Apr. 1st, 2010

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Some people, on road trips, go to antique shops and scenic view pullouts and so forth. Well, I went to the Ellensburg public library and let the kids play with toy trains while I photocopied sections of bell hooks' Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center that I found interesting. Could I have stayed home and done that? Well, sort of. But I'm always up for a visit to a new library.

Intersectionality is a theory that multiple forms of oppression - gender, race, class, and all the others - are interlinked, and that it is a mistake to say that one form of oppression is the "primary" one. bell hooks is by no means the first feminist to introduce this concept, but she's just so clear and plain-spoken that she's a great starting point. So here are a couple of quotes. Eventually some of them will make their way into an essay I'm developing on collective liberation, but for now, just consider this "Intersectionality 101."

Source: hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, 2nd ed. Cambridge: South End Press, 2000.

(The first edition, BTW, was written in 1984. The theory of intersectionality has evolved since then.)

Here, hooks explains a prevailing attitude of the time that gender is the only important oppression and that all women experience it in the same way.

"Many contemporary feminist activists argue that eradicating sexist oppression is important because it is the primary contradiction, the basis of all other oppressions. Racism, as well as class structure, is perceived as stemming from sexism. Implicit in this line of analysis is the assumption that the eradication of sexism, 'the oldest oppression,' 'the primary contradiction,' is necessary before attention can be focused on racism or classism." (p 36)

But, she says, it isn't: "Suggesting a hierarchy of oppression exists, with sexism in first place, evokes a sense of competing concerns that is unnecessary." (p 36)

Here, hooks talks about the links between different system of oppressions:

"Since all forms of oppression in our society are linked in our society because they are supported by similar institutional and social structures, one system cannot be eradicated while the others remain intact.." (p 36)

And here, she talks about the problem of trying to end one oppression while ignoring all others:

"Significantly, struggle to end sexist oppression that focuses on destroying the cultural basis for such domination strengthens other liberation struggles. Individuals who fight for the eradication of sexism without supporting struggles to end racism or classism undermine their own efforts. Individuals who fight for the eradication of racism or classism while supporting sexist oppression are helping to maintain the cultural basis of all forms of group oppression. While they may initiate successful reforms, their efforts will not lead to revolutionary change. Their ambivalent relationship to oppression in general is a contradiction that must be resolved, or they will daily undermine their own radical work." (p 40)

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