Intersectionality and Law and Society

The term ‘intersectionality’ was first used and coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1991 and it was used to describe “the various ways race and gender interact to shape the multiple dimensions of black women’s employment experiences” (Gopaldes, 2013).  The concept itself is referring to the role and interactions of social identity structures like race, gender, and class in life experiences. More specifically to do with privileged experiences and ones to do with oppression (Gopaldes, 2013). It looks at how different social structures play influence to ones life experiences. An example would be like comparing an poor African American family’s experience to and rich non-African American family. Different class, gender and race would result in different experiences.  The actual concept was developed much over the twentieth century by the social movement known as black feminism (Gopaldes, 2013). This arose when it was found that interests of black women in particular were not being represented. Women’s movements were led by white women and were focused on achieving equality with white men. African American men led African American movements, sometimes known as black movements, and they were pursuing equality with white men. At this point, the African American women were being left out by the Women’s Movement and the African American movement so they had to create their own social identity and fight to overcome the classism, sexism, and racism they faced (Gopaldes, 2013). By doing this, African American Women also realized that they were not the only ones who were suffering from being left out of these social movements. Asian immigrants were also being excluded from the various movements that were occurring during this time (Gopaldes, 2013).

During this time of these movements, Critical Legal studies were emerging. Not referring to a single theory but a grouping and set of theories and ideologies that looks at different issues. Very similarily, intersectionality is different conceptualizations and theorizations of different ideologies and theories.  (Carl A. Grant, 2011).

The best phenomenon to illustrate intersectionality may be to look Parliament in Canada. In the 2011 Federal election, out of 308 total members, 76 women were elected into the House of Commons. This is a surprising statistic considering that women represent a little of half of the population in Canada. The first Women was elected into the House of Commons in 1921 whereas the first Aboriginal Woman was not elected into the House of Commons until 1988 (Parliament, 2013). The concept of intersectionality could be used here to see that although we, the academic society, have admitted to having a unrealistic representation of women in Parliament, we fail to recognize the other misrepresentations. Aboriginal women are not fairly represented. Intersectionality critically looks at different variations of racism, classism and sexism in regards to life experiences. Would it not be fair to conclude that we are failing to see the entire picture? We are failing to take into account all these various oppressions that people face; the key word being all. We tend to pick one and focus on that. Similar to the African American civil rights movements who didn’t have a place for African American Women; similar to the Women’s civil rights movement which didn’t have a place for African American Women; similar to the critique of the misrepresentation of women in Canadian Parliament where we don’t even recognize Aboriginal Peoples and Women.

Works Cited

Carl A. Grant, E. Z. (2011). Intersectionality and Student Outcomes: Sharpening the Struggle against Racism, Sexism, Classism, Ableism, Heterosexism, Nationalism, and Linguistic, Religious, and Geographical Discrimination in Teaching and Learning. Multicultural Perspectives , 13 (4), 181-188.

Gopaldes, A. (2013). Intersectionality 101. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing , 32, 90-94.

Parliament, L. o. (2013, May 14). Parliinfo. Retrieved Nov 18, 2013, from Parliament of Canada: http://www.parl.gc.ca/parlinfo/Lists/ParliamentarianAge.aspx?Menu=HOC-Bio&Chamber=03d93c58-f843-49b3-9653-84275c23f3fb

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One response to “Intersectionality and Law and Society

  1. You have selected an interesting example – and one that clearly demonstrates the presence of multiple and overlapping forms of marginalization and underrepresentation.

    Question: How does the evidently unbalanced composition of the federal Parliament relate to the field of law & society? What are the implications of the forms of intersectionality at work here?