Gender & Sexuality Politics

The Challenges of Intersectional Feminism…

In our fight, it becomes easy to forget to make sure we bring everyone along. As an able-bodied middle-class cis-heterosexual activist, our default setting is gender-based-violence and the struggles we face as cis-women in the world. Thus, we don’t often challenge our socialization to ensure we equally bring to the fore sexuality-and-identity-based struggles that alter the very real lives and experiences of transgender, queer and gender-non-conformist (GNC) people who live in a patriarchal society that persists on linear notions of gender and sexuality. Hence, we still think it’s ok to promote ideas around the #futureisfemale, what about the future of those who don’t identify as such? Do they not have a place in the so-called future, even though we fight in their name in our claim for intersectional feminism? Currently, our feminist movements are window-dressing as intersectional, we haven’t found nor implemented fundamentally tangible ways that truly reflect an inclusive struggle that does away with cis-heteronormativity as the dominant narrative.

Intersectionality as a practice is still in its infancy, although many of us have every intention of creating more nuanced spaces and narratives, the notion remains fundamentally an ideal in most parts of the world. We need to be willing to acknowledge that reflecting a more representative feminism is still an illusion because we haven’t reached a point where we fully acknowledge that the current system has created hierarchies of the ‘oppressed’. An understanding that the marginalized can just as easily become the oppressor if we don’t come to terms with the power and privileges that we possess in the face of such issues (despite how minuscule we might assume they are). That, unfortunately, not all oppressed groups suffered/were marginalized equally. Our struggles are intersectionally different, even when we were historically clustered under the same umbrella. Failure to acknowledge and come to terms with such nuances is a failure to acknowledge everyone’s lived experiences. Thus, we didn’t and don’t experience marginalization in the same way because everyone is different, hence things like sexuality, gender, class, race, disability, identity etc. alter where we are on the spectrum of the marginalized. We need nuance in our activism, by that I mean, make sure there is a safe space for all to speak and represent themselves in a way that reflects their reality. Everyone’s voice needs to respected and treated with equal value. We can’t apply the same solution to everyone’s challenge, even in cases where we assume we have a shared and or common cause. People need to be able to tell their own stories without having to worry about catering to the cis-heteronormative gaze.

Tensions arise because of our failure to reflect intersectionality, with others cautioning against having such public conversations about our disagreements. There is worry that since for the first time women’s issues are being prioritized, highlighting such tensions runs the risk of making those who benefit from the system think that there are fractures within our movement. That if we challenge each other on our own problematic behaviour as women who are demanding to be treated with some humanity and equality, it gives the impression that men were right to treat us like second class citizens since we can’t even ‘get along with each other’. That the demand for accountability and the expectation for us to do and be better could put the success of the movement at risk. Cautioning that it’s too early in our movement to hold each other accountable to avoid giving men reasons to think we are already failing in our activism because we disagree in how we approach our goal for a fair and equal world for all those who continue to be marginalized by the system. And I can understand the basis of such a fear, but I don’t believe that a call for accountability excuses the violence of patriarchy, one has nothing to do with the other. It’s like saying that corruption by a black government excuses apartheid, and the need for white people to racially abuse black politicians as though apartheid was an ideal state. This is to say; every great and revolutionary movement has tensions, we shouldn’t allow the prospects of a male gaze to dictate to our movement. We don’t seek their validation, so their ‘disapproval’ is a non-matter.

When we do this work, we need to be open to the idea that we are bound to get uncomfortable in the process. Know that no struggle was ever won without tensions. We need to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable. We will make mistakes and get called out, but our response shouldn’t be to get defensive because we are not under attack. We should accept that we wouldn’t always have answers but try to figure it out. We need to come to terms with the very real reality that our activism tends to be exclusionary in its erasure of sexuality issues because it’s easier to fight when we only have one common enemy (the men). But what happens when the black cis woman ignorantly participates in the victimization and erasure of transgender and GNC people, as white feminists have done to black women for decades? When we use our internalized and unchecked misogyny to dominate spaces that are meant to be intersectionally inclusive?

We have a responsibility to ensure that we don’t become the patriarchy we try to dismantle, make a consciously concerted effort to continuously check ourselves to ensure not only one narrative is dominant at the erasure of others. Our activism needs to challenge the notion of one linear perception of womanhood that’s trans and GNC exclusionary. Our collective fight needs reflect the experiences of intersectionally nuanced pupils, acknowledge that violence manifests differently for different people. For a cis-hetero sexual woman, the violence could be from a man who was meant to love them. For a cis-queer woman, the violence could be from a woman they are involved with or a man who thinks she has no place in the world as a queer person. It’s invisibility and being erased by families who pretend your queerness is a phase you will outgrow. For a trans and GNC person, the violence could be from all of us with our corrosive language. It could occur in the form of physical violence by people who refuse to acknowledge their inherent identity or by a society with systemic institutions that wouldn’t allow her/they/them/their to formally change their preferred sex. It’s institutionalized oppression that wouldn’t allow her to use the services of public health care to transition into the woman she has always been. It’s all of us not being mindful and respectful of how they choose to identify. It’s being misgendered by families who say you defy God, nature and convention when their God was not in the room when they chose to bring you up as a boy instead of a girl. We need to remember that inclusivity is not tolerance, it’s about accepting people for who they are. We have a responsibility to be more considerate of the realities carried by other people’s bodies outside our own. We need to be more compassionate and empathetic. We should intentionally check ourselves from expecting queer, trans and GNC people to assimilate into cis-heteronormative activist narratives that don’t always include sexuality and identity-based conversations.