise up in protest, in solidarity with women of colour, with queer and trans women, and stand by their side in person and online. In doing so we seek to make the world a better place, one footstep, one chant, one patient conversation at a time. Through it all we stand as women, proud, striving to better understand both ourselves and the interconnections we have with the women within our communities.
Some may argue that we are simply human, simply women, and we need to look past identities to unities in common cause. If you have power and privilege that is easy to do, as your platform is secure and your voice will be heard. By treating all women as equal and a collective whole there can potentially be solidarity, an equality built on the backs of the privileged few permitted to speak by the media. Yet this is not equity, for while all women may be uplifted over time, women at the margins, whose voices are left in the shadows, are further disenfranchised. This is where intersectional feminism comes in, that understanding that identity is not just one thing, and that women are far more than a reductive idea of womanhood.
When it comes to intersectional feminism it is hard to break down the understanding that while we are united in struggle, to bring equity to this fight we must uplift and enable all women to have their own voice and not speak for them. Privilege and power are often unconscious, as we simply accept who we are as women without really questioning our identities. Who likes to dig deeply at their own assumptions and place in life? It is a challenge to break down our own understanding of who we are in order to step aside and allow voices long disadvantaged and ignored to come to the fore.
It is easy to say that I know myself, and therefore what do I have to worry about. On a personal level I am white, middle class, grammar school and university educated, have never been arrested, and I am an English speaking British citizen. Each part of that sentence freights privilege and power. In combination they represent something of the apex of power and privilege in 21st Century Britain. Yet, I am also queer, trans, 38, have total alopecia, am an atheist, muscle/overweight, a discharged bankrupt, and a woman. On their own each of those labels strips back a portion of power and privilege, and in combination intersect to make things interesting. By no means has my personal power or privilege truly suffered because of the totality of my identity, I am very fortunate in living a life with a high degree of privilege. My intersectional identity is complex and nuanced, as is yours.
The intersection of identities complicates and unites women, as on the one hand it is easy to find an intersection with another woman’s identity you can empathise and relate to – even on the most basic level you are both women. Yet the hard work is done in understanding how your own power and privilege intersects with other women’s intersections, and that while you can empathise you cannot speak for her. Her voice must be her own, as must yours. Every women must be empowered to speak, to be uplifted by us all. Where our power and privilege collide with her intersectional identity, we take a step back into the shadows and let her shine.
Equity is about uplifting and empowering, acknowledging that rights are not a cake that is sliced up into proportional parts, but like the sea, where the surfit of rights enjoyed by some is empowered every time we uplift those whose rights have lagged behind. Rights are not gold dust that scatters into the wind if we share. No, by opening rights up to everyone in equity we create a society that is strong and empowered. Hannah Arendt talks about the right to have rights, the right to be a citizen of a society, and the duty of all citizens to ensure that there is no backsliding of rights for any member of society. In the current political climate it is easy to forget this, that rights have to be fought for and fought to be retained, that we as women must fight to both uplift all women and ensure that all women’s rights are not eroded.
Your fight is our battle, your struggle our burden. Intersectional feminism empowers all of us by acknowledging where power and privilege lies, and by ensuring that we can, in lockstep, ensure that all voices are accounted for in our battle for rights and our battle to protect rights. You, your voice uplifted, are power, and it is our shared privilege that ensures our collective strength is through unity and not in isolation. By you a woman of colour, queer, trans, mother, elder, young, disabled, sexual abuse survivor, non-English speaker, asylum seeker, Hijabi, or any myriad other intersection of wonderful womanhood, your identity is valid and wanted, for your intersectional identity stands next to mine. Your voice is powerful, and has every right to be heard. Together, by march, or post, or Facetime, or other connective methods, we strengthen each other, speak out against injustice, and empower women.
In the end, the struggle for rights can only be achieved if we lift up those voices marginalised and left behind. By understanding how our own intersectional identities converge with the women around us, we enable and ennoble each other to work together. We are far stronger together, far richer when we understand that ‘women’ is not just the voice of the privileged or powerful, but cuts across as many intersections as there are amazing women on the planet. Your struggle may be your own, and in this Covid-19 age you may feel isolated and alone, but in sharing it and understanding where your intersections are with the wider struggle, your identity is affirmed, empowered, and uplifted. This is why intersectional feminism matters, because it bonds us together in this broad tapestry of womanhood without erasing what makes each of us unique and powerful.
Thank you so much to Rachel Saunders for writing us this fantastic piece. You can click here to read Rachel’s other work on Medium.