I’m still in the process of mapping out my definite scholarly objective; but I do know for sure I will be applying an intersectional approach to whatever I will be studying in the future. In other words, I believe in examining identities as not a singularly determined concept, but as layered and complex intersections of many factors. I am not just a woman, but an Asian-Canadian, middle-class woman. It sounds simple enough, but It’s very hard to account for the complexity of our in-the-flesh lives without reducing it to a neat word or a statistic when it comes to capturing it on paper.
Without an intersectional framework identity becomes misconstrued as a singular, immovable trait, where you feel you must “choose” only one aspect (whether it is gender, race, or class identifications). When one identity group becomes what I would call “silo-ed,” they start competing with, and ultimately marginalizing other groups.
The dangers of overlooking intersectionality can be staggering. One glaring case that comes to mind is a couple of posters from The Political Loudmouth. One of the posters on the website reads: “Gay couples don’t have abortions. Please. Support gay marriage. For the Children.” The other says: “Two girls kissing is hot. Two wives kissing is hotter. Support gay marriage. Make a frat boy’s day.”
Taken together, the slogans yield a problematic and oppressive message due to a lack of intersectional approach. The first slogan trumps the pro-choice movement. The second one objectifies women’s bodies and makes lesbian sexuality valid only under the heterosexual male gaze. Notice that in both cases, the lack of intersectional approach continues to marginalize and belittle one coherent minority group: women.
In some of the aggressive, militant and single-minded models of activism and identity politics, women often get left out and continue to be forgotten and discriminated. It’s especially detrimental for women of colour or women of lower socioeconomic status. In her study of women of colour in shelters, Kimberle Crenshaw (who popularized the term “intersectionality” in the first place) discusses how issues surrounding women of colour are never straightforwardly dealt with; instead, they continue to be ghettoized as “minority” problem, but are not dealt with by the “minority” groups themselves. Intersectionality makes us aware of our multilayered existence, allowing for partnerships and coalitions:
In the context of antiracism, recognizing the ways in which the intersectional experiences of women of color are marginalized in prevailing conceptions of identity politics does not require that we give up attempts to organize as communities of color. Rather, intersectionality provides a basis for re-conceptualizing race as a coalition between men and women of color.
Or simply, as I casually explained the message of my research project to my friend: “ever notice that you can’t be black, poor and be a lesbian at the same time? What’s up with that?”