Defining Intersectionality & Intersectional Feminist Theory
Intersectionality was first coined and defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 as “the various way[s] in which race and gender interact to shape the multiple dimensions of black women’s employment experiences.” (Crenshaw, 1989, 139). Crenshaw sought to explain how African-American women experience prejudice and discrimination at the intersection of two aspects of their identity; their race and their gender. Crenshaw argued that the lived experience of these women was not merely a sum of being African-American and women; instead, that a unique lived experience existed at the intersection of identities. Although arguments laying foundations for intersectionality date back to the 1960s and 1970s (Geerts & Van der Tuin, 2013, 171), intersectionality as a term arguably originates in Crenshaw’s work.
At its core, intersectional feminist theory & intersectional feminism aims to “[conceptualize] the relation between systems of oppression which construct our multiple identities and our social locations in hierarchies of power and privilege.” (Carastathis, 2014). To simplify, intersectional theory suggests that people experience marginalisation and discrimination because of social systems which determine value based on a person’s attributes, such as our aforementioned protected characteristics; and that the intersecting (not simply the addition or subtraction) of these attributes lead people to experience differing levels and types of privilege or inequality.