How feminism ate itself

Sep 22, 2021 by

by Kat Rosenfield, UnHerd:

The call for intersectionality was the movement’s death knell.

More than anything, the social justice landscape is defined by one alchemical process. A viral essay is condensed to a catchphrase, which makes its way onto everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs to embroidery samplers — until all of us see it and think we know what it means. Ten years ago, this process worked its magic on a piece written by Flavia Dzodan, giving a wave of up-and-coming feminists their new motto. “My feminism will be intersectional,” they declared, “or it will be bullshit.”

The concept of intersectionality — a shorthand for the ways that multiple minority statuses can overlap to create unique forms of oppression — is relatively easy to understand, which explains its sudden ubiquity in the sphere of extremely online activism. Twitter, after all, doesn’t generally allow for much complexity. But 10 years after its feminist incursion, the motto could use an update. “My feminism will be intersectional,” the new version might read, “and it will be the most ineffective flailing spectacle the world has ever seen.”

Turns out intersectionality is a concept that’s basic in theory but wildly divisive in application, especially when — as with feminism — you’re trying to get a coalition of activists with diverse identities to rally around a single shared goal. Whether it was getting the vote, reforming discriminatory laws, or even just pushing the so-called radical notion that women are people, feminism’s aim has always been to advocate for women because they are women. Once it was declared “bullshit” to focus on that commonality, the feminist cause fragmented with alarming swiftness. Since then, it’s had one crisis after another.

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