Thursday, October 13, 2011

On the importance of appreciating intersectionality if one cares about remedying or ending the oppression of women

image is from here

Curiously, obnoxiously, or infuriatingly, depending on your political location and tolerance for stupidity, some whites are into dissing the concept of "intersectionality" as post-modern nonsense designed to unnecessarily or obfuscate the oppression of women by men, or of poor men by rich men, or of people of color by whites.

We might note that for people oppressed by race, class, region, religion, sexuality, and gender, "intersectionality" may well be one of the most useful conceptual tools for describing one's own experience of being in the world. But for the less complexly oppressed, it may well seem like a messy addition to the language of anti-oppression and liberation work.

I've been hearing of whites dissing this term most of all: class-privileged, non-Lesbian, regionally and educationally privileged whites at that. How convenient for them to disrespect and dismiss a way of understanding the world's human populations that makes more visible women who are not white, class-privileged, and advantaged structurally in other ways as well. How white supremacist to pretend that such a term is unnecessary and needlessly distracting from the "core" issue: men's oppression of [white] women. Also, without utlising the concept of intersectionality to the problem of women's oppression, we might (dangerously) be able to ignore how white women and men across race oppress women of color.

For the whites who only listen to other whites, who insist the term isn't appropriate or useful--or necessary--in the struggle to end patriarchal and male supremacist atrocities, who won't take the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw and so many other radical womanists and feminists seriously, I recommend they review this lecture by a prominent U.S. white radical feminist. MacKinnon has, herself, problematically discussed the condition of white women in an essay critiqued for appearing to minimise the political meaning and racist-misogynist oppression acted out of the whiteness of white women--against women of color. See *here* for that. And see *here* for the PDF which contains a response/critique.

If anyone obtains the transcript of text of MacKinnon's lecture, I'd be interested to read it.
Oct 12
Intersectionalities: Theorizing Multiple Discrimination, Identity and Power

Catharine A. MacKinnon, University of Michigan

William and June Warren Hall, Room 207

6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Sponsored by the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies and co-sponsored by The Center for Gender and Sexuality Law

Catharine A. MacKinnon is the Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan. She is among the most heavily cited scholars publishing in the English language, and is world renowned for her groundbreaking work in the areas of feminist jurisprudence, pornography and civil rights, and politicizing rape and other forms of gender-based violence as a "gender crime" in the context of international human rights law. Since 2008, she has served as the Special Gender Advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (The Hague).

*Introduction by Beth Ribet, Research Director, Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies [source for this: ]


  1. As much as I respect Catharine MacKinnon, I honestly found that "What is a White Woman Anyway" a bit offensive... And so, I wonder if she is aware of the racial hierarchy that exists within the sex industry and its significance for Indigenous women, Black women, Asian women, Hispanic women, etc... because yeah, those women are at the very bottom and in a lot of cases, they're treated even worse than white prostituted women (not saying that they aren't equally deserving of respect and empathy, of course). It's already bad enough that pornographers perpetuate this racio-misogynistic concept that women of colour are these "dirty irresponsible sluts", or "jezebels" with a "dirty" sexuality and that especially aren't deserving of respect. I am pretty sure you have already read my take on white feminists. I mentioned that article only briefly, and I wish I could I have gone into more depth about it, but I am on a blogging hiatus because I am really busy these days.

    You should also take a look at this, if you haven't already:

    It's a very sad story about Sara Baartman.

  2. Thanks for the comment, consciousness, and link too, eternalsunshine. I've seen it and welcome anyone who hasn't seen it to do so. It is horrible what happened to Sara Baartman and so many millions of women and girls of color over the centuries and across the world.

    Here's that link:

    I was outraged by what seemed to be to the blatant white supremacist racism of MacKinnon's essay. (And I've supported a lot of her work for a lot of years.) I'm hoping she'll respond to the critiques published elsewhere. And I hope her newer work shows radical consciousness and sensitivity to the many disgusting ways white men treat various groups of women differently (atrociously). I also hope in this newer work she critically analyses what being white means in North America as a white woman who is structurally positioned over and against women of color.

    I hope life gets a bit less busy for you.

  3. Hello Julian,

    Here's a link to a poem by Suheir Hammad that speaks to the relentless objectification and abuse of women of Color as opposed to White women. She included Middle Eastern women in addition to Black, indigenous, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Latina women.


    You may also want to read the blog post by Irresistible Revolution at:!/2011/09/jasmine-diaries-part-i-colonial.html!/2011/09/jasmine-diaries-part-ii-exotic-is-not.html

    What are your thoughts on the articles and poem?

    La Reyna

  4. Hi La Reyna!

    Thank you so much for the comment and links. I just posted this reply to the poem which appears at your blog:

    "I think this is a tremendously powerful poem, expressing so much that men and whites need to hear and comprehend to the depths of our souls and societies."

    I find that Suheir Hammad's ways of naming various populations of women of color globally is far more inclusive than my own, with the addition of Middle Eastern, Latina, and Pacific Island women to Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous women. I have heard several politically active women of color use the term "Brown" as an inclusive term for many women around the world but these terms often become simultaneously helpful and problematic.

    For example, I struggle with dominant cultural usages of "Middle Eastern" (in part as someone whose own heritage places me there)--but not by women who identify with and use the term. Only as a US white male struggling to understand and challenge how US and European imperialism shapes so many of us. "Middle East", as it is used in dominant media, brings me also to think of how the arrogant euro-white "West" thinks in term of what is "near", "middle" and "far" to the east in relation only to itself. (Why doesn't US media refer as often to Central Asia; and why, in the white lexicon, is there no place called "Western Asia"?

    But naming is always complex, isn't it? What choices in North America aren't tied in some ways to white-European cultural and political imperialism? One example: I don't use the term "Hispanic" here or in my off-line life, but sure do respect anyone doing so who ethnically speaks Spanish and/or who is Latina/Latino. Since a Latino-Indigenous activist informed me the term is, in the US, largely a government-created term designed to disempower Latina/o and North American Indigenous people, I stopped using it.

    I remember someone who was white and class- and education- privileged suggesting "we" who are oppressed in some way reject all the terms the oppressors use against us. I responded, "All the terms gay males use to name ourselves, including "gay", are used against us. Any of the terms Jews use, including of course "Jew", are used against us, derisively. So what are we to do? Honoring oppressed people's various ways of naming ourselves is the only way to go, I've found.

    Below, I'll hyperlink what you included above so visitors here can read and see what is presented there. I find great value in what is written at Irresistible Revolution and have added it to my blog roll. I am now reading (and listening to) the Jasmine Diaries series. I applaud and otherwise support the observations and analysis, and her own efforts to make her way through dominant media and governments that would kill anyone they can't exploit--or do both simultaneously:

    "Images narrativize and normalize history and shape our collective social conscious. In a not-so-post colonial, white supremacist, heteropatriarchal world, the images we see are often shaped by intersecting oppressions, and without critical consciousness we risk imbibing and perpetuating the lies of the oppressors."

  5. Blogger isn't allowing me to hyperlink the blog posts, La Reyna.

    Grrrrrr. I may try again another time.

    I wish you well with your own work. Please visit here any time. I welcome your comments, concerns, and critiques. Love to you.

    I've got more reading to do over at Irresistible Revolution. (Great name!)

  6. Thanks Julian Real for posting your perspective on Suheir Hammad's poem and what it means for us women of Color, not just in the US, but around the world who are objectified, used, exploited, abused, and murdered without consequence by the white supremacist system.

    Here's another blog article for you to consider:


    La Reyna

  7. Thanks again, so much, La Reyna, for the reply and the new link. I'm going to have another go at making these work for the other visitors to this page/discussion. Here's the most recent: