Intersectional Feminism – The Basics

“Why are you an intersectional feminist?”

This is a question I get asked more often than expected, so I thought I’d finally explain it in detail.

Before diving in, let’s understand two important, relevant terms:

Misogyny: the idea of men>women
Misandry: the idea of men<women

First of all, why feminism?

When you hear the word ‘feminist’ or ‘feminism’, the first thought you may have could be about the empowerment of women alone. Feminism, at its essence, is about equity of men and women in all aspects, rather than equality. But what’s the difference? Gender equity means fairness in treatment for men and women according to their respective needs.

For example, equality would be distributing sanitary napkins to everyone for free, regardless of their sex. On the other hand, equity would be distributing free sanitary napkins only to those who menstruate, which includes cis women, trans men and selective non-binary and gender non-conforming folks (or in short, anyone with a functioning uterus). This would ensure that everyone who needs them, has them, and those that don’t need them don’t end up wasting them.

Now that we’re clear on the ‘feminism’ part, let’s move onto the ‘intersectional’ bit.

Also read: Internalised Patriarchy: On Seeing My Brother in the Kitchen

Intersectionality gives you holistic view of a situation that perpetuates a better understanding of things. It does not simply focus on one aspect, but takes into consideration almost every angle there is to a situation.

For example, I, Ananya, love to write. But perceiving me only as ‘Ananya who writes’ would be inaccurate because there is so much more to me, like there is to every person. Only getting to know me better will give you a more accurate understanding of who I am. Similarly, intersectionality exposes you to multiple different perspectives to understand a situation for what it truly is. It is quite literally, an ‘intersection’ of perspectives and ideas.

Moving on to the third point, what happens when ‘feminism’ and ‘intersectionality’ are combined?

Let’s look at it this way: ‘One’ and ‘two’ are two different numbers. But when you put them together you get ‘three’, which is a new number with a power greater than both its parts ‘one’ and ‘two’. Similarly, intersectionality and feminism are much more effective when they go hand-in-hand.

As I mentioned before, feminism is about the equity of men and women and tackling ingrained sexism. But intersectionality brings in more perspectives of racism, casteism, classicism and LGBT-phobia of all kinds (including homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, etc). If a new law is announced to ensure equal pay between men and women, a standard feminist would likely consider this an absolute win. Whereas an intersectional feminist would go deeper into the situation at hand and bring up points about the possible exclusion of transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.

A feminist might talk about the centuries-long oppression of women and how men were always the perpetrators. But an intersectional feminist would also discuss related relevant issues like toxic masculinity or the internalised misogyny in both men and women.

This internalised misogyny, again, is a result of the centuries-long normalisation of the same. The prevalence of this internalised misogyny can be seen in different forms — women ‘slut shaming’ each other, ‘aunties’ gossiping about youngsters’ clothing choices and the length of their skirts, men expecting that their future wives to stay at home and raise their children; assuming that their wives will be willing to bear children in the first place, etc.

Intersectional feminism helps you understand that as wrong as these practices are, the reality is that we live in an overall misogynistic society. This means that having some or the other amount of internalised misogyny is inevitable, but at the same time it is our job to work towards eradicating such prejudices. Every time we have a thought that might be unnecessarily prejudiced or misogynistic, it is our job to correct ourselves and strive to be better.

“But what about the women who hate men and call themselves feminists? How can you associate yourself with a movement that includes such people?”

If you find yourself asking this question, trust me, I get your point and here’s my answer.

First off, there is a difference between ‘hating’ something and ‘hating on’ something. Simply ‘hating’ has to do with one’s thoughts, while ‘hating on’ has to do with one’s actions. This means that one can in fact hate men/women and still be a feminist.

Also read: You Need to Listen to These Intersectional, Feminist Bands

“But doesn’t that defy the whole purpose? How can you hate an entire gender and still promote equity?”

In very basic terms, I can despise having pineapple on pizza and still not hate on people for liking it. Similarly, there are many reasons why one may end up hating an entire gender, like a history of abuse. For a woman who has been abused by a man in the past, it won’t be a surprise if she has an aversion to men in general. But that doesn’t mean that she thinks that men don’t deserve rights.

It’s only natural to be prejudiced in some way or the other, for we do not live in a utopian world and can’t possibly be 100% efficient in eradicating all prejudices. This means that we can have these thoughts and still be mature enough not to implement them in real life, for we recognise them for what they are — inaccurate prejudices.

As for those who do implement these prejudices actively (like being open misandrists) and call themselves ‘feminists’, they’re literally not. They are classic examples of misogynists/misandrists posing as feminists when convenient for clout. A feminist is not sexist, racist, casteist, classicist or LGBT-phobic in their actions and at least works towards fighting these as prejudices too. If you are any of the above, news flash: you’re not a feminist. You still could be one if you worked towards self improvement and put in efforts to eradicate these prejudices. But until then, ‘this ain’t it, chief’.

In conclusion, I’d like to mention that intersectional feminism is not only about calling out people for their wrong doings, but also educating them on why they’re wrong and what they can do about it. At the end of the day, the goal is to spread the notion of self-reflection and self-improvement.

Ananya Desai is a 17-year-old undergraduate student of BA Liberal Arts at Christ University, Bangalore.