Mainstream feminism overlooks issues faced by women who are also affected by their race, wealth, sexuality and disabilities. This leads to the exclusion of women from marginalised backgrounds from feminist spaces, discussions and strategies.
Emma Watson, Taylor Swift, Tina Fey. These names are well-known amongst young feminists today. When they discuss feminism, they talk about fighting for equal rights for women, for more representation in media for women and to get rid of the wage gap. What they neglect to mention is how these issues, and more broadly, sexism, affect different women differently. Mainstream feminism overlooks issues faced by women who are also affected by their race, wealth, sexuality and disabilities. This leads to the exclusion of women from marginalised backgrounds from feminist spaces, discussions and strategies.
In response to mainstream feminism, black feminists in the United States wrote about how for black women, racism and sexism did not operate separately, rather they reinforce one another. The term intersectionality was then coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe this theory. Although intersectionality began as framework for understanding how womanhood could be racialised for black women, this theory has been useful for understanding how oppression affects women differently, based on the various facets of their identity.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, statistics reveal that 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime and that disabled women are twice as likely to be victims of violence compared to other women. These statistics highlight that domestic violence is a gendered issue, however, it is clearly more complicated than that.
These socially constructed categories of women, and the category of women itself, exist to undermine and disempower women in different ways and are all embedded in capitalism. In order to address the higher rates of violence experienced by disabled women it is imperative that we look into how ableism and sexism reinforce one another, and how these oppressions can be further complicated when disability intersects with gender, race, sexuality and class.
Our current mainstream systems for victims of domestic violence cater primarily towards Pākehā women, with very limited resources and in turn, support for indigenous women, migrant women of colour, LGBTQI women, disabled women and economically disadvantaged women. This can be seen with the recent Ministry of Social Development decision to decline funding to Shakti Wellington Refuge. This can lead to marginalised groups receiving support that is either inadequate or leads to further violence.
Intersectional feminism is a useful lens to analyse the oppressions that affect marginalised groups and it is a powerful tool when used in conjunction with other theories. Mainstream feminism as it stands is not intersectional, but it does need to be. Intersectionality is crucial to create solidarity and understanding amongst us so that we can better support each other as we try to dismantle the oppressive capitalist patriarchal systems around us. As a wise woman once wrote, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”