In a world where police brutality toward African American women is on the rise and trans folks still face a disproportionately high rate of violence, intersectional feminism is more important than ever. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “intersectionality,” it was coined by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in a 1989 paper, and it’s the notion that oppressions intersect to create compounded, complex experiences of discrimination. In short, intersectional feminism recognizes that patriarchy affects all women differently, leaving some further behind in the dust than others.
As Crenshaw notes, she came up with the idea of intersectionality after recognizing that anti-discrimination laws tackle gender and race separately, meaning the overlapping oppressions faced by black women get left out of the legal landscape, leaving this group of women without full protection.
These days, intersectional feminism is everywhere, from film critiques to the lips of stars like Solange. And we couldn’t be happier about it—after all, intersectional feminism recognizes and values everyone’s complex humanity, and we need that right now.
If you’re new to the notion, no worries. Here are five easy ways to make your feminism more intersectional on a regular basis.
Everyone’s experience of “womanhood”—or gender, period—is different, so listening when others share their ideas and experiences is critical to becoming a better ally and feminist. And, oh yeah, don’t interrupt when someone is speaking.
If you’re looking for some women to look up to, listen to Laverne Cox, America Ferrera, Janelle Monae, and Constance Wu. They live and breathe intersectional feminism.
White feminism is often criticized for failing to acknowledge how gender issues impact women of color, working class women of all races, and others facing multiple forms of oppression. It tends to focus largely instead on the upper-class white woman’s experience, making it out to be a universal struggle.
As you’re listening more often, make the effort to actually believe the person sharing their story — don’t dismantle their arguments in your mind and try to undermine them by insisting your experience is more valid or true.
3Use people’s preferred pronouns.
Misgendering someone is a painful and embarrassing experience. Instead of assuming you know someone’s gender identity, ask them how they prefer to be addressed — and then actually use the correct pronouns.
4If you make mistakes, be accountable.
Decentering your own experience and adopting an intersectional feminist politic is hard work, and it takes a lot of learning, stumbling, and growing. Don’t be afraid if you make mistakes — we all do; we’re only human — but always be accountable and open to critique afterwards. That’s the only true way to move forward.
5Ditch the ableist language.
The English language is vast and wide, and it offers an array of terms to describe your experiences — without using a disability or mental illness as the punchline. So instead of words like “retarded” or “insane,” say “absurd” or “unbelievable,” and don’t use “anorexic” or “OCD” as descriptors. You don’t want to diminish someone’s experience, especially when they’ve experienced enough prejudice from the outside world.
Living out a feminism that’s intersectional isn’t as hard as you might think. All it takes is a willingness to accept other women exactly the way they are, as well as a commitment to listen to them and their stories. The sooner we all realize that, the faster we can address the inequalities that all women face.