Are all problems of oppression inherently linked? Does social justice require a degree of solidarity between groups? Those who subscribe to theories of intersectionality would certainly argue so.
While we’ve probably all met someone or read something by a person who identifies as an intersectional-something, we can all be forgiven for not immediately understanding what the term means. ‘Intersectionality’ argues that structural examples of oppression, be it among lines of gender, sexuality, class or race, are all intrinsically linked with one another. Following this thinking, it would therefore be impossible for someone to truly fight for the rights of women, without also considering how structural racism or transphobia affect the lives of non-white, non-cis women. You must fight against all three forms of oppression if you are to fight for one, in this example.
At face-value, this makes sense. It’s logical to understand that each person will have wholly different experiences to other based, in part, on factors like their racial or socioeconomic background, so we should try to understand the experiences of others before we start to fight the problem.
But does intersectionality ensure this? Unfortunately not. While, in theory, intersectionality should ensure that all voices are heard in a fight, and that no group is left behind, in reality it enforces a ‘with-us-or-against-us’ mentality. Rather than protecting marginalised voices, it expects them to conform to an overarching group of ideologies or to be banished as an internalised-sexist, TERF, or bootlicker.
This is because, in reality, there is no single social group that is made up entirely of ideologically-homogeneous individuals. While intersectionalists are right to point out that those from lower socio-economic classes must be considered in any model of social progress, for example, they fail to understand that not every lower and working-class person is going to want the same thing.
Helen Pluckrose, writing for Areo Magazine, phrases this aptly:
‘The problem with positioning an ideology on the far-left and claiming it to represent women, people of color, LGBTs and disabled people is that this requires all members of those groups to be far-left which they simply aren’t.’
This is the main issue with intersectionality. Rather than helping the groups it claims to defend, it instead imposes a kind of ‘conform-or-die’ command on its followers. In doing so, it creates an image of the modern progressive left as a unified movement of solidarity, all the while ignoring the arguments of the individuals in the groups it ‘represents’.
Following this line of thinking, there is little room for real progress within an intersectionalist movement. This need for conformity makes it very difficult for dissenting opinions to break through, since the opinion of a person from one social group can easily be dismissed as a lack of understanding of the experiences of another, or simply a case of internalised-hatred or bigotry.
As a result, ideas are less likely to be exchanged as they are to be raised and dismissed if they don’t follow the correct line of thinking.
Without this exchange of ideas, however, it is difficult for a real understanding of the world to be achieved. If you dictate what LGBT people want, without listening to the LGBT people who disagree with you, you’re never going to fully understand how the group looks. Instead, you will simply maintain your own preconceived image that doesn’t necessarily match with reality.
Intersectionality raises a lot of good points. We do need to understand that people of different groups are going to have had different experiences. However, we must remain free to disagree, and to remember that there is no single ideology shared by all in any given social group. Only this way can we truly advance every group in society.