January 2, 2012

The Rise of Intersectionality in 2011

2011 in a nutshell.
      One of the most important shifts in feminism I saw in 2011 was tantamount to revolution: intersectionality. The closest I can come to a definition on my own is this: Feminism does not exist in a vacuum, and in many ways the feminist movement has been operating that way for decades. Over the last year especially we are seeing a huge split in opportunities and advances for women in America. White, wealthy, educated women, or those who otherwise fall into a "more privileged" category are living in a feminist America in many ways. Meanwhile, poor women, women of color, disabled women, and those who otherwise fall into doubly-or triply! marginalized or oppressed categories are still living in a pre-feminism America. Intersectionality is the place where feminism and other forces against social oppression intersect, and the act of addressing these issues in a feminist forum. So many important pieces of writing and activism have been published in the last year, and I'm going to give my two cents of some of these issues after the jump.

The sign heard around the Blogosphere

      Flavia Dzodan of the awesomely unapologetic Tiger Beatdown wrote a wonderful piece about the intersection of feminism and race in her piece MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT! this past October, in response to the controversy over a sign at Slutwalk. I have a lot of strong feelings attached to this particular intersection, because although I am indeed a feminist of color, I am quite light-skinned, and therefore afforded many privileges associated with "passing" for white. SlutWalk itself was controversial in and of itself for many people. In my humble opinion, dressing however you please and marching against victim-blaming generated a very important conversation that needed to happen. On the other hand, SlutWalk seemed like an echo of another protest movement that has drawn a great deal of attention through white people being the subject of casual and routine police brutality for the first time in several decades.

Safer Spaces needed for women at OWS
      Occupy Wall Street, one of the most talked-about occurrences in America in the last year, has time and again proved insensitive or outright hostile to anything it perceives as "diluting" its message of protesting income inequality in America. This is something I have both read about and experienced personally. The (admittedly small) presence in Syracuse, New York, has actively tried to dissuade feminist protesters who have tried to join the movement, and been possessive complainers regarding any degree of intersectionality. This saddens me greatly, as did the reception on OWS-related issues among my fellow college students here in Central New York. An atmosphere of elitism and open mockery pervades many classrooms, and brought home to me how unwilling people are to see past their own privilege to listen to issues that don't directly affect them, as well as those who do. The lack of safe space for female protesters at OWS events has also hit many realms of social media over the last few months, as well as issues at the intersection of OWS, gender and race. It's not that these issues didn't exist before; the last year has just seen these voices become louder and more insistent as more Americans are talking to the streets for social justice and realizing just how diverse we really are.

the silencing of disabled bodies
Trunk: Say What?
      In 2011, I have also seen a rise in the voices of disabled feminists. A blog post that touched me deeply was "Quiet Hands", written by an autistic woman who has PTSD from ABA (a "treatment" for autism that is still used and that many find to be of questionable ethics). I couldn't help but equate the silencing of the bodies of disabled people with the silencing of women's bodies and voices, both of which are incredibly pervasive on our society (just think about the way female sexuality and disabled sexuality are viewed in American culture). Women with disabilities are often left out of both feminist discussions AND disability discussions, despite being 40-50% more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse that non-disabled women(link opens as PDF).The degree to which women with disabilities-especially those with developmental disabilities!-internalize sexist culture and are victims of repeated and prolonged domestic violence has reached new heights of exposure in the blog of [EVERY TRIGGER WARNING FOR ANYTHING EVER, including photos of a battered and sexualized woman] Penelope Trunk, a woman with Asperger Syndrome. (The same woman has been called out by many online feminist venues for writing incredibly sexist and self-hating pieces of "career" advice for women in business.) It just goes to show how badly the intersection of feminism and disability needs to be explored even further in our community.

Reevaluating the place of men in Feminism
       Another controversy to hit the online feminist blogs right at the end of 2011 was Clarisse Thorn's interview of Hugo Schwyzer on Feministe.com, a man with a documented history of violence against women who now does activist work for the feminist movement. The deluge of comments and degenerating discussion caused Feministe to delete the post, and was then followed by resignations, some hate mail, an apology/retraction, and continues to generate Op-Ed pieces around the online feminist community. The controversy here brought an incredibly important issue to light, at least in my eyes. That issue is making the Political personal again, or "What do you do when you find out your best friend/lover/husband/male relative is a perpetrator of violence against women?" The intersection of men and women is just as important to feminism as any of the others. Men's place in the Women's Movement has always been a topic of controversy, and after decades of rollercoaster-esque feminism-and-backlash, I think that is is very important that this be brought into the main conversation once again. Although the issue is among the most divisive, shying away from it is NOT the answer. And, to come full circle, it also underscores the prevalence of violence towards women in many protests and political movements, EVEN the American Feminist movement, illustrating the need once again for safer spaces for women along the path towards social justice.

       All in all, I leave 2011 with a feeling of desperate hope in one hand, and the expectation of despair in the other. The most dangerous topics are the ones that are viewed as taboo, are divisive, or "diluting the message", and these are the issues that we are seeing come into the discussion more frequently than ever before. On the other, the rabid clinging to the sputtering embers of privilege are causing backlash out of proportion to gains, with a strong aftertaste of "one step forward, two steps back". On a personal front, my commitment to speaking out whenever I see injustice has left me a wasted, wrung-out and weepy version of myself. I'm honestly afraid in many ways of which shit sandwich this election year is going to see rise into power. On the other hand, the Affordable Care Act is coming into effect this August, allowing me a specific reproductive freedom that has been denied me for twelve years. 2012 is looking like a mixed bag, but I'm hoping what I was raised to believe will prove true: that if we talk about it enough, we will reach a new understanding of ourselves, others, and "Others". ¡Feliz Nuevo Año a todos!

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