Feminists are amazingly diverse. There is such a wide range of approaches to the question of what causes women’s oppression, and what to do about it. But if there is anything that binds feminists across time, space and ideology, it has to be that they are good at having ‘vision’. Feminists, like all social justice advocates, have a wonderful capacity to imagine a different world.
Simone de Beauvoir imagined a world in which women were fully recognised as acting, experiencing subjects, rather than merely objects of the patriarchal ‘eternal feminine’ myth. In the radical feminism camp, Shulamith Firestone imagined a world in which women lived free of the burden of reproduction and the regressive limitations of the traditional nuclear family. For liberal feminists, from the sassy suffragettes to our very own Women’s Electoral Lobby, the new world was one in which women, through the mechanisms of the state, were equal actors in the public sphere.
Here at MCWH, our favourite world to live in would be the one imagined by the intersectional feminists, from the materialist to the post-colonial, who made us all think a little differently again about gender. Specifically, they helped us to think more broadly about the ways that sexism as a system of women’s oppression intersects with other forms, such as racism, capitalism, ageism, and ableism.
Feminists such as Angela Davis, with her landmark 1981 book, ‘Women, Race and Class’, alerted us to the role of racism and eugenics, hand in hand with sexism, in holding back women’s reproductive rights. Aileen Moreton-Robinson has articulated the impact on Indigenous women’s lives of gendered oppression in the context of colonisation in Australia. Helen Meekosha has written of the impact of colonialism and capitalism, thinking through the ways that these systems intersect with gender oppression to cause disability in the global South. These are the many ways that we have been reminded that it is not only sexism that contributes to women’s oppression.
Such feminist thinkers, from bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldua, to Kimberly Crenshaw, Chandra Mohanty and Gayatri Spivak, have expanded the vision from one in which women are equal to men, to one in which inequality and oppression on any basis ceases to exist. An intersectional approach gives us a vision of gender equality that does not simply even up the circumstances of women and men within each class, race or culture, leaving the rifts between classes and races intact. Rather, it imagines a world without structural inequality itself.
That’s a difficult world for us to picture now, an almost unfathomable change in what we know and what some of us experience, but look how far we’ve already come. We need to keep the blue skies of intersectional feminism firmly in our sights, and make sure we take the time to appreciate its variation, its subtleties and its colour.