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F word post on intersectionality

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Aug. 24th, 2010 | 11:06 am
posted by: secretrebel in feminism_lives

The F word has an excellent post today on privilege, the dangers of playing oppression Olympics and the importance of intersectionality. You can find it here: Oppression Olympics and The Privilege Paradox.

Intersectionality is a word I only learnt last year but has clarified for me how oppressions link up (untidily) and that being an ally requires intelligent thoughtful listening.

Privilege is a word that has come to be thrown around rather too casually. Some people now view the word (and the concept behind it) with great hostility. Perhaps the word has been used too often by victims of oppression to attack or accuse potential allies. Intersectionality puts privilege into perspective for me. I can acknowledge that I am privileged on some scales and in some contexts while simultaneously recognising that there are also scales and contexts in which I am disadvantaged. Fortunately for me, the former categories outweigh the latter.

At my work we have equality and diversity training. like how those words go together. I like the way in which we're brought to an understanding that equality is not treating everyone the same and that diversity can be invisible. (Our latest facilitator didn't know the word intersectionality though, so there's still some way for us to go!)

What do others think about the words and concepts in the article I've linked. How do you see the intersection of oppressions? Is the language of modern feminism helpful to you or do you find it off-putting?

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Comments {15}

Mo

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from: undyingking
date: Aug. 24th, 2010 10:52 am (UTC)
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To me, feminism is one aspect of a larger ethic of social justice, rather than being a discrete philosophy in itself, so it has always puzzled me that there seems to be such a need for "why feminists should also care about other things"-type exposition. But if there is the need, and language like this helps bring it across to people, then great. I hope we can socially out-evolve it at some point, though.

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Secret Rebel

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from: secretrebel
date: Aug. 24th, 2010 11:18 am (UTC)
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I agree with that in general. But I keep thinking of the Equalities Commission and that we're not yet in a place where mashingup social injustice into a big lump is ideal. I think viewing oppressions as separate but interlocking and organisations to fight against oppression makes more coherent and ideological sense than a catch all conception of bad and good. (Not that this is what you were suggesting but reductio ad absurdum can take us there.)

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Mo

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from: undyingking
date: Aug. 24th, 2010 12:04 pm (UTC)
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Hmm, I'm not sure. I absolutely agree that the best practical way to tackle such issues is in a separate-but-interlocking way as you describe. But I think it's important to retain the notion of a philosophically coherent humanism that lies behind this activity. Otherwise you get into a divide-and-rule situation, where oppressors are able to eg. play off minority cultural concerns against women's rights, because resistance is coming from incoherent different directions. No amount of discussion of intersectionality will bridge that gap if groups' aims turn out to be essentially contradictory.

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Secret Rebel

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from: secretrebel
date: Aug. 24th, 2010 12:50 pm (UTC)
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But you get the divide and conquer response even when groups aims are aligned.

For example, when we were fighting to save local libraries in the 90s, we marched to the council en masse. As well as the library marchers there were other groups marching for play groups, meals on wheels for the elderly, swimming pools - every sort of council service, all at risk of massive cuts. The different groups were all allied, we all thought the services were important. But the council's response was to ask each group which of the other services they thought should be cut instead. (No one accepted the premise of the question - well done us. :)

People will always try to find some wedge to divide an alliance.

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Mo

(no subject)

from: undyingking
date: Aug. 24th, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC)
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That's right, they will always try to divide – the question is whether it works or not. In your example, it didn't work, because the pressure groups, while different in focus, were all on common philosophical ground about the general value of public services. I think that supports my argument above – that this underlying commonality is essential for strength.

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The grumpton

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from: annifa
date: Aug. 24th, 2010 07:00 pm (UTC)
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I recently gave a paper on intersectionality. As a Black feminist, it's really important to me that people talk about it. So often at meetings, I am the only Black woman present, there are no Disabled women, no women who aren't middle-class and the conversations are always the same.

Feminism is, and should be, a wider social movement but so often seems to come down to the same three or four issues which have no relevance to women trying to make ends meet in a tower block, or dealing with FGM in the family and so on and so forth.

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Secret Rebel

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from: secretrebel
date: Aug. 26th, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
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I;d be really interested in reading that paper, if that's possible?

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glittertigger

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from: glittertigger
date: Aug. 24th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
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I'm afraid I find the privilege/oppression vocabulary deeply offputting, largely because the last few feminist discussions I've had have seemed to revolve around people correcting my vocabulary or telling me I'm privileged in some way which means I'm unable to understand them, or which means my views aren't valid. It feels like the real problems have got lost behind being overly fussy about the language used to describe them. I rarely publicly identify as a feminist at the moment, because I feel so estranged from what seem to be the current mainstream.

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glittertigger

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from: glittertigger
date: Aug. 24th, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)
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I just wanted to clarify that it's the vocabulary used which is an issue rather than the concepts, and I feel there should be a way to express the concepts more accessibly. That F-word article is actually a good example for me, in that they have used specialist enough terminology that they've had to provide links to definitions of several of them, and in order to know what they were talking about I had to look up those definitions. I can usually read whole novels and magazines without needing to look up vocabulary. To reach a wider audience, modern feminism need to be able to make its statements clearly enough that the audience doesn't need a glossary.

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The Woman Who Would Have Thunder in her Heart

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from: alitheapipkin
date: Aug. 25th, 2010 10:55 am (UTC)
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Oh yes, this exactly! This type of article makes me feel like I need a degree in sociology to join in any discussions and be able to express myself appropriately. Making me think and educate myself is one thing, but I want to be doing so about the issues more than the terminology.

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Jessie

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from: jessiehl
date: Aug. 25th, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC)
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Yes, this.

I think the jargon of academic feminism (and the academic wings of other social justice movements) is alienating to large numbers of people (especially when it takes words that already have meanings in common discourse and gives them different meanings). It's alienating to members of advantaged groups who are prospective allies. It's alienating to other members of your disadvantaged group who don't know the lingo (not to mention kind of classist, unintentionally, as it may exclude people who have less formal education). It sets your movement up for caricature and parody.

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Secret Rebel

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from: secretrebel
date: Aug. 26th, 2010 11:25 am (UTC)
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I agree about the potential for unintentional classism and the alienation.

However this is the language of academic feminism. Academic language does have a lot of specialist terms and common terms used in a specialist way.

Ideally feminist and campaigners for social justice in general will use several different registers, suiting the language to the intended audience. For example, the post I linked isn't that typical of the F word which (due to multiple columnists) has a more varied style.

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Calla Lily

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from: bleedingcherub
date: Aug. 29th, 2010 02:43 am (UTC)
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I think it's something other than academia at work in these jargon wars. Many of the terms/their use seem intended to create and enforce the context of a particular viewpoint rather than to point to a specific phenomenon. What is supposedly academic feminism does not strike me as rigorous at all, but as an in-crowd defense tactic. I'm sure this comment will meet with some very grouchy replies.

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Calla Lily

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from: bleedingcherub
date: Aug. 29th, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)
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oh whoops, I thought I was in the feminism community. Maybe not so grouchy replies then :P

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Secret Rebel

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from: secretrebel
date: Aug. 30th, 2010 12:59 pm (UTC)
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LOL!

Yu're reasonably safe from that here, I hope.

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