Definition by Nicki Lisa Cole
Sociologist and researcher Nicki Lisa Cole defines intersectionality as a term referring to ”a unified system of oppression”, and gives the example of a heterosexual, wealthy, white, North-American man, in comparison to an undocumented, poor latina living in the US today. She points out how a skin colour perceived as ”foreign” rather than ”normal” already invites certain prejudices into people’s minds, as well as an image of weakness or submissiveness perceived in the female gender in a patriarchal society. (Cole, 2019) The personal disadvantages of being poor rather than wealthy are another source of such perceived weakness; perhaps one would assume her to be exploiting the system, engage in criminal behaviour, or have very limited career choices due to her existing lack in education or social status, etc.
Factors of Oppression
The individual in this given case might also be easily oppressed: Being undocumented, her abilities to defend herself legally, voice problems to the police, or reach out for help in case of health-care-related issues are comparatively small, and others might pick up on this fact and take advantage of it in unethical ways. In times of the #MeToo-movement, the advantages of a person’s fame and branch-intern impact are another factor of intersectional oppression that comes to mind. Whether people are more likely to believe a potential harassment victim, or her or his alleged assaulter, often seems to depend more on the accused person’s likeability and public impact than on the believability of the claims, one could say.
Factors such as the age of the accusers, or their medium of choice to express such allegations, also seem to have a huge impact, as Moira Donegan, a journalist from the British newspaper ‘The Guardian’ points out. In her view, older feminists and younger feminists entered an age of a ”central rift in feminism today”: condescending terms such as ”twitter-feminism” are often used to trivialise the alleged victims’ position. (Donegan, 2018) The often emphasized ”naivety” or ”childish hypersensitivity” of the supposed victims and their experiences, mentioned on social media platforms, but also used by writers such as Barri Weiss or Daphne Merkin, do not only speak volumes of the complexity of the topic, but also of strong tensions within the feminist movement, as the journalist points out.
Role of Gender Identities
Could this sort of millenial-fatigue be another factor of anti-elitism and age-discrimination (- within and outside of activism -), apart from the already questionable position such statements hold in regards to female equality? It seems worth to be discussed when addressing intersectionality today. Another topic often expressed when talking about intersectionality is the broad spectrum of gender identities now mentioned in some types of media and even everyday language. Terms such as ‘cis-gender’, or ‘gender binary’ might not be familiar to everyone, but their implied advantages certainly are: Sentences such as “I was born as a biological woman, but I identify as male.”, or “I don’t identify myself as female or male at all, I’m non-binary.” definitely still raise quite a few eyebrows, as well as perhaps impolite questions and comments. Despite organisations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics urging for a “gender-affirming approach”, therefore, to accept a young person’s self-image in topics of gender identity, and despite countless studies addressing the ”high rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance use, self-harm and suicide” in children and young adults who are brought up and socialised to be a gender they can’t identify with, the mocking and criticism against those deviating from the norm is still very clear. (AAP Policy Statement, 2018)
Role of Religion, Cultural context, Income and Ethnicity
Intersectionality becomes obvious here where religion, cultural context, but also income and ethnicity play a role. Even topics such as body image and body positivity come to mind and can create another hierarchical differentiation in privilege: Not everyone has the same chances of being socially accepted when deviating from the norm. (Symbolic Interaction, Vol.35, 2012) This seems to be the main point when arguing about intersectionality these days: Should we try to raise more public awareness when considering people’s interconnected privileges, attempting to acknowledge other people’s unique struggles, or are these attempts only taking us further away from finding common ground as a society? It seems debatable, but very much worth discussing.