My Experience as a Woman is not the same as yours
Class of 2017
I am an intersectional feminist because I realize that my experience as a woman is not the same as your experience as a woman.
I am a Latina woman and an immigrant. The way people treat me often depends on those three qualities. My life experience is colored by people’s sexism, racism, and xenophobia. I have seen people’s expressions completely change when they realize that I speak Spanish, and the interest of other people completely evaporate when I inform them that I was not born in this country. I once even had a client go on a rant about lazy Mexicans because he thought that I was white (and therefore he did not think his rant was incredibly offensive). For a long time I tried to avoid the topics of my birthplace and my ethnicity because society had taught me that being Latina and an immigrant both made me somehow lesser. Even lesser than I already was through the sheer fact of being a woman in a world that overwhelmingly benefits men…
Most women can appreciate the fact that they do not have the advantages of white males; after all, women as of 2013 still earn seventy-eight cents to every dollar a man in the same position earns. But that statistic applies solely to white women. Women of color earn even less: sixty-four cents to the dollar for black women, and fifty-seven cents to the dollar for Latina women (Asian women fare a little bit better at eighty cents to the dollar). Qualities beyond gender affect the way every woman experiences oppression: race, economic status, sexual orientation, gender expression, religion…
Unfortunately, mainstream feminist movements have historically been extremely white, heteronormative, and cis-centered. Oppression builds upon itself, and different types of oppression cannot successfully be targeted individually—especially without the understanding that everything interconnects. That is why intersectionality is so crucial.
By and large, men treat women as possessions. (I want to believe that most men do so unwittingly and only because society has taught them to do so, but I’m sure some enjoy it.) Almost any woman can attest to the fact that men are more likely to take no for an answer when making their interest known if there’s another man involved (that is, if the woman already belongs to another man) than when she simply states that she’s not interested. Then you add race, and things get really fun: ridiculous stereotypes, discrimination on multiple levels, fetishism—the fact that terms such as “jungle fever” and “yellow fever” exist in common parlance can attest to that, as can the fact that “exotic-looking” is used as a so-called compliment more often than one would expect.
I was once called “spicy” by a young man when I told him I was Mexican. I promptly informed him that the only time I want to be called spicy is if I lather myself in hot sauce. That is part of my personal experience as a woman, and it overlaps with my experience as a Latino individual in this country. That is the experience of which I have first-hand knowledge. However, I know that is not the experience of all women. That is not even the experience of all minority women.
I cannot claim to know my friends’ experiences as black women in this country. I might be oppressed in my own way, but I’m not oppressed in the same way as they are oppressed. I do not have a dark history of slavery and hundreds of years of systematic oppression looming behind me. I have never been worried that I will get pulled over while driving simply because of the color of my skin. I may have grown up in the South and witnessed up close the deep, culturally ingrained racism that still exists, but I have never experienced it directly (though racism against Latinos also exists there). I cannot claim to know what their experiences as women are, even though all of us identify as such. What I can do is listen to what they have to say, try to understand, and know that our experiences are all valid reflections of the oppression women face. The same applies for transgender women: I was lucky in that I was born in a body that matches my mind, and I cannot imagine the added pressure of having to constantly reaffirm that I am a woman on top of every other oppression that females face.
As Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even if her shackles are very different from my own.” In order to ensure our freedom, we need to understand that the war is fought on multiple fronts. Oppressive institutions like misogyny, racism, and transphobia work in tandem, and we must fight all of them in order to be free.
That is why intersectionality is important, and that is why I’m an intersectional feminist.