Philosophy 184 - 9.6.3 Intersectionality

Some feminists have highlighted the important role intersectionality plays in social relations and argue it must be accounted for to end inequality and correct identity-based oppression and discrimination. Intersectionality refers to different aspects of identity (e.g., gender, race, sexuality, and class) that intersect in a person’s identity and define or influence their lived experience. When we use or assume identity norms (e.g., the normal woman) without considering other aspects of identity, it is possible that we advance only some women and not others because there is a tendency to assume a position of privilege (Norlock 2019).

Some feminists have argued that intersectional approaches compromise and weaken the strength of potential advocacy. Naomi Zack (2005), for example, argues that otherwise broad categories of social identity (e.g., woman) are fragmented by intersectional approaches because diverse aspects of identity (e.g., race, class, and/or sexuality) are treated as changing the individual’s perspective and experience of oppression. In other words, a group of individuals who all share one aspect of identity (woman) may be fragmented into smaller groups when intersectionality is considered because other aspects of identity shift a given individual’s perspective and shared experience (Norlock 2019). This has the adverse effect, Zack argues, of weakening the category and the strength of advocacy.

In response to feminists who question intersectional approaches on the grounds that they compromise and weaken advocacy, other feminists have pointed out that identity categories like women include diverse members. If intersectionality is ignored, we ignore the diverse perspectives, interests, and experiences of individuals and cannot advocate effectively. Identities are complex, and different aspects of identity (e.g., race, class, and/or sexuality) may make an individual more or less likely to experience oppression in different circumstances. Intersectional approaches bring a deeper awareness of aspects of identity and sensitivity to the ways social identities contribute to experiences of oppression. A greater emphasis on aspects of identity, they argue, can unite individuals with diverse social identities by increasing awareness of the common struggle of oppressed groups. Intersectionality can therefore foster solidarity among oppressed groups because it makes individuals more aware of their common experiences.

Traditionally, it was thought that oppressed identities had a compounding effect and individuals were worse off if their identities included aspects of multiple oppressed identities. In this view, someone whose identity included multiple oppressed categories would be considered worse off than someone whose identity only included one oppressed category.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax