You Can’t “Specialize” Intersection Away
Let’s face facts.
We are all human and we have limited levels of effort and energy to put into things. Activists are no different. An activist will be unable to address every issue in the world, no matter how worthy, due to these energy constraints.
Feminism is, in and of itself, a specialization of egalitarianism (the concept that all peoples should be equal, none should be granted inherent privilege over others and marginalization should be eliminated) concentrating on issues and inequalities of gender.
But while we’re facing facts, let’s face another fact. Specialization as a concept is a system that requires compartmentalization to work. Things need to be separated conceptually in order for specialization to be applicable. So to be entirely honest, specializations of egalitarianism tend to either fail to achieve their aims or not truly be specialized. Because of Kyriarchy. The concept of kyriarchy is both intensely simple and irritatingly complex. It is simple in that conceptually it encompasses the entirety of what egalitarianism fights against. Namely intersecting lines of hegemonic dominance that privilege those with some characteristics over those with other characteristics, in shifting axes of privilege and marginalization that overlap and interlace like nasty little threads (think of it as a “Tapestry of Fuckery”). The irritatingly complex part of this is how many of these threads there are, how they interlace and the sheer complicated bullshit that arises from trying to deal with it. One can literally have several hundred privilege axes and several marginalization axes and have to navigate through this quagmire of privilege while still fighting against their marginalization, all at the same time. It poses difficulties. So, most specializations of egalitarianism either aren’t specialized at all (and try to tackle the entirety of kyriarchy) or specialize, forgetting that there is no compartmentalization of intersectionality (they always overlap and interlace), and fail to even achieve their own ends of fighting the axis of marginalization that hurts their people (since other intersections invariably shift and worsen the effects of that particular axis, and sometimes even changing the damage it does).
But this is less about movements and more about people. Namely the specializations of individuals within a movement on various zones within a given axis or given set of axes of oppression. And here is where things really fundamentally fall apart in their logic. Dancing Grapes is running into the same problem that a huge number of feminists are running into and the fundamental failing of the entire movement in terms of kyriarchy. And that is the lack of realization that axes of marginalization are not compartmentalized and separate. I’m not picking on Dancing Grapes here, she’s been excellent about asking questions and exploring where her mistakes and issues are in this zone. And she’s shown her mistakes visibly, allowing a critique that can now be used to help others repair this issue in their own worldview. Let’s have an example.
Notice this quote:
But I can’t do everything, I can do some things. I still have to live in this world, in this society. I still have to use gas to get to work, and can’t always afford organic, and I can’t go to every rally. But I spend my day job working against Gender Violence. Specifically Domestic and Sexual Violence. I work really hard against Gender Violence, and I spend a lot of time thinking and learning about it – but I still don’t understand everything even in my little segment of the movement. And I know I know less about trans rights and disability and race and orientation. I’ve had varying exposure to each, but I feel like my role is to realize how little I know about each and to respect those who know more to lead the way.
It seems reasonable on the surface right? She specializes on “Domestic and Sexual Violence” and doesn’t have time for “Trans issues”. Well here’s the problem, Domestic and Sexual Violence on gender lines IS a “Trans Issue”. In fact it’s a disability issue, a race issue, a class issue, etc etc etc. And this is because trans issues, disability issues, race issues, class issues and etc are not separate, compartmentalized issues from gender issues. These intersections inform each others’ effects, adjust them, shift them, change the impact, increase the damage and change the ways they can be dealt with. In other words you are not addressing gender violence if you’re only addressing it for cis, white, upper class, abled women. Literally, you have failed to specialize in any meaningful way (or you have accidentally “specialized” yourself in a privileged and bigoted way). She does have one part of specialization correct, and that’s the specific issue zone to be handled. Domestic and Sexual Violence is an appropriate specialization, while it is caused, influenced and in turn causes and influences other realms of marginalization within feminism’s purview, the interlacing of these things is not as deep and entangled as intersection. Rape culture, objectification and bodily ownership can cause and influence DV/SV. But they do not interlace. They can be compartmentalized in terms of effort and still be functional. You literally cannot compartmentalize intersections without completely defeating the aims of egalitarianism (which is, presumably, the whole reason anyone gets into feminism or any other activism movement. Equality for all).
So what this comes out to be in the end, is that specialization being used as a reason for not being knowledgeable of intersection or mindful of it in one’s activism is wrong and wholly indicative of a lack of comprehension of how marginalization works in the first place. (Or alternately, it’s being used as an excuse to defend bigotry or to remain in ignorance of one’s bigoted actions. This does happen and generally is much harder to address due to the hostile nature of excusers and apologists) It is also entirely self defeating in egalitarian terms because in the end what this pseudospecialization means is that instead of seeking equality, you are merely seeking to add yet another group to the privileged groups, essentially stepping on the necks of those with more intersections just to elevate those without them. This is completely unacceptable for anyone who professes (and actually does) seek out equality as an activist. Really, it’s unacceptable always, but anyone who truly seeks equality would find such an issue in their efforts specifically unacceptable to themselves personally and seek to change it.
Privileging some over the many is not activism. Nor is it specialization. And if you’re trying to or inadvertently “specializing” intersections out of your activism, that is exactly what you are doing. Privileging some while the rest drown.
So if you’re making this mistake, now is the time to fix it.
Filed under: activism | 18 Comments
Tags: ableism, cissexism, feminism, intersection, issues, kyriarchy, marginalization, privilege, society, specialization