Intersectionality – Subcultures and Sociology (2022)

What is Intersectionality?

the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” -Oxford Dictionaries

Everyone carries an overlapping web of various identities with them at all times

Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that within groups of people with a common identity, whether it be gender, sexuality, religion, race, or one of the many other defining aspects of identity, there exist intragroup differences. Inother words, each individual experiences social structure slightly differently because the intersection of their identities reflects an intersection of overlapping oppressions. Therefore, sweeping generalizations about the struggle or power of a particular social group fail to recognize that individuals in the group also belong to other social groups and may experience other forms of marginalization.Unfortunately, institutions and social movements based on a commonly shared identity tend to disregard the presence of other marginalized identitieswithin the group.

Beyond institutions and social movements, many scholars have disregarded the importance of intersectionality in their respective fields, including deviance and subcultural studies. In the late 1970s, feminist subculture scholar Angela McRobbie brought an intersectional lens to her field of study when she addressed the lack of female perspectives in the exploration of subcultures. In “Girls and Subcultures,” McRobbie claims that the absence of girls in youth subculture studies reflectsa lack of effort from researchers and scholars to find female perspectives rather than a lack of women in subcultures (McRobbie 1991: 1-16). Furthermore, McRobbie worked to bring a class perspective into subculture studies when she wrote about “The Culture of Working-Class Girls” (35).

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Contemporary scholar T. J. Berard has expanded this intersectional approach even further, claiming that subculture scholars “need to address issues of class, race and ethnicity, sex and gender, social ecology, and issues of adolescence and human development as already intersecting” (Berard 2014: 330). When scholars fail to embrace an intersectional approach to subculture studies, they run the risk of devaluing identities and misunderstanding the various oppressions that may contribute to the culture and practices of a subculture. Studying intersectionality within subcultures not only allows social scientists to better understand subcultures, but also allows them to better understand intersectionality within mainstream society through comparison.

Intersectionality in History

Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989, has acknowledged that while the word may be relatively new, the concept is anything but modern. Through a historical lens, it’s clear that the leaders of many social movements, such as the feminist and civil rights movements of the 1960’s, marginalized their fellow group membersby glossing over the influence of intersecting identities on social inequality. In her commonly referenced piece, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Crenshaw discusses the invisibility of the identities and oppression of black women within both the feminist movement, which devalued their black identity, and the civil rights movement, which devalued their female identity (Crenshaw 1993: 1242). Moreover, homophobia and transphobia have played a part in marginalizing queer individuals in several historical social movements (Smith 1983: 83-84, 190-201).

Audre Lorde recognized not only the power of women, but also of different races, abilities, and other marginalized identites.

Black feminists, queers, and working-class individuals combatted the lack of intersectional perspective within society by creating their own spaces to organize (Giddings 1984). Audre Lorde, for example, created an alternative feminist perspective that she called “womanist,” in which she encouraged followers to consider race, class, gender, disability, sexuality, and more in their social movements and critical analysis of societal issues (Lorde 1984). Furthermore, activists like Barbara Smith started organizations, such as the Combahee River Collective, which is “committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression” (Combahee River Collective). Of course, there are many more historical examples of intersectional ignorance, oppression, and resistance, but it is useful to consider contemporary examples as well.

(Video) Culture 101: Episode 2 - Intersectionality

Although many social scientists recognize intersectionality as an important step in the history of social movements, theorists have developed different, and sometimes conflicting, interpretations ofthe role of intersectionality in society. However, the conceptual flexibility of intersectionality allows us to examine a wide variety of social dynamics and groups, such as subcultures, through a new lens (Davis 2008). Although subcultures often abandon social norms, racist, classist, and patriarchal systems still invade subculture spaces. Therefore, the overlapping power structures that accompany intersecting identities affect how participants of a subculture interact with each other, impact how the public views particular participants, and create the need for groups of people to form new subcultures based around their identity. Moreover, intersectional experiences within subcultures have led subculture participantsto promote an intersectional analysis of systems of oppression within their own subculture through various forms of resistance.

Afro-Punk: Race, Gender, and Sexuality

Intersectional resistance certainly reveals itself in the Afro-Punk subculture. Afro-Punk is simply a subsection of the punk subculture in which the participants, individuals of color, embrace anti-hegemonic rhetoric through rock music, dark and confrontational style, and media that challenges society’s traditional values. The nature of punk’s subcultural resistance providesblack Afro-Punk feminists withan avenue through which to explore how their multiple identities have shaped their experiences. By using their music and zines to“undermine the myths of a post-everything world of linearity” and promote the “transcendence and transformation of homogeneous narratives,” afro-Punk feminists have highlighted the still-existing and often overlooked racism, sexism, and homophobia that is prevalent in dominant culture (Stinson 2012: 292). Moreover, they have challenged the overplayed white, heterosexual, male-centered worldview that exists in society. It is through the music and written work that Afro-Punk feminists produce that the existence of intersecting identities can finally come to the lime-light and be understood within the context of the various oppressions these individuals face.

Afro-Punk bands like NighTraiN, for example, have used their music to integrate race, queerness, and womanist politics into the punk sphere. To address racism, NighTraiN produced a song called “Reparations” in reference to the debt that white America has to the unpaid labor of the black society it oppressed and exploited (Mahound 2012: 320). Moreover, NighTraiN has criticized sexism, as seen in their song, “Lady Cop”, in which they chastised the use of the word “bitch” to describe women (317). In addition to music, Afro-Punk feminists like Osa Atoe have used their zines as a way to communicate black feminist politics. Not only is Atoe’s Shotgun Seamstress a “zine by and for black punks” meant to “support black people who exist within predominantly white subcultures,” but it is also written to challenge all oppressions and to celebrate the uniqueness of black punks, queers, feminists, and artists (Stinson 2012: 264-265). It is clear that Afro-Punk musicians and writers like NighTraiN and Osa Atoe have worked hard to contribute an intersectional analysis to the Afro-Punk subculture by focusing on various identities and oppressions that exist within their lives.

A still from the movie “Hip Hop Unabridged” demonstrating the objectification of women in hip hop culture.

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Hip Hop: Race and Gender

Hip Hop offers another interesting example of how complex and contradictory identities create authenticity within a subculture closely tied to music and media. Hip hop is historically a form of black cultural expression, as demonstrated by the often race-based distinction of who is “allowed” to use certain language. For example, the word “nigga is hip hop’s most powerful word, as valuable as a status symbol and resource for those who are ‘allowed’ to use it and a means of both dividing ‘authentic’ rappers from fake and creating race-based distinctions between different groups of rappers” (Harkness 2008: 41). However, this criteria for authenticity does not necessarily place black women above white men, as many “gangsta-rap” lyrics are blatantly sexist and derogatory to black women (Stapleton 1998). This misogynoir not only demonstrates the potential of identities to clash with each other, but helps explain the dangers of only considering one aspect of identity when discussing privilege and oppression.

Fan Culture: Gender and Sexuality

A meme criticizing fangirl interest in the television show Game of Thrones.

Complex and intersecting identities not only lead to the creation of nuanced subcultures such as afro-punk and hip-hop, but also contribute to how certain individuals interact with the subculture they identify with. Certain identities carry different social capital, despite the fact that participants in a subculture may have similar interests, styles, or aspects of identity. For example, both participants in fan culture and members of dominant culture perceive women negatively. Media often portrays fangirls as desperate and crazy, while fanboys are generally given more leniency and often have redeeming qualities: “Fanboys are allowed more agency and can be heroes, whereas fangirls are either invisible or weak yet odd girls” (Busse 2013).

Gender, and in particular female sexuality, also plays a role in authenticity within the subculture. Male fans often accuse female fans of being fans for the “wrong” reasons, such as being attracted to an actor. Moreover, men in fan culture often claim that female fans are participating in the culture the “wrong” way when they write erotic fan-fiction that often caters more toward female perspectives (Busse 2013). This gendered policing of participation in fan culture reflects an aspect of dominant social culture: fear and negative perception of female sexuality. Fans express their fear of “unconventional sexualities” not only through disdain for female sexuality, but also through judgement of queer fan-fiction. Although “fandoms have become safe spaces not just for geeky behavior but also for expressing one’s identities and sexualities” (Busse 2013), many straight male fans devalue queer fan-fiction, which is a common avenue for queer fans to not only participate in the subculture, but also explore their own identity.

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Gamers: Race and Gender

Gaming subculture constitutes yet another space in which individuals within and outside of the subculture attack and marginalize the identities of women, in particular women of color. Millions of people play video games, 1.2 billion to be exact; with so many players, it is inevitable that revelations and discussions about how these players interact take place. Since the early 2000s, the most substantial and controversial conversations held within these discussions have concerned feminism. Several franchises and organizations such as Unity and TEDx have hosted seminars, workshops, and presentations to discuss the roles and positions of women in the video game industry. However, despite work towards equality for women in the industry, participants in these discussions consistently and systemically leave women of color out of the conversations; as blogger Hazel Allen points out, it isn’t that women of color are not represented in video games, it’s just that those women are often blue, purple, or green.

Besides fantastical colors, women of color are horribly represented in video games and are harassed online in ways indistinguishable from GamerGate. Jef Rouner shines light on the fact that there are only 14 playable black female characters in video games. Despite these facts, there has been little to no public effort made to discuss or change this lack of representation, even though members of the videogame industry recognize that videogames can and have been used as a platform to fight racial injustices such as police brutality. Scarcity of discussion surrounding the lack of representation and commonplace harassment of women of color contributes to the shallow statistics surrounding women of color in the industry; only 17% of gamers identify as women of color, and less than 5 % of game developers are women of color (Ong 2016).

A picture of Bronies at a convention in Ohio.

Bronies: Age and Gender

On the other side of the gender spectrum, there are situations in which participants of subcultural spheres challenge the identities of older men. Media and citizens alike often ridicule bronies, adult male fans of the children’s show “MyLittle Pony: Friendship is Magic,” for enjoying a show directed towards female children. The television show, developed in soft, pastel colors, features several feminine ponies who develop strong friendships and learn lessons through their adventures (Robertson 2014). Bronies not only demonstrate how identities impact the way in which subculturists relate to their scene, but also show how multiple identities interact to further change the social meaning of their subcultural participation. Adult male fans of the show often face strong stigma because they violate not only gender rules, but age rules. While outsiders might consider adult female fans of the show odd for enjoying a children’s program, they often see adult male fans as “creepy” and similar to pedophiles (Robertson 2014).

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What Can We Learn from Intersectionality?

Although intersectionality originated as a way for black women to adapt and relate to feminism, the lens of intersectionality can be used to understand a wide variety of social interactions and complex social hierarchies. While this lens helps alert us to just how complicated these hierarchies and interactions are, the lack of a clear methodology on how to use intersectionality to bring about social justice makes intersectionality studies a developing and complicated field. However, the intersectionality that we have observed in many subcultures not only confirms the importance of considering intersectionality in social science studies, but also helps demonstrate that subcultures are more than simply a style of music or dress; subcultures contain their own social meanings that both contradict and confirm dominant social structures. Moreover, by comparing and contrasting examples of intersectionality within subcultures with mainstream society, we can better understand how intersectionality plays such an integral role in such a variety of aspects of social life.

Page designed by Carrie Stallings, Anastasia Pulak, and Taylor Burton.

FAQs

How does intersectionality relate to sociology? ›

“Intersectionality” refers to a theory in sociology that outlines how an individual may face multiple types of overlapping discrimination depending on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, physical ability, class or any other characteristic that might place them in a minority class.

What are the three forms of intersectionality? ›

According to Crenshaw, there are three forms of intersectionality: structural, political, and representational intersectionality.

What is intersectionality in culture? ›

Intersectionality considers the ways that identities related to multiple socially constructed categories create unique sets of experiences, which are qualitatively different than the sum of individual categories of identity (American Psychological Association Dictionary).

How does intersectionality affect society? ›

Intersectionality shows us that social identities work on multiple levels, resulting in unique experiences, opportunities, and barriers for each person. Therefore, oppression cannot be reduced to only one part of an identity; each oppression is dependent on and shapes the other.

What is intersectionality in sociology quizlet? ›

Intersectionality. The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

What is the theory of intersectionality? ›

Intersectionality is a critical framework or approach that provides the mindset and language to examine interconnections and interdependencies between social categories and systems.

What are the factors of intersectionality? ›

These factors include: race, indigeneity, socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, (dis)ability, spirituality, immigration/refugee status, language, and education. One of the ideas of intersectionality is for individuals, groups and communities to self-identify.

What is intersectionality give an example? ›

A black woman may experience misogyny and racism, but she will experience misogyny differently from a white woman and racism differently from a black man. The work towards women's rights must be intersectional – any feminism that purely represents the experiences of white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual etc.

How does intersectionality relate to identity? ›

Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, gender identity, sexual identity, and disability as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

Why is it important to understand intersectionality? ›

Intersectionality provides a lens through which we can examine the processes, practices, policies, and structures that increase the risk of students experiencing disadvantage or discrimination because of their intersecting identities.

What is intersectionality in diversity? ›

In the context of diversity and inclusion (D&I), intersectionality describes the interconnected relationship of social categorizations (such as race, gender and sexual orientation) as applied to an individual or a group.

What is another word for intersectionality? ›

What is another word for intersectionality?
intersectionalisminterconnectedness
communioncorrespondence
associationinterconnectivity
analogycorrelation
connectednesstogetherness
3 more rows

Why is intersectionality important in social work? ›

Intersectionality encourages us to reflect and question our assumptions and value the diversity and unique qualities each person brings. As a social worker an intersectional approach supports your assessment, risk assessments, care planning, and reviewing.

Can intersectionality be positive? ›

In conclusion, intersectionality is a two-sided coin with positive and negative aspects to it. One can distinguish between them by simply being aware of their surroundings and their subconscious.

How does intersectionality affect education? ›

Relating to inclusive education, intersectionality can be used to emphasize the notion that students who are marginalized or discriminated against often experience multiple forms of marginalization and discrimination not only at the individual level, but also at the level of the institution.

What is intersectionality and why is it important quizlet? ›

Intersectionality encourages solidarity, highlighting that all struggles for freedom from oppression are interlinked and that they can all benefit by interacting with each other.

Why is Kimberle Crenshaw important? ›

Kimberlé W. Crenshaw is a pioneering scholar and writer on civil rights, critical race theory, Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law. In addition to her position at Columbia Law School, she is a Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles.

What is Kimberle Crenshaw's intersectionality quizlet? ›

Intersectionality introduced by Kimberle Crenshaw: § How biological, social and cultural categories (gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, etc.) & other axes of identity intersect on multiple and simultaneous levels. § How those intersections contribute to & are shaped by systematic social inequalities.

Is intersectionality a critical theory? ›

While intersectionality helps shed light on contemporary social issues, Collins notes that it has yet to reach its full potential as a critical social theory. She contends that for intersectionality to fully realize its power, its practitioners must critically reflect on its assumptions, epistemologies, and methods.

Who developed the concept of intersectionality? ›

Twenty-eight years ago, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in a paper as a way to help explain the oppression of African-American women.

How is intersectionality used in practice? ›

The health of communities that face intersectional forms of discrimination is often overlooked. One practical way to put intersectionality into practice is to ask whether the particular health needs of individuals and communities that face overlapping and intersecting forms of oppression are being met.

How do you promote intersectionality? ›

Six ways organisations can improve on intersectionality
  1. Recognise individual identities. ...
  2. Capture data to improve intersectionality. ...
  3. Create a culture of acknowledgement and understanding. ...
  4. Capture diversity of thought. ...
  5. Help leaders to understand intersectionality. ...
  6. Educate colleagues on intersectionality.
10 Mar 2021

What does intersectionality mean in feminism? ›

An intersectional approach shows the way that people's social identities can overlap, creating compounding experiences of discrimination. “We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status.

What is intersectional gender equality? ›

Intersectionality is about addressing all these different gender identities to ensure that their differentiated needs are met and that they are not left behind.”

What is an example of intersectional feminism? ›

The case centred around five black women suing General Motors for a policy that they viewed as discriminately targeting Black women. Essentially, the women argued they were faced with the double discrimination of being both black and female, but the legal system refused to recognise this.

What does the word intersectional mean? ›

adjective. of or relating to to an intersection, or a place where two or more roads, lines, or elements meet: intersectional traffic flow.

Where did the term intersectionality come from? ›

It was coined in 1989 by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap. “Intersectionality” has, in a sense, gone viral over the past half-decade, resulting in a backlash from the right.

How does Crenshaw define intersectionality? ›

Intersectionality (or intersectional theory) is a term first coined in 1989 by American civil rights advocate and leading scholar of critical race theory, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. It is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.

What is social location and intersectionality? ›

Intersectionality is a key concept used to explain how social categories interact and constitute multiple systems of privilege experienced by individuals and groups. Intersectionality is the interaction of social categories, which shape one's social location and experience.

Why is intersectionality important in healthcare? ›

This is where an intersectional framework comes in handy in healthcare. It helps diagnose an illness without resorting to easily stereotyped assumptions about systemic biases against deprived and marginalized patients.

Why do sociologists study inequality? ›

Research on social inequality studies why access to scarce goods, such as economic resources, social status, cultural influence, and political power, are unequally distributed in society. We seek to understand both the reasons why inequality arises and the consequences of inequality in different domains of society.

How does stratification relate to intersectionality? ›

Intersectionality analysis relates to the distribution of power and other resources in society and therefore it constitutes what in sociology is known as stratification theory.

Why is intersectionality important in gender studies? ›

Intersectionality is a term used to describe how different factors of discrimination can meet at an intersection and can affect someone's life. Adding intersectionality to feminism is important to the movement because it allows the fight for gender equality to become inclusive.

What does intersectionality focus on? ›

The concept of intersectionality describes the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination “intersect” to create unique dynamics and effects.

What are 3 examples of inequality in society today? ›

The major examples of social inequality include income gap, gender inequality, health care, and social class.

What is social inequality in sociology? ›

Social inequality is the condition of unequal access to the benefits of belonging to any society. In a purely equal society, every citizen is equally able to contribute to the overall wellbeing of that society, and they are equally able to benefit from their membership within that society.

How social inequality affects different groups in society? ›

Their research found that inequality causes a wide range of health and social problems, from reduced life expectancy and higher infant mortality to poor educational attainment, lower social mobility and increased levels of violence and mental illness.

What is racial stratification in sociology? ›

Ethnic stratification involves the separation of groups along ethnic lines. This stratification is usually horizontal in nature and is typically connected to the distribution of opportunities, privileges, advantages, material rewards, and power among ethnic groups within a society.

How does social stratification affect life chances? ›

It affects life chances, lifestyles and prestige. It creates emotional stress and depression for the people belonging to lower social stratum as they have unequal access to wealth, power and prestige.

What is the feminist view of stratification? ›

Feminist theory uses the conflict approach to examine the reinforcement of gender roles and inequalities. Conflict theory posits that stratification is dysfunctional and harmful in society, with inequality perpetuated because it benefits the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor.

Why is it important to understand intersectionality? ›

Intersectionality provides a lens through which we can examine the processes, practices, policies, and structures that increase the risk of students experiencing disadvantage or discrimination because of their intersecting identities.

What are the components of intersectionality? ›

These factors include: race, indigeneity, socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, (dis)ability, spirituality, immigration/refugee status, language, and education.

How is intersectionality used in practice? ›

The health of communities that face intersectional forms of discrimination is often overlooked. One practical way to put intersectionality into practice is to ask whether the particular health needs of individuals and communities that face overlapping and intersecting forms of oppression are being met.

What is another word for intersectionality? ›

What is another word for intersectionality?
intersectionalisminterconnectedness
communioncorrespondence
associationinterconnectivity
analogycorrelation
connectednesstogetherness
3 more rows

What is an intersectional identity? ›

INTERSECTING IDENTITIES. Intersecting identities is the concept that an individual's identity consists of multiple, intersecting factors, including but not limited to gender identity, gender expression, race, ethnicity, class (past and present), religious beliefs, sexual identity and sexual expression.

Why is intersectionality important in social work? ›

Intersectionality encourages us to reflect and question our assumptions and value the diversity and unique qualities each person brings. As a social worker an intersectional approach supports your assessment, risk assessments, care planning, and reviewing.

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