What is Intersectionality?
I’m not going to try and explain it, so I’ll opt to use the definitions of others, such as the dictionary.
Fig 1; Oxford Languages.
Okay, so, let’s try and steel-person this argument; I will try to strengthen this argument, so much so, that to defeat it, one would require the strongest, without-a-doubt counterargument.
Intersectionality describes a phenomena whereby individuals experience disadvantages based on aspects of their identity, that is to say, disadvantages based on their group identity; disadvantages that compound when there are many dimensions of disadvantage.
Jill is 25 years old. She is African-American, has Autism, is in a wheelchair and comes from a lower socioeconomic background. She struggles to pay for medical treatment, she has no friends due to the interpersonal challenges resulting from having Autism. She never knew her parents and she has anxiety and depression too.
Jill has it tough.
Jill is experiencing overlapping degrees of disadvantage, in that, not only does she face challenges for being African-American (the minority ethnicity in her country), she also has multiple disabilities, is disadvantaged socioeconomically, struggles to obtain medical treatment, and so on and so on. Jill has many more dimensions on which she is disadvantaged, such as her ADHD, but the list is too long to list.
It’s clear that Jill is disadvantaged in a multiplicity of ways; It’s obvious that she would struggle. However, this degree of disadvantage is looking quite unique, and it’s not clear that many people would be in the same boat as her; she’s no longer part of a group (each dimension of disadvantage, before the intersections, could be classes as a loosely related group; i.e. African-American).
It seems that Jill is unique disadvantaged; it seems that she is no longer apart of a group of size, but rather a small group; population 1. Jill is the only member of this group, as nobody experienced disadvantage as individually as her.
You can play this game of fractionating disadvantage infinitely, because each intersection between varying degrees of disadvantage can multiply infinitely. For instance, in the case of Jill and the 8 degrees of stated dimensions of disadvantage there are 6,435 unique degrees of variation, thus there are 6,435 unique ways in which Jill is disadvantaged.
Just to paint the picture a little clearer, let’s pretend Jill only has 5 dimensions of disadvantage, there would be 126 unique ways in which Jill is disadvantaged, depicted as such:
Now, let’s run the calculation again, but this time with the 8 degrees of (stated) disadvantage; a whopping 6,435 ways. Is it possible to find somebody as uniquely disadvantaged (emphasis on unique) than Jill? Probably not.
I’m not, nor do I think anyone is debating whether or not people uniquely experience disadvantage. It’s pretty obvious that this is true.
However, issues arise when people choose to use this observation to enact change within the world.
Let me explain.
What to do about it?
What can one actually do about the degrees to which each person is uniquely disadvantaged?
I constantly hear something along the lines of this…
You’re not (a) Woman/African-American/Non-Binary/Poor/etc, therefore, you aren’t allowed to have an opinion on the issue.The left.
This is convenient for their narrative, no? They say they want equal representation of all people(s) in all positions of power, for example, Women in government.
Alright, let’s, just for the sake of argument, say I agree.
But why are we privileging the dimension of Gender over another dimension of human variation; say, intelligence/socioeconomic status/neurological status/height/personality/age/sexual preference/level of education etc?
- Why don’t we have equal representation for Women who have autism?
- Why don’t we have equal representation for Women, who have autism, and who also are in a wheelchair?
- Why don’t we have equal representation for Women, who have autism, who are in a wheelchair, and who are also African-American?
- Why don’t we have equal representation for Women, who have autism, who are in a wheelchair, who are African-American, and who also have difficulty paying for their medical expenses?
- Why don’t we have equal representation for Women, who have autism, who are in a wheelchair, who are African-American, who have difficulty paying for their medical expenses, and who also didn’t know their parents?
- Why don’t we have equal representation for Women, who have autism, who are in a wheelchair, and who are also African-American, who have difficulty paying for their medical expenses, who didn’t know their parents, and who also has a mental illness?
- Why don’t we have equal representation for Women, who have autism, who are in a wheelchair, and who are also African-American, who have difficulty paying for their medical expenses, who didn’t know their parents, who has a mental illness, and who also has no friends?
Do you see where this is going? You can play this game forever.
The Practical Limitations
As you can see, is it really possible to implements a system of perfect representation for all people(s)? It’s important to emphasise the choice of dimension within which human variation occurs, and why one would privilege one dimension over another, and why?
I don’t know how we can address the issue of equality, however, I know the practical limitations of trying to implement an ideology places extreme emphasis on unique and compounding degrees of disadvantage.
Why can’t we just treat everyone the same?Logic