Hey how do you feel about intersectionality? Do you know what it is? We’re going to talk even more about this in the second installment of our feminist roundtable. This discussion is going to be even better than a college class because 1) we aren’t your Soc 101 professor, we’re Autostraddle!, and 2) we’re talking about the real life feelings of queer girls, and who doesn’t love those?
“Basically, the idea is that being a white woman and being a black women (or being a straight woman and being a gay woman) are really different experiences that come with different types/degrees of oppression.
To bring everyone up to speed, here’s the basics on intersectionality: It’s a sociological way of thinking that was made popular mostly because of Patricia Hill Collins. She has written a BUNCH about the ways that different identities — usually race and gender, in her case — interact with each other. Basically, the idea is that being a white woman and being a black women (or being a straight woman and being a gay woman) are really different experiences that come with different types/degrees of oppression. These were controversial issues a few decades ago, though it all might seem pretty obvious to those of us who grew up with third wave feminism — but even third wave feminism still often fails to deal adequately with these issues.
Intersectionality is now pretty much the most widely accepted way of thinking of about identity, at least for sociologists. But that doesn’t mean the real world has caught up. For many women, reconciling multiple oppressed identities is still a daily struggle.
At Autostraddle, almost all of us deal with being a woman and being gay — and some of us have to deal with being racial or religious minorities, too. That can feel like fighting a war on three fronts at the same time, which brings us to our next roundtable question. But first, if you haven’t already read it, check out part one of this roundtable when we discussed how we became feminists.
How does your race and/or sexuality impact your feminist identity?
Do you ever feel you have to “pick one”?
Editorial Disclaimer: The individual opinions and views expressed below do not necessarily reflect those of the editorial board, Autostraddle.com, The Excitant Group LLC or other sponsors and partners.
LANEIA, EXECUTIVE EDITOR: I had to untangle a lot of my negative feelings about male privilege and expectation — feelings I’d had for a lifetime, but hadn’t been able to vocalize or own.
To be honest, my feminist identity hasn’t been burdened by my race at all. It was, however, stunted by my upbringing in a rural southern town, which I’m pretty sure I’ve gone over ad nauseum. For what it’s worth, I’m not putting down the South in any way — I don’t believe anyone consciously kept me from this greater knowledge of the world. But with my limited resources, it sure as hell was hard to find. I’m willing to take the blame for most of that, though. It was no one else’s job to enlighten me.
Like any other parent, I’m really just hoping
not to raise a couple of assholes.
This might sound terrible, but I used to have a difficult time reconciling my feminist identity with the fact that I was the queer mother of two young boys. Probably if I’d had my children after realizing I was gay, this wouldn’t have felt so massive and urgent. As it was, I had to untangle a lot of my negative feelings about male privilege and expectation — feelings I’d had for a lifetime, but hadn’t been able to vocalize or own — and really focus on what I knew to be true of these young men I’d created and promised to care for: a) they haven’t done anything wrong, and b) I get to help shape how they view the world.
It’s been challenging to see things through their eyes. I’ve witnessed how their privileges also come with burdens, like the need to appear emotionally passive or hyper-masculine, and I’ve learned to be sensitive to these burdens in a way that feels almost like going backstage at a concert. Seeing the other side of the pressures they face has made me understand the world in a completely different way, and it really only serves to reinforce my feminist ideals. I don’t believe they’d face these unnecessary pressures if we didn’t live in such a binary society, where masculinity (in approved forms, of course) is celebrated, while femininity makes everyone squeamish.
Like any other parent, I’m really just hoping not to raise a couple of assholes. And like any good feminist, I’m hoping to teach these guys that their actions matter and that understanding concepts like consent, respect and equality doesn’t mean you’ve given up anything as a man.
BECKY, STYLE EDITOR: I am a feminist because I was born thinking I had to stand up for what I believed in — or die trying.
Being the crazy Cuban that I am, I think a lot about how my gender/sexuality/race congeals into the person that I am. Most of my thinking on the subject actually comes from my grandmother. Though she’s probably never even heard of the term “feminist,” she’s never taken sh*t from anyone — especially men. The things she did to get out of Cuba are going to be made into a movie some day (hopefully by my hand). I’m talking secret plots, arson, seduction, sleeping outside of embassies for days, working for that Che Guevara t-shirt everyone has come to so blindly adore, cutting deals with the communists, getting her brother out of prison, working three jobs for an extra pound of potatoes and still having to cook my father’s pet bunny in a paella to survive. Oh yeah, and when she was 17, she was the sole provider for her ailing parents, her brother, her toddler son, and her no-good-cheating-drunk-husband she ‘kicked out’ (’cause she took no bullsh*t) but helped support because he actually would’ve died without her and she never wanted to commit murder, at least of him.
Okay, so I just revealed so much of my family history that it’s a little disconcerting. But the point is, being a woman allowed her to do a lot of what she was able to do, but it was also the reason why she had to do most of it. I think about that a lot. When my sister and I were children, my grandma would pull us aside and tell us how pretty we were and how smart we were, and then she would lower her voice and whisper, “trust no one.” Actually she still does that now.
Much of my feminist mentality has been both incited and hidden behind my Cuban heritage.
Anyway, anything strong, powerful, independent, and ultimately feminist we did from there on out, we would label it Abuelita Nanny style (that’s what we call her). When we do something bold or abrasive, or stand up for ourselves or for our identity or for any damn thing we feel like we should be standing up for, we call it our Cuban roots kicking in.
It’s interesting because I’m just realizing this now, but much of my feminist mentality has been both incited and hidden behind my Cuban heritage. For me, I never felt like I had to pick between being a feminist and being a “good traditional Cuban” because my grandma already took the initiative to rebel against all that. When my grandma was 14 her parents wanted her to stay home and “help the mother and attend to the men.” I mean, come on, they were Spaniards in 1942. But my abuelita decided to work at a dry cleaners instead so she could pay for night classes at a university. When I was 14, I thought I was rebellious because I’d wear shoelaces around my neck.
Consequently, in the beginning of figuring out my sexuality, I did feel like my queerness was a betrayal of everything my grandma had worked so hard for. (It seems absolutely appalling to say now, but that’s how I felt.) I just kept thinking that she risked her life for the American dream, the white picket fence, the millions of red-blooded great-grand kids …yes, after all of this, suddenly, somehow, I got it into my head that my grandma kicked ass so my sister and I could be Taylor Swift.
I think it was because when she finally did make it onto the plane to America, they were served Coca Cola, and she cried and cried because she hadn’t seen Coca Cola in years. So I equate Coke with the American dream. Seriously. And I thought I was rejecting all that by being gay — throwing it back in her face. It took an outside source (a straight, white, male friend) to ask me something along the lines of: don’t you think you would be betraying her more if you came to a country where you could be so free only to hide who you really are? And that’s when it dawned on me: 1) my grandma risked her life for FREEDOM, not for Taylor Swift grandchildren 2) she loves me more than life itself no matter what — and that includes gender identity and sexuality, ’cause those things are part of life.
I don’t know if this rambling answered the question, and I probably could have said this in far fewer words and with far less mushy stories. But I am a feminist because I was born thinking I had to stand up for what I believed in — or die trying. And for a moment, I forgot my sexuality was an extension of that. But now I know — viva la style de Abuelita Nanny!
SARAH, ASSOCIATE EDITOR: I started thinking about feminism at the same time I realized I was gay, so issues of gender and sexuality have always been intertwined in my head.
I experience sexism much more than homophobia on a daily basis. Even though I live in a fairly conservative area, my presentation is pretty straight. If someone knows my sexuality, it’s because I’ve told them — or maybe because of Facebook, but that’s another conversation. Of my oppressed identity characteristics, I have to worry about being a woman much more than I worry about being gay, at least when I’m walking down the street.
My feminist friends read about rape,
while I read about DADT or trans beatings.
We end up educating each other about those topics.
Because of Autostraddle, though, I’m usually more aware of systematic oppression based on sexuality. My feminist friends read about rape, while I read about DADT or trans beatings. We end up educating each other about those topics, luckily, but my priority has definitely been LGBT issues lately. Still, that doesn’t mean that my gay identity is more important than my feminist identity. I started thinking about feminism at the same time I realized I was gay, so issues of gender and sexuality have always been intertwined in my head.
One problem is that — like the question says — sometimes I feel like I have to pick one of my identities. When I get angry about the Prop 8 trial and that sexist Dockers ad in the same week, I start getting more eye rolls or weird looks. I can’t decide lately how I should respond to those looks: pick my battles, or just keep doing what I’m doing.