Global Roundup: Feminism must be intersectional - and angry!

Compiled and written by Lauren MacDonald

A group of women hold up their arms, showing the words "NO" printed on their palms, during a protest march demanding non-sexist education and an end to discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse by academics, students and officials in Santiago, Chile, June 6, 2018.
Luis Hidalgo/AP via Global Citizen

Women - defined as both female-identifying people, and people with wombs - are often forced into the back seat of medical experience, Imogen Learmonth writes. Not to mention trans and non-binary folk who sometimes don’t even have a seat in the car. Health issues associated with the female body are woefully under-researched and misunderstood. These gaps run even wider when you take a look at marginalized women, such as Black women who are subjected to enormous amounts of discrimination in medicine. Cisgender men and masculinity are the standard and default of the medical field, and everything else is compared to it. Tackling misogyny in medicine is a must. 

Black women in the UK are five times more likely than white women to die in childbirth; people who are LGBTQ+ are more likely to suffer physical and mental health issues than their hetero peers; and there is almost no working research currently being done on how medical treatments affect trans bodies.

Women themselves don’t even have an adequate understanding of their bodies! I was given the full show of the male body in elementary school sex ed, whereas on the flip side the female body was seen as taboo and to be whispered about, especially in front of the boys. The gender health care gap affects the local and the global - whereas healthcare is local and medical research is global. The lack of knowledge and research surrounding female health care is dangerous and takes a toll.

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Image via Feminism in India

It is critical that the work being done in the international development sector takes an intersectional approach, now more than ever. Gender-based approaches have been on the rise in development agendas for many years, but it is still not enough. The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting structural inequalities for the most vulnerable populations (women, children, and seniors), and exacerbating them at the same time. 

Let’s face it: The poor will be poorer and the vulnerable will only get more vulnerable. This means women, girls, children and the elderly will face long-term repercussions. Which is why, civil society actors need to employ an informed and sensitive lens in strategising.

The pandemic affects different populations unevenly, with women and marginalized genders being the worst affected. Development is a multidimensional concept, requiring multidimensional and intersectional solutions to be as inclusive as possible. Civil society actors must adopt gender-sensitive lenses in their work to ensure best practices. I think this should have already been the standard, but in the face of the pandemic it is absolutely necessary. 

The pandemic has forced immense challenges on us but it also presents opportunity for reform, including in the way gender-based outcomes are thought of inside development programming. Factors such as education, livelihood, and health are all key in this process. Delivering programming all the way down to the grassroots that is inclusive of everyone will be key in the future of development work while the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Sen Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 26, 2019.Logan Cyrus / Bloomberg via Getty Images via NBCTHINK

Kamala Harris, the first Black woman to accept a major U.S., presidential party’s nomination for vice president, has like many other Black women been stereotyped under the “angry black women” trope. In this opinion essay, Robyn Autry, chair of the Sociology Department at Wesleyan University, argues that people in the United States must resist lazy racist and sexist stereotypes and instead tap into their own justified anger.

It is no secret that women are easily ridiculed in politics, but what happens when that woman is Black? Black women have been the victims of “controlling images”, which is what the “angry black woman” stereotype is. Harris is painted as aggressive and hostile, and even “nasty” by Donald Trump (his very typical response to powerful women who challenge him). 

Historically, Black women have been subjected to what sociologist Patricia Collins refers to as "controlling images," or stereotypical thinking about us as mammies, jezebels and welfare queens. These stereotypes are used to denigrate and diminish us and our opinions about any number of topics, including our own health. The "angry Black woman" is just such a controlling image.

But what if Harris is angry? Aren't many of us right now?

I mean, shouldn’t we all be angry? I’m a cisgender white Canadian women, and I’m sure as hell angry. You do not need to be Black or a woman to identify with anger. Unfortunately, certain behaviours have been negatively associated with race which hands people of colour an additional burden to constantly stay out of these stereotypes. Which is why Harris may not be allowed to really be angry. Hopefully, especially following the debate, a growing number of Americans will embrace their anger.

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Graphic by Sketchify via Marquette Wire

Many people in the U.S. seem to believe that the country has “come so far” and “does not need feminism anymore”. This could not be further from the truth. And with the the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, the future for American women seems to appear especially dire. 

In this essay, Jenna Koch urges feminists in the United States to learn from feminists across the world. She provides examples from South Korea and Mexico, where she says “feminists alike tend to have more radical ideas and tactics compared to the U.S.”

On Valentine’s Day 2020, Mexican women took to the streets in outcry over the 4,000 femicides that occurred in 2019. Femicide isn’t just the killing of a woman, but a murder motivated by misogyny. It’s a statistic that the U.S. does not count. Hate crimes are counted, but gender-based violence is not specified in those statistics. 

Radical feminism that is intersectional and brings the fight to patriarchy is powerful. Feminists in the Global South know that and are no strangers to radicalism. In light of the epitome of toxic masculinity aka Trump, feminists in the U.S. must learn from that global experience and tap into radicalism to fight patriarchal fuckery in their country.

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Photo Rupak de Chowdhuri/Reuters via Quartz

If your feminism isn’t intersectional, it is worthless. This means the inclusion of sex workers, a population often disregarded and overshadowed in feminist movements. This concept can be described by the acronym SWERF: Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist.

The discussions surrounding sex work and workers within feminist circles are quite complex, as this article explains. Pro-sex work feminists view sex work as something that is empowering. Their arguments come as a challenge to an idea that feminism seeks to challenge: that women do not have the right to make autonomous bodily choices. I reside in the pro-sex worker camp and believe we need more public knowledge about the different policy approaches ie. legalization vs. decriminalization. Women deserve to have agency! As with anything, there can be cases of exploitation and coercion, sex workers must lead the discussion about their autonomy and safety.

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Lauren MacDonald is a third-year student at the University of Ottawa studying International Development and Globalization with a minor in Women's Studies and a settler on traditional Mi'kmaq land. Looking to pursue a career in urban planning/community development, she is interested in gaining as much feminist knowledge as possible in her academics to help build more healthy and equitable communities in the future. She is delighted at the opportunity to shed light on everything feminism around the globe through FEMINIST GIANT!