Intersectionality is not just a word

On December 23rd, Eleanor Robertson made a passionate plea in The GuardianIn defence of intersectionality – one of feminism’s most important tools”. She laments that many feminists revile intersectionality as meaningless and appeals to us to recognize the internal importance of the issue.

I agree. There is much to be learned.

Intersectionality is not just a word, it is a word with many letters. Some of those letters are privileged. They are over-represented not only in this word but within language as a general body. While the letters C and Y are acknowledged as oppressed members of the alphabet, as evidenced by their enhanced point value in Scrabble, there are many letters with only a singular occurrence in this word which struggle to be seen as uniquely disadvantaged.

The letters A and I share the distinct privilege of being, in and of themselves, an entire word. Yet we can see with intersectionality that the letter I occurs a whopping three times whilst the letter A struggles to be seen only once and, even then, doesn’t appear until the the word is over half finished… almost as if an afterthought. Obviously the situation is more complex than we thought. Just as white feminists are deemed by some to be advantaged they, like the letter A in this word, have their own unique battles that they fight to expose.

We all know that the letter Y is marginalized. Quite often it only appears tacked on to the end of words and not only does Y suffer from being consistently last, it has the multiple oppression factor of being placed in a suffix.

While we might feel sympathy for the Y at this point, intersectionality reveals more. C and Y’s oppression is alphabetically surpassed by letters such as J, K, Q, X and Z which, as you’ll note, are not even acknowledged in this word at all.

Scrabble has done a wonderful job recognizing the privilege that some letters have over others and, though it tries to counterbalance this injustice by increasing the point value of the most oppressed members of the alphabet, it hasn’t yet been able to address the source of the problem. Where these letters struggle to appear they are inevitably surrounded by the privileged which overshadow them. Consonants can often be seen ganging up in clusters and vowels diphthong, constantly drawing attention to themselves.

The dictionary, obviously, was written by men.

When we look at the segments of intersectionality we can begin to realize how each section is both burdened and dismissed. The root “sectional” must carry the weight that gives meaning to the word but it is nearly smothered by the prefix and suffix placement. “Inter” bears the unique responsibility of introducing the root and yet it is considered to be only a variation of the root and not a word unto itself. While “ity” is only given three letters, it has the onerous task of of transforming the entire word from an adjective into a noun and, as we have discussed, is treated very poorly in return.

The entire class of letters employed in suffixes experience a specific kind of exclusion that other letters will never understand. When “isms” started to proliferate and enjoy a certain kind of notoriety, pop culture struck it down in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

“Ism’s, in my opinion, are not good. A person should not believe in an ‘ism,’ he should believe in himself.”

I’m sure it is no coincidence that film was also written by a man.

The opponents of intersectionality argue that the theory is unproductive and reduces a whole being down to isolated parts. What those people fail to realize is that by breaking down the sectional pieces of identity we create an appreciation for the parts of the sum and increase the individual value of those multiple identities. While men are content to walk about acting like whole people, feminism has recognized that it is only in dissecting the whole and reducing it to miniscule components that can we appreciate the value of what has been lost.

While male-dominated psychiatry has labelled multiple personality as a problematic disorder, feminism is fighting a slow but winning battle to recognize the value of compartmentalizing one’s personality. On a sheer pragmatic level, when you allow sisters of the feminist movement to expand their identities the number of supporters increases exponentially. Where there was previously only one feminist we now have four or five distinct personalities to contend with. While quantity doesn’t trump quality, it’s a good start.

While adapting to non-offensive language that acknowledges this explosion of split-personality rights has complicated communication at the moment, we should recognize that feminism is fixing that. It is obvious that the entire dictionary needs to be overhauled. This is just a difficult time of transition. When the marginalized letters like X, C, and K do stick together the results can be “exciting,” and ass can be “kicked.”

Some feel this vision to be quixotic. Feminists could argue that the word “quioxotic” proves their point. The word employs many oppressed letters and society giving a dismissive meaning to that noble word is both insensitive and, ultimately, corrosive to Social Justice.

Until the letter Q can be used on a daily basis without requiring the accompaniment of a vowel, language, and civilization itself, will continue to be ruled by Patriarchal control.

Eleanor Robertson concludes her article with a warning to the wise. “Far from being some bizarre esoteric theory, intersectionality is alive and kicking all around us, and not just in exclusive ivory tower gender studies clubs. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but there must be some reason pop feminism puts so much effort into repressing a concept that has huge theoretical explanatory power and enormous utility as an organising strategy.”

Intersectionality is gaining ground and the only choice is whether you are on the bus or off the bus. Let’s face it, language has been around for a very long time and the moment has arrived to try something new. Where men have dominated the formation, use, and privileging of some words over others, the elevation of some letters over their companions, and allowed oppressive conjugations, feminists ask us to take a bold but simple step to the side.

Binary thinking about sense and nonsense, right and wrong, meaning and gibberish, has forced linear limits on the accomplishments of large portions of the population. Feminists are determined to give those marginalized segments a voice and they aren’t about to let the dictionary stop them.

I think Reggie Watts summarized the issue best when he said

It’s not so much as so little as to do with what everything is. But it is within our self-interest to understand the topography of our lives unto ourselves. The future states that there is no time other than the collapsation of that sensation of the mirror of the memories in which we are living. Common knowledge, but important nonetheless.

As we face fear in these times – and fear is all around us – we also have anti-fear. It’s hard to imagine, or measure. The background radiation is simply too static to be able to be seen under the normal spectral analysis.

feature image by William Hoiles


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