After spending most of my activist energy promoting animal rights issues as a teen and into my early twenties, I was ready for some new perspectives. I looked to expand my knowledge of broader political theory including Marxist, feminist and queer theories. As a feminist schooled this generation, intersectionality now plays a big part in my understanding and promotion of social justice.
Intersectionality recognizes the relation of different forms of oppression Connecting experiences associated with one’s class, gender and sexuality really began to impact feminist theory in the ’90s thanks to the sociologist Patricia Hill Collins. In her book Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Politics, and the Politics of Empowerment Collin’s explains:
Although most individuals have little difficulty identifying their own victimization within some major system of oppression”“whether it be by race, social class, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age or gender”“they typically fail to see how their thoughts and actions uphold someone else’s subordination “¦ In essence, each group identifies the oppression with which it feels most comfortable as being fundamental and classifies all others as being of lesser importance. Oppression is filled with such contradictions because these approaches fail to recognize that a matrix of domination contains few pure victims or oppressors. Each individual derives varying amounts of penalty and privilege from the multiple systems of oppression which frame everyone’s lives.
Recently Our Hen House produced a video The Gay Animal interviewing Nathan Runkle of the animal rights organization Mercy for Animals. Nathan, a gay man who has experienced homophobia-driven hate crimes, connects the oppression of being openly gay in a homophobic society to the oppression of farm animals living in a society that discards their suffering.
Acknowledging intersectionality offers both a challenge and an opportunity. So which form of oppression is worse? Which forms of oppression should I focus more of my activist energies on ending? To my mind, there is no right answer to these questions and the conclusion reached varies based on personal experience.
For more information on intersectionality, The University of California San Diego’s Women’s Center website offers a wealth of information on using intersectionality to promote meaningful dialogue.