Women’s History Month: Intersectionality

Abstract Lines Curves. needpix.com. Accessed 24 March 2021, https://www.needpix.com/photo/1182291/

In 1989, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in her paper, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. Since its introduction, the word “intersectionality” has pushed the feminist movement forward. Intersectionality deepens our understanding of how multiple aspects of a person’s identity contribute to their experience on this planet. In a 2020 interview with Time magazine, when asked how to explain what intersectionality means today, Crenshaw said “These days, I start with what it’s not, because there has been distortion. It’s not identity politics on steroids. It is not a mechanism to turn white men into the new pariahs. It’s basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”

“The better we understand how identities and power work together from one context to another, the less likely our movements for change are to fracture.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw

Activist Leah Thomas champions the legacy of Crenshaw’s intersectionality with the movement for Intersectional Environmentalism. Working from intersectionality principles, Thomas aims to help others recognize that oppression of all peoples and the abuse of the environment are not mutually exclusive issues. According to the website for Intersectional Environmentalism, the movement is “an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected.” Today, activists like Thomas all over the world have benefitted from discussions about intersectionality. Intersectionality influences all spheres of society, from law to art and culture to science; it has ushered in a new era of activism and understanding. Learning about intersectionality can be difficult. A quick Google search of the term provides many helpful, and some slightly skewed, ideas about the topic. With so much noise out there, it’s easy to get lost, especially if you are new to intersectionality. Here are six films that prominently feature the theme of intersectionality as it relates to individuals and the world as a whole. Also, at the end of this post you will find further web-based and print resources available at IU and online to help deepen your understanding of intersectionality.

Kimberlé Crenshaw: The Urgency of Intersectionality (Ted Talk, 2016)

Now more than ever, it’s important to look boldly at the reality of race and gender bias and understand how the two can combine to create even more harm. Kimberlé Crenshaw uses the term “intersectionality” to describe this phenomenon; as she says, if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you’re likely to get hit by them all. In this moving talk, she calls on us to bear witness to this reality and speak up for victims of prejudice. (Description provided by Films on Demand).

Crenshaw also hosts a podcast called Intersectionality Matters! (available on many of the commercial platforms that stream podcasts). A mix of one-on-one interviews and group discussions, Crenshaw utilizes Intersectionality Matters! to bring to light people’s lived experiences through the lens of intersectionality. This podcast is a great resource for those seeking to understand intersectionality on a deeper level and engage with important current issues.

Amá (2019)

Amá tells an important and untold story: the abuses committed against Native American women by the US Government during the 1960s and 70s. The women were removed from their families and sent to boarding schools. They were subjected to forced relocation away from their traditional lands and even to involuntary sterilization.


Jean Whitehorse in Amá. Amá Movie. March 19th 2021. https://amamovie.com/about#the-issue

The result of nine years painstaking and sensitive work by filmmaker Lorna Tucker, the film features the testimony of many Native Americans, including three remarkable women who tell their stories: Jean Whitehorse, Yvonne Swan and Charon Asetoyer. The film also contains a revealing and rare interview with Dr. Reimert Ravenholt whose population control ideas were the framework for some of the government policies directed at Native American women.

Over the twenty-year period between 1960 and 1980, it is estimated that tens of thousands of Native American women were sterilized without their knowledge or consent. Due to poor recordkeeping during this era, the number may in fact be much higher. Many of these women went to their graves without the public understanding that they suffered this incredible abuse of power.

The film ends with a call to action: to back a campaign to get a formal apology from the US government, which would then open the door for the women to bring a lawsuit. (Synopsis provided by Docuseek) After watching the movie, you can visit the film’s website to learn more and take action.

Pick up a DVD copy of this film in Media Services or stream this title with valid IU credentials here.

Dolores (2017)


Dolores Huerta in Dolores. PBS. March 19th 2021. https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/dolores-huerta/

Dolores Huerta is among the most important, yet lesser-known, activists in American history. An equal partner in co-founding the first farm workers unions with Cesar Chavez, her enormous contributions have gone largely unrecognized. Dolores tirelessly led the fight for racial and labor justice alongside Chavez, becoming one of the most defiant feminists of the twentieth century. She continues the fight to this day, at age 87. With intimate and unprecedented access to this intensely private mother to eleven children, the film reveals the raw, personal stakes involved in committing one’s life to social change.

He Named Me Malala (2015)

He Named Me Malala is an intimate portrait of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was targeted by the Taliban and severely wounded by a gunshot when returning home on her school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The then 15-year-old was singled out, along with her father, for advocating for girls’ education, and the attack on her sparked an outcry from supporters around the world.

She miraculously survived and is now a leading campaigner for girls’ education globally as co-founder of the Malala Fund (Synopsis provided by Alexander Street Press). Learn more about the Malala Fund on their website. Photo credit: Malala Yousafzai with classmates at Oxford University. Malala’s Story. March 19th, 2021.

bell hooks: Cultural Criticism and Transformation (1997)

bell hooks is one of America’s most engaging public intellectuals. In this richly illustrated two-part interview, hooks argues that we can acknowledge the impact of media without denying our own agency or the pleasure we derive from popular culture. Rather than ignoring or denying the power of representation, hooks advocates for critically confronting the influence of the media in our lives. Photo credit: Cover of Bell Hooks: Cultural Criticism and Transformation. Amazon. March 19th 2021. https://www.amazon.com/Bell-Hooks-Cultural-Criticism-Transformation/dp/B00YYKO152

Vandana Shiva (2020)

Episode 8 of the series Thinking Existenz stars Vandana Shiva, the Indian physicist combining the struggle for human rights with the protection of the environment. She obtained a PhD in Physics at the University of Ontario in Canada with the thesis Hidden Variables and Locality in Quantum Theory. Shiva combines Quantum Physics with social activism to peacefully resist a socioeconomic and political system that she argues has colonized the Earth, life, and the spirit. She recounts how she started defending the forest, the seeds, and the local ways of life and production, against the registration and control of patents claimed by multinational corporations. Our civilization, to survive, will have to review its model of understanding and interacting with the world, taking as an example the holistic knowledge of the Chinese and Indian civilizations that, according to Shiva, survived history essentially because they differ from the Occident in the relationship they have established with nature (synopsis provided by DocuSeek). This film touches on themes of intersectionality as it relates to the environment, much like the movement for Intersectional Environmentalism.

While many of these films feature intersectionality in relationship to activism and personal identity, there are many more resources available that explain intersectionality and the effects of Crenshaw’s coining of the term. I highly recommend some of the resources below as a jumping-off point for further discussion and information on intersectionality. It is through the lens of intersectionality that we can build a better and brighter future for the planet and all of its inhabitants.


Further Web-Based Resources:

https://womenandhollywood.com/tag/intersectionality/

https://www.npr.org/2017/11/25/564887796/for-lgbtq-people-of-color-discrimination-compounds

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/doing-better-at-intersectionality_b_5953fc66e4b0f078efd986e5

Books:

Intersectionality: Foundations and Frontiers

Presumed Incompitent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia

Age Matters: Realigning Feminist Thinking


Guest blogger Olivia Kalish is a Fine Arts student specializing in painting. She works at Media Services as part of the desk staff team.