Feminism is a struggle against limitations and oppressions, which exist because of discrimination based on gender.
Intersectional feminism is a strand of feminism that qualifies this struggle by recognizing that many women suffer for reasons other than machismo, particularly racism.
The first scholar to formalize the study of intersectional feminism, Kimberlé Crenshaw, states that, “feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and antiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color have frequently proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on mutually exclusive terrains. Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist circles. Contemporary feminist and antiracist discourses have failed to consider intersectional identities such as women of color.”
The life experience of Ana, an Afro-Indigenous 36-year-old from São Paulo, demonstrates the need to prioritize intersectional issues.
When Ana reflects on gender she realizes that,”For me the differences of race were more evident. Racism is very subtle, most of the time. Sometimes it’s silent, but a look, the way you are treated, tells you everything. You don’t need to say ‘I don’t like you’, although I’ve heard that a few times, “I don’t like black people’.”
“Three things in my life, especially in my school life, were very present, in a negative way: racism for being black, for being indigenous and for practicing umbanda. Most of the years I studied at this school, which was private, I was the only black student. When I went to public school there were more (blacks), but not many. Neither I nor the (other black) girls considering empowering ourselves and confronting (racism). I suffered a lot. I didn’t want to go to school, private or public.”
For her, racism was more evident, but that does not mean she did not deal with sexism. “I knew that this racism was also targeted. Why? Because a white boy wouldn’t have the courage to approach to a black boy, because he’d fight back. But I’m a woman, right? I knew that racism was linked to sexism.”
The social pressure to behave “like a girl” was tremendous.
“I played a lot with cars. In my house this was never a problem. My mother never bothered with the idea that it was a boy thing. The society I lived in—the people in my neighborhood, friends, relatives—was very sexist, (and) macho. In society, around me, people were a bit shocked (with her mother’s acceptance), to the point (of saying) ‘oh, watch out. Your daughter will become a dyke’.”
Social oppressions—racism, sexism and body shaming—were constant in her passion for dance.
“I always danced. When you work with dance, perform in shows, it’s a problem. You already know that the Brazilian National Standards Organization (ABNT) standard of beauty (the governing body that determines technical standards in a variety of domains) that was instituted here is what will get you more shows. Skinny white girls with long, straight hair—the “ABNT standard”—have more opportunities than “us”. By “us” I mean fat, Asian, Black girls, and trans girls even more so. I was lucky to be in some places where it didn’t matter, what mattered was your dedication, how much you taught. But there were places that were a showcase, a selection of the market, of what sells (white and thin women).”
Today dance is still present in her life, but in a different way.
“I can use dance for social causes. I have taught dance in municipal schools, in the periphery. Last year I taught women, victims of violence. I can use all the knowledge that I’ve accumulated all those years for something far more revolutionary than I would have (performing).”
In addition to working with dance and as an educator, Ana is a member of Coletivo Perifativdade, a group that organizes and promotes open mics, music, opinion formation, reading, popular education and defense of human rights.
Ana has a vision of feminism and the long-term struggle, that stems from everything she has lived and witnessed.
“I think my mother is a feminist. She doesn’t say ‘I’m a feminist,” but she is. I believe much more in this everyday feminism, in the children, (especially) in girls. Little girls are already feminists. (At my job) when it came to storing the boxes, two boys started picking up the boxes and putting them in another girl’s pile. She turned and said, ‘Do you think I’m an idiot? Hey, teacher! Are you watching? They’re tricking me and you aren’t going to do anything?’ When I see these feminist gestures I feel very proud, from my mother, to the girls, to the woman on the bus who slaps the guy that gropes her—twenty years ago she would have stayed there, quiet, suffering. Of course, women continue to be beaten and killed. Maybe my great great granddaughter will see that change. When people say “let’s revolutionize”, (I think) we’re going to plant seeds for our great-great-grandchildren to revolutionize.”