In relation to gender and culture, explain the concept of Intersectionality in Philosophy.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In explaining Intersectionality, one has to embrace the position that there are different experiences in marginalization.  One of the challenges in understanding the silencing of voices is perpetuation of the "oppression matrix."  This is a configuration in which individuals must choose one notion of identity when the reality is that identity is constructed on different and, often, colliding levels.  Kimberle Crenshaw articulates this as the reason for her coining the term "intersectionality:"

It grew out of trying to conceptualize the way the law responded to issues where both race and gender discrimination were involved. What happened was like an accident, a collision. Intersectionality simply came from the idea that if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you are likely to get hit by both. These women are injured, but when the race ambulance and the gender ambulance arrive at the scene, they  see these women of color lying in the intersection and they say, 'Well, we can’t figure out if this was just race or just sex discrimination. And unless they can show us which one it was, we can’t help them.”

Intersectionality positions itself to make a critical argument.  Identity in the modern setting is complex and intricate.  It is the product of "multiple forms of exclusion."  When individuals simply reduce themselves or are reduced to a singular element, the silencing of voice is perpetuated.  The desire to authenticate all of one's voice is seen in the concept of intersectionality in philosophical thought.

In the understanding of modern construction in gender and culture, this paradigm becomes essential.  Individuals in the modern setting should not have to elect to silence one aspect of their identity.  The "race ambulance" and the "gender ambulance" should be able to work together to help the victim of the accident.  It should not be "either/ or."  In embracing this matrix of oppression, one again silences voice.  Intersectionality understands and affirms the representation that modern culture places in the individual in different "worlds," as Lugones would frame it, is an essential component of intersectionality.  Modern feminism understands the role of intersectionality in identity formation:

In other words, certain groups of women have multi-layered facets in life that they have to deal with. There is no one-size-fits-all type of feminism. For example, I am a black woman and as a result I face both racism and sexism as I navigate around everyday life.

Through the understanding of as many valences of oppression as possible, individuals better understand themselves, their world, and their place in it. This becomes only possible through intersectionality.

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