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What is intersectionality?

In this video, discover why the concept of intersectionality is important in creating gender-inclusive technologies.

In this video, we will discuss why the concept of intersectionality is important to them and why working with an intersectional lens is integral to designing gender-inclusive technologies.

What is intersectionality?

The term ‘Intersectionality’ was coined by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, an African-American lawyer, civil rights advocate, philosopher, and leading scholar of critical race theory, as a way to discuss the simultaneous forms of oppression that Black women face in society (1). Crenshaw introduced the term in 1989.

In the past 10 years has it become widely adopted outside of legal circles.

The origins of intersectionality

Safiya Noble and Brendesha Tynes note that the terminology’s origins can be traced back through history, highlighting the immeasurable contribution that Black women have made to the field of intersectionality (2).

Looking as far back as 1831 they spotlight speeches made by activists Maria W. Stewart and Sojourner Truth who began to “conceptualise how power and oppression exist across multiple axes”.

Their work became part of a continuity of thought with other prominent Black women, which would eventually lead to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s coining of the term.

Adopting intersectionality

As intersectionality gained popularity it was quickly adopted into fields outside of law becoming the standard framework for understanding how different aspects of someone’s identity, such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation and ability, overlap to create varying levels of discrimination and privilege.

It’s intersectionality that has given us the tools to understand that trans feminine people experience misogyny differently to cisgendered women or that Black women experience racism differently to Black men.

The more an individual exists outside of dominant social categories, such as heterosexuality, whiteness and legal citizenship, the more vulnerable they are to violence and discrimination.

For example, a white heterosexual cis-gendered male is afforded more privileges in society than a Black heterosexual cis-gendered woman, but she is afforded more privilege still than a Black transgender woman.

Intersectionality asks us to question how we exist

Intersectionality asks us to question how we as individuals exist within dominant power structures and how we might benefit from or be discriminated against by them.

It gives us the tools to understand and acknowledge situations where we have more explicit or implicit power when others don’t (and vice versa).

We can think of intersectionality as an approach as well as a framework, so when we think about designing gender-inclusive technologies, we can embed intersectionality throughout everything we do.

An integral framework for examining power relations

However, it should be noted that while Intersectionality is without a doubt an integral framework for examining power relations as it becomes so widely adopted it is at risk of being absorbed by the very structures it tries to unpack.

This is in part due to it being continually applied and reinterpreted across varying contexts, which is why an awareness of the history and the term and its use in tackling racial inequalities is vital.

References:

  1. Kimberlé Crenshaw, 2016. The urgency of intersectionality TED.
  2. Safiya Noble & Brendesha Tynes (eds.), 2016. The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online, New York: Peter Lang Publishing, pp 2 -3.
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Gender-Inclusive Approaches in Technology

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