The Intersectionality Theory of Gender

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  • 0:01 Intersectional Theory Defined
  • 1:42 Historical Background
  • 2:36 Intersecting vs.…
  • 4:45 Intersectionality…
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk

Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school

The following lesson will discuss how sociological statuses such as race, ethnicity, and social status influence gender. A short quiz will follow the lesson.

Intersectional Theory Defined

We are all aware that there are some natural physiological differences between women and men. We may also be aware that women and men can be treated very differently from one another based on a given social situation. For instance, female construction workers may be treated much differently than their male counterparts, and male nurses may face the same issues. And while we are aware of the differences between men and women, there are also just as many differences among groups of women and men.

To illustrate this, imagine that you are an identical twin. Even though you and your sibling are the same gender and look alike, you would still have certain differences in personal tastes and demeanor. The same is true for women and men. Within the female and male gender groups, there are stark differences. For example, there are low-income Latino men that are homeless, just as there are wealthy African-American men that are U.S. Congressmen.

To truly understand the female and male genders, scholars often need to look at additional aspects of a person's background, such as class, ability, race, and ethnicity. In fact, women and men experience differing levels of oppression in both consistency and intensity within their gendered groups. For example, women as a whole are not afforded the same social benefits that men are. To add to this, minority women have access to even fewer social benefits than their white counterparts. Scholars realize that cultural patterns of oppression are bound together and influenced by the intersection of things like race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity. We formally call this realization intersectional theory.

Historical Background

The idea that race intersects with other statuses always existed, but law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw put a name to it. It really started out as a way to capture how black feminism related to anti-discrimination laws. Up to this point in time, around the 1980s and '90s, anti-discrimination law had always looked at race and gender separately. Crenshaw sought to explain that the two statuses were closely related and had to be looked at together.

Also, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins integrated the concept of intersectionality as part of her discussion on black feminism to explain how it was more complex than traditional feminist thought had been. While intersectional theory originally focused primarily on women of color, it has since been used as a tool to analyze how any gender or status overlaps with another.

Intersecting vs. Interlocking Approach

There is some debate in the sociological community of how best to study the ways in which gender intersects with other cultural factors, like race and ethnicity. Many social scientists use one of two main approaches or perspectives within intersectionality theory: an intersecting approach or interlocking approach. Let's go ahead and explain these two different approaches further through an example.

Imagine that a middle-aged, African-American, Muslim woman is applying for a high-level management job at a company. On paper, she has all of the necessary credentials and qualifications like every other candidate. Despite all this, she does not get the job. Perhaps then she's left wondering if she didn't get the job because of other reasons.

Some sociologists look at an example like this and approach each characteristic of our female example separately. They can say that a black woman experiences sexism on the one hand and racism or religious bias on the other, as separate to that sexism. When a sociologist looks at each status separately, he or she is using what is called an intersecting approach or perspective. So here a researcher would look at hiring practices for African-American females and also look at the hiring practices for Muslim females and then analyze where the two overlap, because they both have the status of 'female' in common.

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