An Intersectional International Women's Day

An Intersectional International Women's Day

"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." (Audre Lorde)

I love this quote from the astounding writer, poet and civil rights activist, Audre Lorde. I find myself going back to it often; the quote states the significance of intersectionality ever so simply. Intersectionality might be a new term to you, but stick with me and I'll explain why it's vital to International Women's Day.

Intersectionality is the complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, classism, socioeconomic status, abelism) combine, overlap and intersect.

Intersectionality is not just elements of one’s identity — instead, it's about intertwining forms of oppression that an individual experiences. The term was coined by scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw, in the '80s. She started exploring the concept to help describe her experiences as a Black woman: she faced sexism because she was a woman and race discrimination because she was Black. But being a woman and being Black are not independent of each other. The two forms of discrimination intersect and form her experience — hence, intersectionality. And really, the term describes all types of overlapping forms of marginalization, helping us understand the wide range of an individual's experience based on sexual orientation, religion, disability or race.

An intersectional lens is a critical factor when evaluating full equality. Unfortunately, we don’t always look through multiple lenses on important topic like pay equity.  It is widely publicized that women are paid roughly 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. But for a Black women, that gap widens to 64 cents and for Hispanic women, it’s 56 cents on the dollar. For transgender women, there’s a more severe gap, if you can even find the data. Finding the numbers is tricky since transgender women experience double the rate of unemployment as compared to the general population.

International Women's Day celebrates the progress made for women's rights and equality. Keeping in mind what Audre Lorde said, the true equality of women must come with other equalities across social issues like sexual orientation, race and disability. Intersectional work aims to be inclusive of everyone and respecting of all parts of others’ identities.

So here's what you can do to make your International Women's Day intersectional:

  1. Understand that mistakes will be made…and that's ok. Talking about social issues can bring up all types of emotions like feeling uncomfortable or feeling hurt. As long as we are all continually trying to learn and better ourselves, progress will be made. 
  2. Listen and recognize differences. Other people around you have experienced the world differently since their identity if different than yours. Listen to what they have to say and acknowledge it. Listen to listen, not just to respond. Remember to speak up for others, not over.
  3. Look for other perspectives. Find narratives of those different than yourself; read a book, watch a TV show or listen to a podcast! Examine your social networks and see if you’re following a diverse set of people on your social platforms like Twitter and Instagram.
  4. Assume positive intent and own impact. This one is hard and I'm working on it every day. Assuming positive intent means that you accept that the person who might have offended you meant no ill will towards you. Conversely, when you’ve offended someone despite good intentions, own up to the impact of your words.
  5. Hold yourself accountable and learn! Just like it's not always the responsibility of a woman to point out gender discrimination in the workplace or Black employees to call out racism— it's not the job of the oppressed to educate us. We live in the age of information; there are plenty of resources available so we no longer have to fear the unknown or worry about saying the wrong thing. I’ll help you get started with these great resources: 

The danger of a single story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (19-min watch)

Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED Talk: The urgency of intersectionality (19-min watch)

How to be an ally in the office by Natalie Stevens (6-min read)

Doing Better At Intersectionality by Judith Rosenbaum (5-min read)

Podcast: Intersectionality Matters

Podcast: Nancy

Podcast: Code Switch

Podcast: How to be a Girl

Podcast: The Accessible Stall

I look forward to your feedback and if you have any other resources you’d like to share, I would love to see them. Happy intersectional International Women’s Day!

Madeleine Winslow
by Madeleine Winslow

Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, Mercer