You know how in the movie Alien vs. Predator two monsters fight it out and humans die? This is the image that the ongoing “arguments” about intersectionality between White British feminists in some very mainstream (and really well known) media elicit for me.
On one corner we have challenger Louise Mensch, fashion blogger extraordinaire (former MP) who, at The Guardian, writes "How about some reality-based feminism?"
"Intersectional bollocks," in other words. "Check your privilege." "Cis". "Are white middle class stories the only ones worth telling?" and so on and so forth. Notable from their absence from these debates about terminology and frame of reference are male feminists; at some point even the most leftwing and right-on guy just tunes out.[…]
And that is what the modern feminist movement has become. Full of intersectionality, debates about middle-class privilege, hand-wringing over a good education (this is again “privilege” and not well-deserved success), and otherwise intelligent women backing out of debates and sitting around frenziedly checking their privilege.
Then on another corner, we have Laurie Penny, white feminist “ally of People of Color” who, also in The Guardian, writes:
"Intersectionality" is another new bit of equality jargon that the stiff suits in the conservative commentariat loudly claim not to understand – despite or perhaps because of the fact that schoolchildren have been using it on the internet for years.
The Guardian, unable to resist the power of white feminists debating intersectionality among each other to decide if the theory is “useful” to them, enlists yet another opinion, that of Hadley Freeman, who writes:
It is, in other words, a sassy exhortation to acknowledge identity politics and intersectionality (the school of thought which says, for example, that different minorities experience oppression differently).[…]
The command to check one’s privilege might feel ubiquitous now to those who spend too much of their days on social media, but in fact the phrase has experienced a slow burn.[…] You can date the phrase back further, to 1998, when Peggy McIntosh used the word “privilege” in her essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
And then she cites Caitlin Moran and you know it can only go downhill from there:
The growing interest in feminism in the media – aided in a large part by Moran’s book, How to Be a Woman – also kept the phrase in constant use, with some feminist bloggers arguing hotly among themselves about the merits or otherwise of intersectionality in feminism.
The Spectator, riding high on the coat tail of all these white feminists with opinions on the usefulness of intersectionality, attempts to be original by publishing a piece by a white man who sets the record straight from the get go “Check my privilege? I have, thanks. You’re still wrong”
It comes, all this stuff, from the vogueish notion of intersectionality — the contention that hardly anybody who is marginalised is marginalised for just one reason, and if you focus on the main reason for their marginalisation then the more marginalised bits of their marginalisation end up being more marginalised still.
“Vogueish notion of intersectionality”.
What we have here is the latest saga in what I call Victorian Feminism where white people of certain wealth are anxious because the plebes dare to have opinions of their own and where the racial and class divides are being threatened by ideas created by the now erased “former subjects of the Empire” who, really, should know better than go around telling others to “check their privilege”. Needless to say, not a single one of these people have acknowledged or pointed out the history of intersectionality: why the theories behind it came to be, who created them and for what purpose. These ongoing debates, akin to a toxic spill ruining a landscape that now remains tainted by the erasure, all pretend that the theories and ideas they are butchering came to be in a vacuum. In this feminism, more reminiscent of a cast call for Downton Abbey, the “Masters of the House” are deciding whether the trinkets owned by the “service” are pretty enough to be appropriated.
Notice how there isn’t a single word about the fact that intersectionality was created, developed and advanced by Women of Color. Not a mention to Patricia Hills Collins, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Maria Lugones, and all the dozens (hell, hundreds) WoC bloggers that have been throughout time writing about it, advancing these ideas and developing new ones. Peggy McIntosh does get a shout out, though. You know, her condition as a White woman lends her enough legitimacy to be named. The media posting these public conversations didn’t see the necessity to include a single voice of a Woman of Color to bring this rich history to the forefront. They are too concerned debating whether the ideas created by Women of Color to explain their lives is of any use to them.
As Reni writes on her piece, “Standing on the shoulders of giants”:
These are the black women who came before me. In 2013 I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. The truth is, thousands of black women made the case for intersectionality before I was even born, and thousands more will make the case for intersectionality long after I’m cold and dead in the ground.