I am a 22 year old, White, middle class, heterosexual, democratic, cis-gendered woman. Unbeknownst to me, each one of these defining characteristics of my body and mind are continuously working together to affect my experiences, human interactions, and privileges in the world. It is as if we are all marked by a series of certain distinctions; (sex, gender, race, sexuality, age, socio economic and marital status, cultural group, and religion) all of which have their own place in the hierarchy of human difference, some affording us privilege, while others only seem to set us apart from the norm.

With the endless amount of possibilities, it is impossible to assume that any two women have experienced, in the same way, what it means to be a woman in this world. While White lesbian women in the United States are fighting for their right to participate in the institution of marriage, African women are struggling to eliminate the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. Based on our very different personal experiences as women, we have created a variety of agendas all in the name of Feminism.

As explained by Patricia Hill-Collins’ concept of intersectionality, described in her book, Black Sexual Politics, there is no such thing as “just” a woman. Every woman belongs to a certain cultural group, has a certain color of skin and hair, practices some sort of belief system, earns a certain amount of money, ect. Each one of these features cannot be considered singularly, but must be examined in context with all of the others. As women from hundreds of different backgrounds come together at the feminist front, it is crucial that these differences are not ignored! As Audre Lorde, a Black, lesbian feminist, points out, “white women ignore their built-in privilege of whiteness and define women in terms of their own experience alone, then women of Color become “other”, the outsider whose experience and tradition is too “alien” to comprehend”.

This limited mindset of what it means to be a woman has grave consequences and limits the effect of the feminist movement.  I believe the incorporation of intersectionality into feminist theory can bring about great social changes. As women continue to broaden their ideas of “women” while noticing their own privilege and building an awareness of others experiences, the differences that seem so numerous between us will work instead to unite us. Through the confrontation of our own prejudices on a day-to-day basis we can begin to use difference in the way it was intended. It is in this way that feminists can grow and change, claiming and supporting new identities and actively working together to form a better future.

 

Jennifer Peper

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