I Am Not Free While Any Woman Is Unfree

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” (Audre Lorde)

As feminists, as people who wish to eliminate all forms of oppression, I think it’s important to get a better grasp on ‘intersectionality’.  The word was first coined by critical legal theorist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to explain how race and gender oppression interact in black women’s lives.

Within the feminist movement, there exist a multitude of ideas and approaches.  Though it would be foolish to ignore the fact that racist and heterosexist ideas sometimes exist in the feminist movement, we should take this knowledge into account and work to build an understanding of the individual importance and intersecting nature of varying feminist ideas.

If we want our feminism to mean anything, it’s vital we incorporate intersectionality into the work we do and the words we speak. Intersectionality is about taking in on yourself to learn, to form better bonds, to understand, to change yourself the way you’ve asked others to change.

Black Feminism gives a voice to black women, it allows them to and is opening up feminism by highlighting the similarities between racist and sexist discrimination.  LGBT Feminism expands the movement to be inclusive of people within the LGBT community and aids in the fight to end oppression of people with varying sexualities and gender identities.  We can and should understand that the struggle for liberation is not exclusive, and that as the connections between different factions strengthen, so will the movement as a whole.

I am black. I am a woman. These are not exclusive. I am both at the same time. Identities cannot be neatly segmented into little pieces that can be individually addressed, because they interlock with each other. Audre Lorde wrote beautifully about how she was often asked to speak for all black women when she was invited to speak at feminist events, but to leave out speaking about her experiences as a lesbian,or as an economically disadvantaged single mother. She refused to do so, saying:

“My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restriction of externally imposed definition.”

People, cannot be chopped apart for a movement. And movements that refuse to acknowledge their own complicity with oppression will continue the same acts of oppression.

People inside the movements get angry about calls for intersectionality. They complain about people like me because we keep dragging ‘side issues’ into ‘their movement’ and they don’t understand that these issues are the movement. Because a movement that commits oppression in the name of liberation is not a good movement. 

Several feminists were angry at black feminists who called out the racism in the “Women are the Niggers of the world” sign at a ‘feminist’ protest. They don’t see what the big deal is. What they don’t understand is that these ‘surface issues’ reveal the cracks at the core of the movement, the deep, systemic problems that people are not dealing with. Intersectionality is about what that sign symbolises, that someone decided that sign was a good idea, that someone decided to carry that sign. (Yes its a  John Lennon song, no it doesn’t make it any less racist.)

Transphobia is the great shame of modern feminism. A recent example would be the London Feminist Network. Every year, the women-only march ‘Reclaim the Night London’ is questioned on its attitude towards trans women. It has now become clear Reclaim the Night welcomes all kinds of women however  it’s reported that the committee that finally agreed to welcome trans women on the London Feminist Network website, (but not their flyer) was apparently split down the middle.

We cannot—as a progressive community—rally around notions of “progression” and, yet, be complicit in the very homophobia, racism and sexism that violently terrorises the lives of so many others.

We need to create a movement where interconnectedness and unity is our priority. As we strive to be more inclusive and understanding of one another’s experiences and ideas, we will create a stronger critique that adequately explains and addresses all incarnations of patriarchal oppression.  In order to accomplish this, it is essential to realise the identification of people of all gender identities, sexualities, racial backgrounds, and economic classes as feminist’s builds solidarity and increases the potency of the movement.

As we consistently and constantly strive to create a better and more effective feminism, we will bring ourselves closer to a more egalitarian world that allows each of us to thrive and accomplish our goals.

Intersectionality is not an option. Simply put: intersectionality matters because the current system, as it stands, is crushing me.  And, it is crushing the people I work in solidarity with. You must commit to being intersectional in your thinking, your actions, all the time. 

by Aamna Mohdin

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One response to “I Am Not Free While Any Woman Is Unfree

  1. Pingback: “Ain’t I a Woman” « Femination

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