Read part one and part two of this series.
Just as our Catholicism must be informed by an understanding of race, racism, and privilege, so, too, must our feminism.
Stepping Forward, Stepping Backward
I attended a retreat in college that was aimed at addressing diversity. At this retreat, we participated in an exercise that I will never forget. We all stood side by side, blindfolded and holding hands with one another. We were asked a series of questions and told to step forward or backward as the statements applied to us. We were instructed to let go of the hands we held if our steps created too much distance for us to maintain our grip.
Take a step forward if you had 50 or more books in your home growing up.
Take a step backward if you were ever discriminated against for your race.
Take a step forward if you have never had to worry about money.
Take a step backward if you have ever been sexually harassed.
As the questions continued, I stepped forward at times and backward at others, and I felt my grip break from those beside me. After all questions had been asked, we were told to remove our blindfolds and to only look forward; we weren’t yet allowed to turn around. I could see the backs of the heads of a few friends ahead of me, the people who had taken even more steps forward than I could (mostly fellow white friends and mostly male).
My feminism is largely shaped by my own experiences of sexism. But, as a white woman, I do not always recognize the experiences of gender discrimination, enmeshed with racism, that women of color often face.
I do not always recognize the experiences of gender discrimination, enmeshed with racism, that women of color often face.
In addition to seeing which of my classmates were ahead of me, I saw people on my immediate left or right. When they invited us to turn around, I saw a majority of my friends standing behind me: my friends who were people of color, differently-abled, and of different sexual orientations. This simulation effectively illustrated the many dimensions of the effects of privilege and the need to be an intersectional feminist.
What Is Intersectionality?
Intersectionality is defined as “the view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity” (The Telegraph).
When we have some privilege but lack other privilege, we can only see people who have more or just as much of it as we do, unless we choose to remove our blindfold and turn around to listen to others’ experiences. And, when we have privilege, we get to choose whether we remove our blindfolds. When you’re the one standing behind the majority of other people, you don’t get to choose where you’re standing or who you can see ahead of you, nor do you have control over who turns around to acknowledge where you’re standing. You see the table, but you don’t have a seat at it.
Catholic Intersectional Feminism: Building the Kingdom on Earth
To be faithful, Catholic, intersectional feminists, we must choose to take off our blindfolds and listen to the pain, anger, and experiences of women (and men) of color, as well as those with disabilities, those of different sexual orientations, and those of other religions. As we listen, we are not only invited to grow in self-awareness and examine our faults and failings but also to rely on God’s grace and be moved to act.
To be faithful, Catholic, intersectional feminists, we must choose to take off our blindfolds and listen.
We need to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us in the work of creating equity and dismantling systems that privilege some while disadvantaging others. By using our voices and privilege to lift each other up — with hope in God’s promise of justice and mercy — we will take steps toward building the Kingdom on Earth.