Jane Osmond - Women's Views On News
Before I started to write for Women’s Views on News in early 2010, I had never even heard the term ‘intersectionality’.
I first came across it at the 2011 UK Feminista Summer School in Birmingham. I kept quiet initially because I didn’t know what it meant and didn’t want to appear uninformed in front of a room-full of knowledgeable feminists.
Luckily, someone explained it and instantly I recognised what it meant. For me at least - it was about how to make sense of my conflicting identities.
For a very long time, and certainly throughout my 20s and 30s, I struggled with a feeling of not having a coherent identity.
It wasn’t until I was made redundant at the age of 37 and went to university (much to the disgust of those who wanted to know how I would support my son as a single parent) and completed a communication, culture and media degree that my first identity as a working class woman finally become clear to me.
It was during a module which involved charting the life course of three women – my Gran, my Mum and a friend’s daughter – that a theme emerged: that we were all rooted in a working class background.
I knew this, but I hadn’t understood that being working class had shaped all of us – from our poor educational choices (which meant getting a job as soon as possible) to getting married, having kids/grandkids, growing old and dying.
So, here was identity number one - being working class - which straightaway seemed conflict with the middle class university environment within which I now found myself.
Try as I might, I could not identify with other women who did not have any money worries, who had no idea what it was like to never go on holiday, to stretch out a loaf of bread for a week, or live with second hand furniture, leaky taps, poor haircuts and no new clothes.
At the same time, I began to recognise that I had other identities too – as a single parent, a domestic and sexual abuse survivor and as a disabled person.
But about the time I started writing for Women’s Views on News and began covering all sorts of stories about women, I started to realise that all of my identities were underpinned by my gender.
And I realised that all of the discrimination I suffered was, at heart, related to being a woman, and it was only then that I found a new identity – that of feminist.
And now I understand that identifying as a feminist is all about intersectionality because it brings all of my identities together under one roof. At the same time it allows me to recognise that all feminists are the sum of their differing identities, just like me.
Because of this, the identities with which feminists identify are sometimes at odds with each other – and with good reason.
When we segue into one of our individual identities – working class, disabled, black, gay, for example – there is no doubt that some identities are more discriminated against than others.
But feminism has given me a way to recognise that, although I am working class and therefore may struggle to identify with, say, a middle class woman, I can still identify with her as a woman who is discriminated against at work, or as a rape victim, or a domestic abuse survivor.
And so, for me, feminism allows us - with all of our differing identities - to fight as a group against the patriarchal structures that, first and foremost, keep us down as WOMEN.
That is why I am a feminist, and that is why intersectionality is, for me, one of the most important terms I have ever come across. The definition that works for me is offered by Patricia Hill Collins:
‘A paradigm of race, class and gender as interlocking systems of oppression’
Interlocking systems of oppression? Wow.
Tags: Feminism and Intersectionality