“My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”
This is not a new phrase, but it’s being said with renewed vigor on social media these days. Briefly, intersectionality means that systems of oppression intersect and cannot be considered independently of each other. I agree with this. In fact, in college, I got mad at my Feminism in Philosophy prof because she said we ‘didn’t have time’ to talk about racism. As an Asian American woman (this was before I realized I was bi), this pissed me off because I knew that any talk about what it meant to be a woman for me had to include my race as well. So, yeah, I’m down with intersectionality – just not all the time. Why not? I’m glad you asked.
First of all, you can’t include everyone all the time. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. And, if that’s the case, where do you draw the line? That’s the tricky part. Let me give you an example. Martha Plimpton hosted a charity event to benefit an abortion clinic in Texas. She called it A Night of a Thousand Vaginas. Now, the name is not the greatest, I admit, but you can bet that it caught people’s attention. Well, some people started complaining that it excluded trans*men and should be changed. I’m not even sure if it was trans*men themselves who were complaining or other people on their behalf, but to me, it was an example of letting perfect be the enemy of the good. Abortion is being systematically eradicated in Texas to the point where Roe v. Wade is de facto revoked. Martha Plimpton was doing something to change that, and instead of celebrating her involvement, some people were fixated on the title of the event instead.
In addition, you need to have a vagina (and a uterus) in order to have an abortion. If a trans*man has had an abortion, he had that equipment at that time. I’m sorry if that’s offensive, but it’s fucking true. Pointing that out is not trans*phobic – it’s reality. Calling Martha Plimpton transphobic because she refused to change the title is not doing anyone any good, and just because she disagreed about it, it doesn’t necessarily mean she was transphobic by default. I wrote another post on how shaming shuts down a conversation, which you can read here.
Which brings me to another reason I’m wary about the word intersectionality. These days, it seems that people use the word to say, “You better care about my issues, but I’m not going to give a fuck about yours.” As an Asian American woman, my issues are rarely addressed in feminist circles. So, when I see, say, some black women saying WoC when making blanket statements about white feminism, I want to point out the hypocrisy. They aren’t talking about me when they talk about intersectionality or use WoC. They mean black women, which is fine, but they use WoC to imply that they’re speaking for or are including all women of color. They aren’t.
A more harsh example of this is when I saw a prominent black feminist on Twitter chastising ‘mainstream’ Asian Americans for quoting Audrey Lorde in pushing back against Suey Park. This prominent black feminist who shields herself from criticism of what she says on race because of her experience as a black woman was saying the experience of certain Asian Americans didn’t count because they were opposing someone she championed. Oh, the fucking irony. I was told similar things by men of color (black and Asian), that my experience as an Asian American woman didn’t count because I disagreed with Suey Park and dared say so. So, yeah, I give the side eye to people who support intersectionality – until it is in opposition to their own beliefs.
Do you know who Yuri Kochiyama is? I didn’t until fairly recently. She was a Japanese American who was very involved in civil rights and was there when Malcolm X was assassinated, but that’s not talked about, for whatever reason. I know what reason. Race is about black and white in this country with brown getting thrown into the mix from time to time. So, yeah, I get a bit salty when black feminists call out white feminists for not being inclusive because I don’t see that same inclusivity being touted when it comes to Asian American women. Except, as noted above, when the latter aligns with their own preconceived notions of how racial relations are in this country.
In addition, how did trans* issues suddenly leapfrog to the front of issues that matter in feminism? I don’t hear jack and shit in support of Asian American women’s issues, but trans* issues? ON. IT. I can’t help but notice that most of the prominent trans* activists are white. Just as most of the prominent queer activists have been white. And, somehow, race still matters as to what is important in feminism. If it’s a white issue, it’s important. If it’s not, then fuck it.*
Which brings me to my point. Finally, Minna, I hear you say. You’re one wordy bitch. First of all, there is no need to take that tone with me, but yes, I am verbose. That’s part of the deal when you read my blog. I go on and on at lengths, circling my way to my point, and you tag along. You should just assume that you need snacks and a comfy duvet before delving into a post of mine. Oh, and make sure you pee beforehand as well. I wouldn’t want you to have to hold it in for the last kajillion words or so. I’ll wait. Ready? OK.
My point is that while intersectionality in theory is great, it’s oftentimes not practically possible. Take, for example, Anita Sarkeesian, who offers a feminist critique on video games. She got a shitton of pushback, much of it vile and disgusting, but I’m not addressing that here.** What I want to address is that her focus is on the portrayal of women in video games. She doesn’t address racial issues in any of the videos I’ve watched or sexuality issues. I could insist that if she doesn’t focus on those issues as well, then she’s not truly being a feminist, but that would be defeating the purpose of advancing awareness on any given issue. In addition, I could expand it even further and say that she doesn’t tackle ableist issues or class issues or, or, or. By the time I was done, I could make it appear that she’s doing more harm than good in addressing the issue of gender identity in video games at all. If I applied the maximum at the beginning of this post to her project, I could easily conclude that she shouldn’t be doing the project at all.
The thing is, you could say that about any event or project because you can’t be everything to everybody. and, in general, it’s much better to focus on one specific thing per event and tackle it in a real-world way than to theorize about all the good you can do across several issues and never actual do anything about them. Taking the aforementioned charity event in Texas, you could say that the event is insensitive to women who can’t conceive and therefore shouldn’t occur for that reason. Sounds ridiculous, but I would bet there are people that feel that way. I’m using a hyperbole to press the point of where do you draw the line? Again, in theory, complete intersectionality is desirable. In the real world, it’s not attainable. Someone’s also going to be left out, and being a socialist, I tend to think of things in terms of what helps the most people (and truly harms the least). I’m going to be harsh and say that if a trans*man is hurt by the use of the word vagina for a charity event to save abortions, he’s going to have to deal with it.
I know. It’s not very inclusive of me, and I cringed as I typed it, but that’s the way it goes in the real world. You are not going to be included in everything all the time, and you’re just going to have to fucking deal with it. Again, some of this is bitterness because I’ve been invisible all my life and no one has agitated to include me in any fucking thing, but there is some validity to what I’m saying. No one cares as much about your issues as you do. Nor, should they. In return, you don’t care as much for someone else’s issue, and nor should you. You can’t care about everything equally, and there’s so much shit in the world, you’d give yourself a heart attack trying to carry about everything. So, to castigate someone for caring about her own issues more than yours is futile and unreasonable. Wanting her to care about your issues when you don’t give a damn about hers is selfish.
I want to add that sometimes, yes, you do have to think about things in a multidimensional fashion. For example, when we talk about the wage gap between genders, it’s important to note that black women, Latinas, Native American women, and Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women make significantly less on average than does a white woman. Asian American woman make the most of women, but still less than their male counterparts (in fact, the intraracial divide for Asian Americans is the greatest, which brings up another interesting point) or white males. The 77 cents on the dollar number that gets tossed around is a figure most relevant to white women. Latinas make 53% of white men do. That’s 25% (a full quarter) less than white women make. The other fascinating point that I mentioned above is that Asian American men make the most, even more than what white men do.***
In general, though, women still make less than men do. That’s something we can apply across the board. And, in tackling the issue, we can’t include every different discrimination in every discussion. When Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, came out with her book, Lean In, she got bashed by some feminists for being elitist and too corporate. She’s the fucking CEO of Facebook. What the fuck would you expect from her? Part of the problem is that most of the prominent feminist voices online are white and middle class. They talk about issues from their insular viewpoint (as we all do) and it’s frustrating because they have a lockdown on the internet market. That’s part of the greatness of Twitter – anyone can say anything and be heard. But, again, power corrupts, and I see people on Twitter turn into the very thing they hate. It seems to me that many of the voices clamoring for intersectionality on Twitter want to take the place of those they are disparaging. And, they don’t offer many solutions to these problems other than, subtly or not, “Hire me!”
I’ve always been cynical, and I’ve always been jaded, but no more so than I am now with those who are supposedly on my side. I see a lot of clamoring, often to the benefit of self with adoration from fans and maybe a writing/speaking gig or two, but to what greater good? Again, taking the Suey Park/#CancelColbert incident, the only good discussions I saw happen occurred despite her inflammatory rhetoric, not because of it. So, maybe she did some good, but it was purely unintentional.
Look. I get the frustration at not being included. I get that it’s hard to be a minority and to feel as if you don’t have a place in the world. I get that you want equality, and you want it NOW. But, not everything is about you, and your insistence that it should be makes you look, well, narcissistic. And, if you insist that everything should be about you without making sure it’s about everyone else as well? Then you sound an awful lot like someone from the majority and that has nothing to do with intersectionality at all.
*Another post I’m writing. You’ll have to wait for it. Oh, and class matters as well, but we rarely talk about that at all.
**I also take issue with her methodology, but I’m also not tackling that in this post.
***Again, another post, another time.