On Thursday, September 13, I had the opportunity to be part of a panel hosted by FWD Collective, on the topic of race and feminism, alongside the brilliant and inspiring Erin Thomas and Nicole Vasquez. I spoke about what Intersectional Feminism means to me as a white woman, an ally, and a sexual violence prevention educator.
I am sharing some of my talking points here on our blog, because our Intersectional Approach is a very important part of our solution for empowering bystander intervention allies in every community worldwide.
What does intersectional feminism mean to me?
- It means advocating for women’s rights and equality between the sexes, while understanding how race, class, religion, sexual orientation and other overlapping aspects of our identities influence our experience of oppression and discrimination. It also means I am building my companies with a global focus, because a global feminist movement is essential to driving any meaningful cultural shift away from white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
- As a white women, it means continually recognizing and checking my privileges and using my power to make other women visible within the feminist movement.
What are my own identities, privileges, and positions of power in relation to the issue of sexual violence prevention? How does my identity impact my work on the issue?
- I am very privileged. I have benefited from my race, class, sexual orientation, religious background, and even my geographic proximity to a major city and all the resources it has to offer. Because of this, it is easy for me to see myself reflected in the feminist narrative, which has unfortunately reflected the perspectives of only the most privileged women.
- On the flip side, I am challenged in my work to promote the power and safety of all women because privilege is blinding. Though I am always listening and learning, I still have so much to learn of the myriad vulnerabilities many women experience.
- For example: When I first started doing sexual violence intervention trainings, I emphasized calling the police, as if every person trusts the police to protect them and treat them justly, like I can. That is simply not true for many people.
What have I learned about intersectional feminism through my work as a sexual violence prevention advocate?
- When it comes to combating violence, it is crucial to understand that our relationships to the “justice system” are very different. Intersectional solutions for sexual violence cannot rely entirely on the justice system, but must instead be grassroots and highlight what each individual good person can do to speak up and stand up for the rights of others. Similarly, solutions that attempt to represent all women (like the Women’s March) must address the experiences of the most marginalized, and there may need to be different solutions to address the different ways people experience discrimination.
- For Example: Across the country, homeless shelters are divided along lines of sex. Due to the violence transgender men and women face in men’s shelters, the New York City shelter system began allowing transgender people to choose the shelter in which they feel safest. The measure has reduced the number of transpeople on the street and their experience of violence in the shelter system. Intersectional measures, including this example, are not “special” treatment but specifically appropriate remedies to address the particular discrimination faced by transpeople.
- I have also learned the difference between being an Ally and being a Hero. The Hero wants to feel good about helping others, but they don’t stop to consider the perspective of those they try to help. The Ally, on the other hand, gives control over the situation back to the person being impacted by violence or discrimination by asking, “How can I help?” and then listening and respecting the answer.
What is the role of white women in intersectional feminism?
- Listening, engaging with and reflecting on the perspectives of women of color…but listening is just the beginning. Be open to learning, honestly exploring what they say, and changing your perspective.
- Look at the dynamic of race with the same critical eyes you turn towards examining the dynamic of gender. Understand that race and womanhood is an entirely plural thing, meaning that every woman’s experiences vary due to factors such as class, sexuality, disability, and where we are situated by geopolitics.
What are my practical tips for creating positive change?
- Try to be an Ally!
- Take a bystander intervention training course to learn simple and effective things you can do and say to help protect the rights of others and create cultural change.
- Listen more!
- Try to seek out information about things that are going on for other oppressed groups. Follow Rebellious Magazine for Women, for example, which has writers from all backgrounds and regularly publishes about the topic of intersectional feminism.
- Listen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, We Should All be Feminists. It’s very accessible, but deals with complex themes – structural inequality, feminism in a global context, how different prejudices can overlap, etc.
- Volunteer in your community! Here in Chicago, I recommend getting involved with the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, which focuses on empowering women and ending racism.