Why We Need Intersectionality: a Meta Response

Laverne Cox

In response to the Feminist Current article by Meghan Murphy “Laverne Cox’s Objectified Body ’empowers’ No One“.

“[…]  If women or transwomen were truly allowed to love themselves, I doubt they’d be spending thousands and thousands of dollars sculpting their bodies in order to look like some cartoonish version of “woman,” as defined by the porn industry and pop culture. The fact that Cox’s body is seen as “subversive” because she is trans doesn’t change that. Her body doesn’t look subversive. It looks like any other objectified female body, sculpted by surgery and enhanced by Photoshop.” – “Laverne Cox’s objectified body ’empowers’ no one” – by Meghan Murphy

By David Ng

My first encounter with feminism was life changing.

When I was 14 I discovered feminism.  It was kind of an accident…I was looking to discover sexuality, but instead I found feminism.

When I was in grade 9, I joined a youth sexual health advocacy organization, where we learned about sexuality through a feminist, anti-oppression lens.  It was like I was given a new pair of eyes to see the world in.  I already had the knowledge – but now I had the words to articulate my experiences: being a racialized body – a yellow body, a gendered body, and as someone who is queer.  All of these things that I was experiencing, I could finally put a name to it.

Sixteen years later, as I read Murphy’s article on trans women’s bodies, I reflect on my own journey as a feminist activist, and how I relate to other people in my community, who intersect with my struggle.

One of the biggest learnings I have had as a feminist, is the power of owning my own struggles.  The value of looking at the way my activism starts with my own journey.  The only way that I can ever have solidarity with any one, or any other community that is not my own, is through truly engaging with my own struggles, my journey, and my truths.

Yes I may see a problematic situation over there, and over here, but I need to begin my work with my own struggle – rather than speaking about other peoples struggles – yes, they intersect with mine, but they are not my own.

I have to thank the black feminists in the second wave who brought us the notion of “intersectionality” – a concept that this entire blog and video project is predicated upon.  Black feminists (like Kimberlé Crenshaw) called out white feminists during the second wave, who were speaking for “women”, while ignoring the struggles that black women were facing.  Intersectionality implores us to contend with the multitude of ways that other facets of our journey, such as race, gender, sexuality, what sex we are assigned, affect our access to rights and privileges. Intersectionality allows me to grapple with my own positionality, in relation to my community members, so that I can begin to forge solidarity with other communities – so that we can begin to do work together.

So when I read the way Meghan Murphy writes about trans women’s bodies, I am reminded that we can have a voice without silencing and negating the voice and agency of other people and their struggles.  As a cis queer man who is a feminist, this is something that I have to remember and check in on, on a regular basis.

If patriarchy teaches men that we need to take up space to “win”, then feminism gives us the opportunity to learn that if we have a voice, sometimes there is power in silence, and in allowing other people to speak (Gayatri Spivak).

This is why I love feminism so much.  For me, it’s not about pointing fingers and making my points loud and heard – it’s not about screaming “this is oppression! this is not right!”.  Often, it’s about listening and waiting for the opportunities where we can build community and solidarity… instead of building barriers.

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Jen & David on a bench

In response to David Ng’s response to the Feminist Current article by Meghan Murphy.

“This is why I love feminism so much.  For me, it’s not about pointing fingers and making my points loud and heard – it’s not about screaming ‘this is oppression! this is not right!’.  Often, it’s about listening and waiting for the opportunities where we can build community and solidarity… instead of building barriers.” – David Ng

By Jen Sung

Sometimes we do need to scream, “this is oppression! this is not right!” Right now Black America is screaming – in agony, in solidarity, in agony, in silence, in agony.

David so eloquently referenced the origins of “intersectionality”, from the depths of black feminist mobilizing. How can we talk about the experiences of others when we don’t occupy the same lived and very real embodiment of racialized and trans* lives?

Right now my body is reacting to the hypertension in America right now. I am not thinking about Meghan Murphy as she narrates the voices of others outside of her own. My body does not know what it is like living in Black America.

But my body knows what it is like to have others paint layers upon layers upon layers of racialized and sexualized expectations, assumptions and stereotypes onto its canvas. That canvas turns into a living carcass. I live and breathe inside the carvings of race, gender, sexuality, and time.

So I learn silence while my body screams – screams to break out of the suffocating coats of paint. It is debilitating.

I do not deny that patriarchy is systemic, and that it perpetuates violence against women. Nor do I deny that rape culture exists.

I also do not deny that I have privilege as a cis-woman who is aligned with her assigned gender. So I listen to those whose experiences are outside of my own. Rape culture affects us all.

I do not deny that I conform to societal standards of what is considered to be feminine, but gender doesn’t make up the entirety of my motivation to conform, and subvert — my race and sexual orientation do, too.

I embody race and queerness just as hard as I do with gender, some days it’s more, some days it’s less. They all live in the same body. My body. And my body is part of a collective of bodies that are living, breathing, dying, suffering, working, playing, listening, dancing, living.

But just because I am part of a collective of bodies doesn’t mean I get to speak for, reason, argue – on behalf of that collective. Complexities make interesting narratives that shape our world. We are enriched by the stories of others whose differences teach us to be more open. I will always have limitations to what I know because I trust in the fundamental truth that I only know what I know, and don’t know what I don’t know. Until then, I learn to listen – and listen to learn.

If supporting those who pose naked in an “objectifying” way is letting patriarchy “win”, then I must be a bad feminist. But I know I’m not. I wrote “Ask me again why I need feminism” because feminism taught me how to listen, and extend my hand out in spite of, and especially because of — difference. That is the beautiful thing about paradox.

Will Meghan Murphy listen too?

In tenderness,
Jen Sungshine

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