Intersectionality (also referred to as intersectional analysis or intersectionality theory) is an analytical tool for understanding and responding to the ways gender identity intersects with and is constituted by other social factors such as race, age, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Theory and Feminist Thought
Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw of UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, first drew attention to the term ‘intersectionality’ in relation to race and gender theory in a 1989 article discussing the experiences of Black women in the United States. Crenshaw argues that intersectional analysis is a way to expand feminist and antiracist theory, both of which were unable to adequately address the experiences of Black women suffering from both sexual and racial discrimination. She contends that feminist theory and antiracist politics both exist on a single-axis framework which obscures or ignores the experiences of those at the intersection of race and sex. Treating racial and sexual discrimination as mutually exclusive, Crenshaw argues, leads to a problematic theoretical tendency to think of all women as white and all Blacks as men, thus erasing the experiences of those at the intersections.
Crenshaw asks us to conceptualize discrimination in an analogy to traffic.
Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination.
Intersectionality as an analytical tool is used to help understand multiple forms of oppression and encourages examination of how different systems of oppression intersect and affect groups of women in different ways. In addition, feminists argue that an understanding of intersectionality is a vital element to gaining political and social equality and improving our democratic system.
- Bond, Johanna E. “International Intersectionality: A Theoretical and Pragmatic Exploration of Women’s International Human Rights Violations” Emory Law Journal 2003, Vol. 52 71-186.
- Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Politics and Antiracist Politics” University of Chigaco Legal Forum 1989: 139-167.
- Yuval-Davis, Nira. “Intersectionality and Feminist Politics” European Journal of Women’s Studies 2006, London, Sage. Vol. 13(3) 193-209.