Crenshaw, Kimberle Williams. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” The Feminist Philosophy Reader. Eds. Alison Bailey and Chris Cuomo. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 279-309.

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Summary: Crenshaw is responding to the tendency within identity politics to overlook or silence intra-group differences, a dynamic repeated throughout anti-racist and feminist movements to the detriment of black women. Crenshaw explores the simultaneously raced and gendered dimensions of violence against women of color (specifically by looking at responses to domestic violence and rape) to draw attention to the way the specificity of black women’s experiences of violence is ignored, overlooked, misrepresented, and/or silenced. Crenshaw focuses on both the structural and political aspects of intersectionality with regards to rape and domestic abuse and uses this analysis of violence against women of color to highlight the importance of intersectionality and of engaging with issues like violence against women through an intersectional lens.

Notes:

  • Examples of structural problems that compound through intersecting oppressions of race, gender, class, etc. that impact women of color’s abilities to escape abusers: employment discrimination, housing discrimination, poverty, limited transportation, language barriers, citizenship, lack of access to medical care, cultural barriers
  • Political intersectionality is not about recognizing additive oppressions that come from occupying multiple categories of identity, but rather highlights the fact that understanding the full dimensions of race, gender, class, etc. means understanding how these categories dynamically interact with one another
  • Anti-racist arguments that distance the black community from problems of domestic violence and feminist arguments that domestic violence is not just a problem of poor minority communities all preclude the possibility of understanding the specific dimensions of the domestic abuse experienced by women of color
  • Policies at shelters for abused women can be dangerous if they are designed to empower a particular kind of woman and cannot be altered, changed, or ignored to accomodate different women. Moreover, institutional biases that privilege certain kinds of feminism and certain kinds of experience often exclude women of color from administrative positions in which they could change shelter policies to better accomodate a diverse group of women.
  • Rape laws and cultural assumptions about race are premised on long-standing assumptions about good and bad women, assumptions that are shot through with gendered and raced notions of who good women are and what they should do
  • While feminist work on anti-rape laws have challenged the invocation of traditional codes of feminine behavior to undermine rape victims as ‘immoral women,’ they have failed to address the ways in which racist assumptions about black women’s sexuality also inform cultural ideas about feminine morality
  • Similarly, anti-racist work that has challenged deep-seated anxieties about black men raping white women has done little address black women’s vulnerability to rape, either by white or black men. She also looks at previous work that has been done on the intersections of race and gender in rape to argue that these studies have been more concerned with inequalities between male perpetrators than with inequalities between female victims.
  • Crenshaw closes the piece by discussing what she calls ‘the vulgarized social construction thesis’ (the assumption that since categories of identity are socially constructed, we should not be focused on organizing around them or reproducing them in political analyses) to illustrate the necessity of identity politics, which can draw attention to the material/cultural/political/social ramifications of these socially constructed categories. However, we must embrace an identity politics that takes on an intersectional lens to understand the full extent of these categories.
  • We need to recognize identity categories not as distinct political interests but as (potential) coalitions

Quotable Quotes:

  • “Intersectional subordination need not be intentionally produced; in fact, it is frequently the consequence of the imposition of one burden interacting with preexisting vulnerabilities to create yet another dimension of disempowerment.” (281)
  • “The concept of political intersectionality highlights the fact that women of color are situated within at least two subordinated groups that frequently pursue conflicting political agendas.” (282)
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