Lecture #10 – Feminism and Multiculturalism: The Liberal Co-option of Intersectionality

If feminism is to be inclusive and a fierce advocate of all women, multiculturalism is key. Whilst intersectionality offers a theoretical means to base anti-racist, pro-multicultural feminist activism and research around, then it needs to confront what some activists have termed ‘liberal co-option’ of intersectionality (Utt, 2017). Intersectionality might have been coined by Crenshaw (1989), but it originated with the Combahee River Collective (CRC) (Price, 2014). The CRC were a group of militant Black lesbian feminists, inspired by truly radical Black Marxists and Black liberation movements. Unlike other people they were tired of organising with, CRC wanted their identity, namely their race, gender and sexuality, to be a vital part of freedom from what they saw as the mutually reinforcing binds of their oppression. An undoubtedly revolutionary approach.

When looking at this description of intersectionality, one then wonders, why liberal feminism would adopt ‘intersectionality’ as a framework they insist they are employing. Nozick, Rawls and Okin (Okin, 1998) were firmly anti-Marxian, favouring equality of opportunity to equality of outcome. Such liberalism is firmly at odds then, with CRC and the premise of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989; Price, 2014). Publications such as ‘Everyday Feminism’ (EF) (Tastrom, 2019) claim to be committed to the concept of intersectionality, often using radical language associated with Black Socialist Feminism. Nevertheless, in practice, the key messages do not align with that of CRC or socialism. In fact, EF as well as policy documentation from the National Union of Students (NUS) (2016), appears to entirely disregard the actual theoretical foundations of intersectionality and its implications in radical activism (Price, 2014). Race, Class and Gender are not seen as mutually reinforcing, but instead oppression is analysed separately, often as a means to instruct women to climb social ladders. This is in direct contention with Lorde’s take on intersectionality (Utt, 2017) famed for saying, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives,” and CRC’s general philosophy.

Can it then be argued that liberalism has co-opted intersectionality? If that is the case, intersectionality must be recovered in its radical form, if it ever can fight for multiculturalism and against the failures of liberal feminism to be thoroughly anti-racist.

Reference List

Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. (2016). Why Socialist Feminism?. London: Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum, 8

National Union of Students. (2016). Women Students’ Campaign Live Policy 2016-19. London: National Union of Students. Retrieved from https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/nusdigital/document/documents/43272/805d25deba1ec3bfd7a3573a54fdd098/WSC_Live_Policy_201619.pdf

Okin, S. (1998). Feminism and Multiculturalism: Some Tensions. Ethics108(4), 661-684. doi: 10.1086/233846

Price, K. (2014). Black, Feminist, Revolutionary. Remembering the Combahee River Collective. Retrieved From: http://www.ebony.com/news-views/the-combahee-river-collective-405#axzz3oQDLOJN3

Tastrom, K. (2019). 5 Ways To Create a Femme Friendly Workplace. Retrieved from https://everydayfeminism.com/2018/10/make-your-workplace-more-femme-friendly/

Utt, J. (2017). “We’re all just different!” How Intersectionality is Being Colonized by White People [Blog]. Retrieved from https://changefromwithin.org/2017/04/24/were-all-just-different-how-intersectionality-is-being-colonized-by-white-people/

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