Anyone who has over the past ten years or so engaged online with people who identify themselves as feminists will have witnessed the incredible vitriol that takes place in these discussions. Or, I shouldn't call them discussions; it's more like rock throwing, the biblical kind.
What has caused this massive shift in the way we talk about feminism? Feminism is, after all, about human rights, and human rights are the opposite of hate.
The solution is found in the world of marketing. Zander Nethercutt explains:
Social media is well-understood to be contributing to identity politics, but I’d argue it’s contributing to something deeper: identity paralysis. This condition is one in which we have a forced awareness of how everything we say and do — even the seemingly inconsequential, like the shoes we wear, or the airline we fly — reflects on us. It follows that our generation would also be uniquely drawn to brands that make us feel how we want to feel about ourselves, even as how we want to feel about ourselves is often nothing more than how we want to be perceived externally. Like Starbucks with the Unicorn Frappuccino, we prioritize external perception over just about everything else. The social media market, where we live now, demands a focus on visible characteristics — which are, by their very nature, external — from designer drinks, yes, but from individuals, too. (Read more here).
To prevent others from seeing us as bigoted, which is the worst thing a person can be called these days, and rightly so, we call everyone who disagrees with the brand we adhere to "bigots." It takes away attention from us and the fact that we don't really embrace all the things we say we do. In the church this is called "self-righteousness": people praising God loudly while they do nothing to live out their faith in real life. The paralyzing effect of identity politics and theology is seen in that people are afraid of saying what they think, lest they be accused of heresy. So people say what they are told to say while they viciously attack anyone who disagrees.
It's how power structures are kept intact.
The above explains why men feel comfortable attacking women online and accusing them of not being "real feminists." The deflection from the fact they aren't all that willing to give up their sexist attitudes, while they don't want to appear sexist, is working splendidly. This is seen also in the constant calls to support the work done by women of color. Clearly very few white women are willing to do so, and this in itself is an indication of the paralyzing effect of identity politics: people say the accepted things only to protect themselves, not because they wish to further a cause. Again, the same is found in the church. People repeat the accepted lines, because they want to be part of a group, instead of actively living their faith.
The paralyzing effect of identity politics has paralyzed feminism and turned it into a hatefest. It doesn't further the cause, it hurts the cause. By creating a system that convinces people they must protect an image more than their true identity has created a feminism that does very little to secure equal rights for women all around the world. It helps people find acceptance within a specific group, but feminism isn't a sorority. It's a movement.
And this brings us to the realization that "Intersectional Feminism" is an analysis of feminism, not the movement itself. It cannot replace the movement, because an analysis lacks the foundation of the movement it seeks to critique. The attempt to replace the movement with an analysis has done incalculable harm to feminism. Kimberlé Crenshaw herself has pointed out women can, and should, still speak of the sexism they experience even when they don't experience any intersections of discrimination; women have brought lawsuits against companies based only on the discrimination they have experienced as women.
Sexism is enough, because sexism is discrimination.
Finding one's true identity can be a daunting task in a world where clever marketing tactics tell us who we should be. But finding one's true identity is vital for those who seek to change the world. A feminist is a woman who seeks to free all women. That is the true identity of a feminist. It doesn't require identity politics. It requires empathy. It requires a willingness to work to dismantle patriarchy and the power structures that seek to oppress women, just because they are women. It requires the recognition that all women are inherently worthy of human rights, because women are people too.
Feminism is about freedom.
It's a lovefest.
So let's dance together.