Intersectionality, let’s unite!

“Right here, in this conference room,” said a woman in her early twenties to Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace prize winner. “Only around five or six women are black, among a hundred or so. As a black woman yourself, what do you think we should do about the exclusion of black women from spaces like this?”

After years of speaking in conferences about her experience in the women’s peace movement in Liberia, Leymah had the answer at the tip of her tongue. Standing on the stage in her motley trademark dress and headdress, she looked at the young black woman straight in the eyes and assertively answered he charged question.

“We are all women, and we must stand together as women. We should not look at the colors between us, but fight together as a gender for each other’s’ interest. That is the way to inclusion.”

Leymah knows all about unity. In that particular moment, she was talking about intersectionality, which is just really another word for unity – more specifically, unity of women. 

That’s how she brought peace to her country during the Liberia civil war. Leymah looked at others as well as herself. She recognized that though all women suffer because of their gender, all women have their own personal difficulties well. And though personal focus might change from woman to woman, the answer is to stick together and help each other overcome all hardships.

When Leymah yelled and protested against the civil war in Liberia, she rallied both Christian and Muslim women together to reach one goal – peace. They handed out flyers that illiterate women could understand, with simple drawings that conveyed their message. They were tired of violence, murder, rape and longed for unity.

Together, they stopped a war by protesting and going on a sex strike. They changed their world.

I heard Leymah speak in a conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil called Real Women Who Transform (Mulheres Reais Que Transformam). She looked strong and determined, occupying her ‘space’ – as she says – confidently. It was impossible not to pay attention, but I think more people should have been there to listen, and that it’s important to spread the message beyond that conference room. Brazil needs intersectionality more than anything, and that room was full of already successful women – women who were glad to meet such an inspirational icon, I am sure, but who didn’t exactly need that incentive.

Brazil is a country of diversity. Slavery was only abolished in 1888 and as a destination of runaways and people looking for a new, better life, it is rich in both culture and racial diversity. According to the 2010 census, out of 191 million Brazilians, 15 million are black, 82 million mixed race, 2 million Asians and 817 native Indians.

Still, the majority of successful men and women are not of colour. Indian natives are treated horrifically by the people who colonized them hundreds of years ago. The president of the Human Rights and Minorities Committee is an outspoken homophobe, racist and sexist.

The culture of individuality in Brazil is dangerous and has to change. As a Brazilian woman, I believe it can start with us, just like it started with Leymah and her friends. It doesn’t take much to be united, and look out for each other, no matter what our difficulties are – similar or completely different. It’s time to stop calling each other slags, and start seeing that even in a small scale we can help each other be bigger and better in life.

Perhaps it is a little presumptuous to think that as a 22-year-old I can change anything on a global scale. However, I do believe I can change something in my space, just like Leymah did. She is an example to all of us, but I took a few months to understand what she was about; she kept saying “Stand in your own space, and change that before doing anything else. Plant your feet in your space and don’t move until something changes.”

Once it was pointed out to me that women don’t support their own sports, and that’s why they don’t get nearly as much coverage in the media – men’s football is mainly supported by mena. We should do the same for our gender!

We need unity, women. Wake up.

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15 Comments

  1. Posted April 26, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    It’s rather hypocritical for someone championing intersectionality to use the offensive term “mulatto”.

    • Posted April 26, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

      ‘Mulatto’ is an accepted term where I live – Brazil. Women and men pride themselves in being mulattos and upon research I did to write this, I found it is an accepted term. I haven’t had any complaints except for this one, and I write on my personal blog for an audience from all over the world. However, if I have offended you I am sorry. Just know that I DO champion intersectionality, I DO believe in unity and find it pretty sad that you decided to pick on one word to deface my entire message. Otherwise, have a good day :)

      • Posted April 27, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        ‘Mulatto’ is an accepted term where I live

        Acceptable by whom? White Brazillians?

        Women and men pride themselves in being mulattos and upon research I did to write this, I found it is an accepted term.

        LOL! That’s like someone telling a Black American that’s it’s totally okay to call them a “nigga” because they heard a rapper say it once.

        However, if I have offended you I am sorry. Just know that I DO champion intersectionality, I DO believe in unity and find it pretty sad that you decided to pick on one word to deface my entire message

        I wasn’t the one who put that word in your post. You did. You’re responsible for defacing your own message.

        Also, if someone really was so into intersectionality as you claim you are, they wouldn’t get so defensive when someone tells them that they’re offended by something they wrote.

        • Posted April 27, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          I’m not offended, I was explaining why, personally, I feel that it’s not offensive, from my cultural background.

          Actually, no, mulato (as its spelled in Portuguese) is actually a self identifying word, trust me I AM Brazilian. I’ve lived here all my life, and to be honest, it’s quite disappointing that in explaining a certain culture to some one (who I am sure never even came in contact with said culture) it is dismissed so quickly, when they are talking about offensive content.

          I also apologised. As for the fact that the word defaced the post, I disagree. As I said to me it is not offensive, and to many others who have read this and not complained (as I stress again) I don’t find my point has been invalidated. I repeat that I am not offended, did you miss my apology? Anyway, I’ll apologise once again, I am sorry if you are offended. Perhaps I should put the word in italics.

          • Posted April 27, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps it’s the language barrier that’s preventing me from communicating clearly. I’ll try to write simpler from now on.

            My point is, simply, that it is not the place for a non-”Mulato” to say what is and is not offensive to one. This Mulato is offended. And if you were truly sorry, you would stop trying to defend your use of the word.

          • Posted April 27, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

            Look, I get it you are offended. I already said I’m sorry, and just so you know I’m not white. It’s not up to you to decide if I really mean it or not, so you take the apology if you want to. I am trying to defend the use of the word because I did not mean it to be offensive and did not use it maliciously.

            in the English language, the word ‘mulatto’ might be offensive to some. However (as i am saying fir the THIRD TIME) in my culture and home country, mulato (as it is spelled in Portuguese) is an accepted and self-identifying word (and to me a better alternative than ‘mixed race’, perhaps to you I am not entitled to decide, but if we constrict races to only talking about themselves, no debate would be ongoing). But as it has been pointed out, some might have been offended in reading it. I stand by my decision of using it, as a) I did not use it in a malicious form at all b) in my culture and language ( and many others like Spanish and Italian) this is an accepted term. But if you WERE offended, I apologise, AGAIN.

            I don’t appreciate you patronising my cultural background AGAIN (“it might be the language barrier” / “to whom? White brazilians?”) let me assure you there is NO language barrier as I’ve been educated in both languages and can speak and write both perfectly.

            Anyway, was good having this discussion.

          • Posted April 27, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

            When someone prefaces their apology with “I’m sorry you were offended *but*…” then it’s not an apology; it’s a cop-out, and it’s patronizing.

            I am trying to defend the use of the word because I did not mean it to be offensive and did not use it maliciously.

            The phrase “intent isn’t magic” applies here.

            in the English language, the word ‘mulatto’ might be offensive to some. However (as i am saying fir the THIRD TIME) in my culture and home country, mulato (as it is spelled in Portuguese) is an accepted and self-identifying word (and to me a better alternative than ‘mixed race’, perhaps to you I am not entitled to decide, but if we constrict races to only talking about themselves, no debate would be ongoing).

            Those with privilege do not get to dictate the rules of discussing oppression. You say you want more intersectionality, but apparently you want it only on your terms. It doesn’t work that way.

            I don’t appreciate you patronising my cultural background AGAIN

            Well, you get what you give.

            The privileged do not get to dictate the rules of discussion about oppression

  2. Posted April 27, 2013 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Oops. Meant to delete that last line.

    • Posted April 27, 2013 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

      How am I privileged and how do I ‘dictate’ words society uses? For the FOURTH AND LAST time, because I can see you lack any kind of understanding of other cultures but your own, where I am from (where the culture was not invented by me, because, you know, I’m not a wizard) this word is not offensive and ACCEPTED. Therefore, my intent was to simply point out statistics, not offend anyone, because from MY POINT OF VIEW this word is not offensive nor does it demean anyone, also I didn’t know people would take offence in a word that is used DAILY and FREELY where I live.

      I have been nothing but accepting of your views and the fact that you are offended. Intent actually does matter, especially here. As I said before, it’s not up to you to decide if I am ‘sorry enough’.

      I self identify as LATINA so guess what, I’m also a minority. Don’t talk to me about ‘privilege’, you don’t even know me! This has turned into a bizarre personal attack.

      Also, I didnt ever write “I’m sorry you’re offended, but…”

      Anyway, I’m really tired of discussing this, as nothing I say is apparently helping you understand a different culture, or the fact that by writing this, I didn’t mean to offend anyone, but inspire people to share their concerns, which you have done here – and I’ve responded with rich arguments, and important information that could simply be debated as opposed to shut down. So this is my last post and I am 100% clear in conscience.

      • Posted April 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

        If yours is the type of allyship that’s being offered through intersectionality, then it is neither wanted nor needed.

        You should really, REALLY do more reading on the subject before you make yourself look any more foolish.

        Goodnight!

        • Posted April 28, 2013 at 1:06 am | Permalink

          “If yours is the type of allyship that’s being offered through intersectionality, then it is neither wanted nor needed.

          “You should really, REALLY do more reading on the subject before you make yourself look any more foolish.”

          Likewise :) try to read properly and not dismiss what’s inconvenient to you, is my advice.

          • Posted April 28, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

            So that wasn’t your last post? Oh, well…

            BTW, I found your blog. The reason you hadn’t gotten any complaints is because only two other people have posted something about it and one was just a reblog. (No comments on the reblog, BTW.)

            It’s funny that you call yourself a freelance journalist. Especially when you say that you write “for an audience all around the world”, did all of this “research”, and still have no clue about privilege and intersectionality in terms of social justice. Funny that.

          • Posted April 29, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

            Hi Angel. Stepped out of this discussion because, to be honest, it wound me up. But you’re right, I was wrong. I am sorry you were offended. To be 100% frank, I didn’t know this word was offensive in English, as it’s not in Portuguese. Anyway, trying to get in touch with feministing to change it, so I don’t offend anyone else. Again, I’m sorry. x

          • Posted April 29, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

            ** Sorry I offended you, rather.

  3. Posted April 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Nicole,
    Thank you for the apology. I apologize also for getting so nasty.

    Best wishes.

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