Women have been taught that, for us, the earth is flat, and that if we venture out, we will fall off the edge. ~Andrea Dworkin
Keywords: Global Women, Inequality, Intersectionality, Feminist Theory, Sociological Theory
(The article was submitted by Anna Brix Thomsen as a part of an examination at Stockholm University in February 2012. A new foreword has been added for the purpose of this publication and a few comments has been added. All rights are reserved.)
The article draws on the initial inaugurators of intersectionality in social science, the black feminists, specifically with Patricia Collins as its representative with their initial aim of introducing intersectionality as critical approach to the predominant discourse in social science and from there place the term into a current context drawing on scholars such as Leslie McCall and a practical example that is indicative of a new type of inequality that also raise a discussion for a renewal of intersectionality as a methodological tool to analyze society in general and inequalities in particular. This example is chosen specifically to highlight the discussion about how intersectionality has progressed (or should progress cf. McCall 2005) in analyzing new inequalities. Within placing the introduction text to Global Women in context to intersections of inequality that are emerging, my aim is to show how intersectionality can be applied to extract and understand the underlying inequalities that are playing out within the complexity of women migrating cross the world.
The article is written from the starting-point of showing how global inequalities require global political solutions. It is the aim of the paper to show how global inequalities are created in interdependent relationships between the people that have access to the capitalistic system and those that do not. The reason why a woman in the Philippines is unable to efficiently support herself and her children and therefore has to migrate across the world is directly interconnected with how a woman in the U.S or in Europe is able to hire a nanny to take care of her child. It starts and ends with money and in between are the lives and stories of these women and their children. The children are the ones that in the end pay the price of an unequal money-system where no global policy exists and where money is all that matters to everyone because that is how we have constructed our world and our reality to function. These are the children that will grow up and become adults in this world, having to fight for their survival in a constant chase after money – exactly as do we all.
The article stands in support of a Global Equal Money System based on a Global democratic solution as the decision to change the systems and paradigms of this world with which we allow our lives to be managed, directed and controlled – to a system of equality that is based on the basic principle of what is best for all, as the practical living in such a way that all life-forms are equally supported to live optimally.
In December 2011, I walked into a small classroom in the basement at Stockholm University for my first session in a course called “Doing Gender”; I had no idea that this course would alter my foundation as a sociologist as well as provide me with an entire new vocabulary and perspective on understanding global inequality. I had never been introduced to feminist theories during my years at the university and I had never before encountered the concept of “Intersectionality”. Initially I was gripped by the fact that I had never before heard of intersectionality, because as it was introduced to me, I immediately saw the potential of intersectionality as an analytical tool and how it could expand the methodologies used in social sciences.
As someone who had never before encountered the concept of Intersectionality, I had, admittedly, a somewhat innocent and perhaps idealistic understanding of what intersectionality is and how it can or should be applied in social sciences. However, looking with fresh eyes at something that for scholars long in the field might seem more like a ‘sticky situation’ (referring to the debates within and about feminist theory in general), I hope to bring a grounded common-sense to the debate and through this, make an abstract and complex term simple and practical. Within this I also comment on the fact that the term that Intersectionality seems to have been applied and discussed mostly at a theoretical level and in academic feminist debates. (McCall 2005, Knudsen 2006, Shields 2008, Choo and Ferree 2010,) The critique is that Intersectionality is a “buzzword” that does not rise to the level of an effective analytical tool as its methodologies are not specific. (C.f. Prins 2006, Davis 2008 in Choo and Ferree, 2010)
The perspective I will share thus contends Intersectionality as a vital approach within analyzing complexity in and through the social sciences, (cf. McCall 2005, Shields 2008) yet it is also the aim of this paper to investigate Intersectionality as a basic sociological method and the various approaches that have emerged and are emerging using the practical example of “Global Women”.
I refer to Choo and Ferree’s definition of Intersectionality as “the importance of including the perspective of multi-marginalized people (…) [in] seeing multiple institutions as overlapping in their co-determination of inequalities to produce complex configurations.” (Choo and Ferree, 2010, p. 131)
Patricia Collins and Black Feminist Epistemology
Patricia Hill Collins was as one of the first black feminists that criticized the way traditional social science was predominantly patriarchal. She contended that traditional science was actually preventing social change and presented instead a new black feminist epistemology that had a different starting-point within how it approached and viewed knowledge and the analysis of information; within this she called for a humble approach that was based on compassion. For Collins, Intersectionality could do exactly that through embracing the narratives of individual stories and expanding them into a broader analysis of emergent patterns of inequality and oppression, instead of as conventional science to separate the researcher from the research. The basis of Collins theory is thus that only those who themselves have experienced oppression on their own bodies are equipped of analyzing it fully. She calls for a dialog between the researcher and the research as “all knowledge is value-laden and should be tested by the presence of empathy and compassion. “P. 3) the approach thus requires accountability in the awareness that knowledge is created, selected and impulsed and not simply the act of presenting scientific facts.
Even though Collins emphasize the personal narrative, she does not promote a collective categorization of for example “black women”, yet at the same time she recognizes that there are challenges that a black woman faces that is within a collective tendency. (Allan, 2009.) P. 3)
Collins furthermore accentuates that oppressed groups require a “space” where they can come together safe from the oppressive and hegemonic rulers. (Allan, 2009.) P. 5) This is something that practically and specifically can be placed into the context of Global women as we shall see, but it can also be used as a metaphor for how traditional science that is supposed to be ‘objective’ and ‘neutral’, is in fact indicative and product of a subjugating Eurocentric “white” hegemony. Even though Collins meant it more literally, I contend that the intersectional approach thus can be a “safe place” where oppressed voices can speak and be heard. What Collins perspective on Intersectionality can contribute with is thus that an alteration in thinking can change how specific inequalities are seen and approached and consequently through that re-articulate points that might often be seen in the public sphere, but not articulated sufficiently to actually accommodate actual change. (Allan, 2009, p. 07)
In relation to gender, an accumulative result of for example Collins research on how knowledge is produced juxtaposed with power relations (c.f. Prins, 2006 p. 4), that in turn has a subjugating effect, has been an increased focus on and awareness of how one’s own social identity and cultural allocation affects how one sees gender. It is therefore that the social location is a primary point to identify, allocated through an investigation of the intersecting identities that are at play. “In particular, gender must be understood in the context of power relations embedded in social identities”. (Collins 1999; 2000, in Shields, 2008, p. 1) And as we shall see, this becomes relevant in particular when investigating emerging and complex new social inequalities as exemplified by the text on Global Women and in Leslie McCall’s contends for a new approach to Intersectionality.
Intersectionality and the matrixes of domination
Within how we through Intersectionality can see the different forms of oppression and inequalities that interweave into and as a lived experience, Collins contends the fact that these are influenced by the predominant views on objective knowledge that can silence the voices of the oppressed. (Allen, 2009, p. 8, see also Shields, 2008, p. 1) To expose and expand on this, she focuses on the matrixes of domination as the organization of power in a society. (Allen, 2009, p. 08) These matrixes are featured by how the intersections are manifested according to historical, cultural and socially specific conditions, through which the systems of oppression operate. In this Collins accentuate four domains in which power is organized: structural, disciplinary, hegemonic and interpersonal. (Allen, 2009, p. 08)
These can be described roughly as legislative/ policy-based, bureaucratic, cultural and every day spheres such as education and community groups. What emerges when investigating intersections of oppression and inequality in relation to these spheres is a complex system of power relations that in itself intersects. This thus also brings a perspective to the nuances of intersections of inequality that shows that they are multidimensional rather than one-dimensional. The social categories through which intersections are defined are thus not static or permanent as the can alter and shift in level of inequality and oppression according to which sphere or dimension is influential and intersecting.
Leslie McCall on the Complexities of Intersectionality
McCall represents for the purposes of this article, a modern approach to Intersectionality that also encompasses a critique of the initial approach to Intersectionality. McCall criticizes how feminist theory so far has failed to expand Intersectional theory into and as an interdisciplinary field; she furthermore criticizes how this has failed to expand and develop Intersectionality as a methodology that potentially is capable of amending to an analysis of the new inequalities that has arisen over the last thirty years. Instead intersectionality remains within and as an anti-categorical stance and attitude on how to practically apply Intersectionality in investigating social inequality and oppression.
At the same time McCall criticizes traditional social science for not effectively implementing Intersectionality as a cross- or interdisciplinary methodology. She claims that there is a disconnect between reality and theory in both fields and that a new way of applying Intersectionality is thus required, that is able to embrace the complexities that are emerging with the new forms of inequality, such as the increasing gap between rich and poor. (McCall, 2005, pg. 22) The inequalities become complex because the conditions in and through which they play out are complex and inequalities and dimensions of inequalities overlap.
“Reality is complexly patterned, but patterned none the less. We can determine the source of the complexity, we can describe it, and we can theorize it. In this view changes of patterns of inequality and in the underlying structural conditions of society are dynamic, complex, and contingent but also amendable to explanation”. (McCall, 2005, pg. 25)
McCall calls this the inter-categorical (or categorical) Intersectionality and argues that one of the reasons why feminist theory not yet have fully embraced such a theory can be explained within how they (as other theoretic fields) have not been equipped with being able to address the new forms on inequality that has emerged. (McCall, 2005, p. 23) She argues that the method is based in feminist theory yet invites to interdisciplinary application (McCall, 2005, pg. 25)
What McCall found within applying this method, is that inequalities as intersectional exist rather as configurations of several forms or dimensions of inequality specifically placed in the context of economic structure.
The advantages of the categorical methodology of Intersectionality is that it allows for a much more complex set of data to be used in a much more simplistic way than traditional approaches.
McCall’s analysis holds the categorical method up against two more traditional methodologies where the anti-categorical emerged with the black feminists with focus on narratives and the intra-categorical with a focus on single groups or individuals. She describes how the categorical approach investigates each element of inequality in a given dimension for then to analyze these within a holistic framework, for example held up against an economic situation or analyzing the relationship two groups at a time. This way the complexity of investigating multiple groups is managed.
What is perhaps the most different from the traditional approach is as McCall describes how the categorical approach within multigroup studies as “analyze the intersection of the full set of dimensions of multiple categories and thus examine both advantage and disadvantage explicitly and simultaneously.” (McCall 2005, p. 18) In the following section, I superimpose McCall’s proposal of an explicitly categorical methodology to show why such a methodology is specifically applicable for analyzing new inequalities, onto the example of on Global Women.
The intersections of Global Women
Global women present and represent an example of the new social inequalities that have emerged over the last 30-50 years with an increasing migration of women from the poor south/east to the rich north/west, conglomerating with the increase of labor market participation and the increase independent income of women in the west.
I use this example for three reasons: firstly, I use it to exemplify the increasing complexity that McCall describes and the consequent requirement for a re-assessment of the methodologies of Intersectionality. Secondly I use it to show how an intersectional approach in general can assist to analyze and understand such emergence of complex intersections of inequality and why the intersectional approach can be one of the most important methodological analytical tools of social science today. Thirdly, I pose a somewhat polemic stance within how it through an intersectional view on the emergence of the new complex social (and economic) inequalities, can be seen that what converges is a global phenomenon that is clearly not being met adequately by the policies currently being applied to accommodate the consequences of such global inequalities.
Global Women – Emerging new social inequalities
The introductory text to Global Women focuses on the narrative of a Sri Lankan woman named Josephine who works in Athens as a nanny. Already on the first few pages a conglomerate of intersections is playing out: the role of being a nanny can be categorized within the intersection of class as well as within how a woman from a poor country is working for an affluent family in a more wealthy country and the intersections of South/East versus North/West. The woman being from Sri Lanka relates to culture, nationality, ethnicity as well as language (and language barriers). There is furthermore a generational element, wherein Josephine’s ability to travel and work abroad is defined as “an independence her mother could not have imagined” (Ehrenrich and Hochschild, 2002, p. 11). This suggests a generational shift economic independence and women’s ability to participate on the labor market.
This is furthermore described directly in relation to how Josephine is not receiving help from her ex-husband and thus suggests an intersection of gender inequality. Josephine is saving up for a “modest dowry” for her daughter and is paying off on a bus that her son is driving, a reference to gender and class as well as cultural differences. (Ehrenrich and Hochschild, 2002, p. 13) Finally, the parents of the child for whom Josephine is hired as nanny are characterized as “devoting” themselves to “careers and avocations” (Ehrenrich and Hochschild, 2002, p. 13). This again refers to an intersection of class, but also a specific unequal discourse of valuation within that, where Josephine’s job is seen as survival, her daughter’s dowry as “modest” while the affluent Greek parents have “careers and avocations” that they are “devoting” themselves to, something that suggests choice as well as a view on work as personally or professional fulfilling. The intersection of race is seen within how the migrating women are largely “women of color” (Ehrenrich, p. 3) and through a notion among the Western women that employ the migrating women as nannies of seeing women from 3. World countries as more in touch with nature and traditional values, quality that is valued in relation to caring for a child. (Ehrenrich, p. 9)
What we can see here is a multitude of intersections that are influencing how and why and what Josephine’s story imply within a bigger picture of emerging new global inequalities and this is still barely touching upon the intersections related to the Western women involved in this story as well as Josephine’s Sri Lankan family and how they are affected by Josephine’s leaving to work abroad.
According to McCall’s theory on the categorical approach to Intersectionality that is required to be applied to understand an analyze new emerging inequalities, we would now have to analyze each of these intersections “in its own right” for then only after to bring all these dimensions together in a holistic analysis of for example the entire phenomena of Global women migration and the general inequalities that are playing out here.
What is effective with this approach is that it does in fact encompass Collins notion of Intersectionality as method that works with humility and compassion within the principle that to understand oppression, one virtually has to be able to place oneself in the shoes of the lives of the people one is researching.
A dimension that further more speaks for a juxtaposition of Collins notion of humility relates to the emotional dimensions of the story of Josephine, which reveals complex emotions that has emerged as a result of a global “care deficit” (Ehrenrich, p.3 ) that in turn reveals a broader global inequality that influences the lives on both side of the deficit.
With Collins approach we can thus place ourselves in the shoes of the women whose lives we are investigating and with McCall we can place that information into a more structural and global context without its losing its humility, because we in fact take each dimension pertaining to the specific intersections of inequality into consideration.
Discussion on emerging new inequalities
What can thus emerge when we extract the complex dimensions of inequality involved in this one example, through applying an intersectional point of view and methodology, is in fact a wholeness, a holistic perspective on the global situation, from which we can see that lives are not only influencing each other reciprocally, but are indeed intertwined; “Third world women achieve their success only by assuming the cast-off domestic roles of middle- and high-income women in the first world.” (Ehrenrich and Hochschild, 2002, p. 3)
It is interesting that the third world women within migrating to the west to be nannies or maids are defined as having achieved “success”. Within this it can be argued that a discursive vocabulary is revealed that assumes that all women in the world have become “liberated” and “independent” and thus successful, also connecting this to travelling and uprooting oneself. A different perspective is that success is defined as one’s ability to make money and as such women like Josephine are successful in fact – simply because they do make money.
However this can also be seen as a form of oppression that serves to silence the voices of the global women, who might not feel successful, free or independent, because their fears and worries and concerns are still revolving around how to survive and how to feed their children as well as the intense emotions that can be related to having to leave one’s child in the care of others.
Within looking at these points the question emerges whether equality and independence of “Women” has in fact increased or whether the inequalities have simply shifted around and shifted places. This perspective is only possible within viewing the world as a whole and that is made possible through the consideration of each dimension involved in the intersections of a certain inequality.
This thus also brings the discussion of Intersectionality back to the question of power relations and specifically shows how and why Intersectionality was coined within and through a political movement to expose and abolish inequalities where the black feminists sought to give a voice to the voiceless black women as a “significant political as well as intellectual demand, since only by inclusion of the perspectives of these groups could the political issues emerging from their experiences be addressed by movements, law or policy-relevant scholarship.” (Choo and Ferree, 2010, p. 131)
Within the new emerging inequalities among the migrating women are nation and culture specific migration patterns and streams which results in for example Eastern European women going to Western European countries or Algerian women migrating to France. However, there is also a relevance in talking about Women in general, as the patterns that are emerging at culture-geographical level show that it increasingly are women that are migrating to work abroad as well as in regards to the changes in the lives of women in the Western countries, facilitates the demand for care workers from abroad. What often happens is that these women migrating to become nannies, maids and sex workers in the West, become isolated as their jobs are within the home and not on public display and therefore not receiving media attention. (Ehrenrich and Hochschild, 2002, p. 3-4)
What are emerging are thus new forms of inequality and a new way lives intersect that is complex within how multiple inequalities intertwine at a global level. To address this, the ability to analyze global tendencies from a multidimensional perspective, Intersectionality can potentially be utilized to bring these complex inequalities to the surface, both politically and academically. Polemically speaking, one could say that global issues require global policies. Although it might be hard to comprise a monocausal analysis when taking all the dimensions of how inequalities intersects (Choo and Ferree, 2010, p. 135), there is the silver-lining of an unequal monetary system where a global corporate world acts transnationally while few global policies are made to countervail or interfere. The consequences for women migrating, such as Josephine, can thus be that they have no rights or choices but to follow the stream of migration as they are caught between intersections of inequalities that are caused by global problems. The women who migrate have a greater chance of making money and supporting their family if they leave their home-countries to work in the west as nannies, maids or sex workers. But they pay a price within being separated from their children and often within not actually being integrated into the culture or country they are living in (sometimes for the rest of their lives) because they are merely there to serve a service function that is seen in many cases as empowering by policy-makers and in the media, because they can then send money home and as such “support the country”. So the discourse around the empowerment that the migrating women experience in comparison to past generations, might exactly is a part of that same hegemony that is responsible for the continuation of global inequality. The Solution is an Equal Money System because within its implementation, it is acknowledged at a fundamental and practical level, that the interconnectedness of human beings lives requires solutions that are able to encompass such interconnectedness and interdependence. The current financial and political systems and institutions are prioritizing segregation and profit and do not take human beings actual lives into consideration. The result is a world of disconnection, where everyone is able to abdicate responsibility because there is always someone else to hold responsible and because the system is not set up in such a way that it is even possible to take responsibility for one’s own life, even if one wanted to.
The effect of an Equal Money System is in fact that all forms of intersectionality of inequalities will be absolved, because it is acknowledged, into the very core of the policies implemented, that only a holistic solution will ensure equality for all.
For more information I refer to the Equal Money System Wikipage
In the following video I expand on the points brought up in this article: 2012 – One Woman’s Liberation… The Solution to Global Inequality
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Ehrenrich, B., & Hochschild, A. (2002). i B. Ehrenrich, & A. Hochschild, Global Women: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy (ss. Ch. 1 – 2 ). New York : Metropolitian Books.
Knudsen, S. (2005). “Intersectionality—A Theoretical Inspiration in the Analysis of Minority Cultures and Identities in Textbooks. Caught in the Web or Lost in thte Text Book?, (ss. 61-76). Paris.
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McCall, L. (2005). The Complexity of Intersectionality. Signs, Chicago Journals, 3(3), 1771 – 1800.
Prins, B. (2006). Narrative Accounts of Origins : A Blind Spot in the Intersectional Approach? European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13.
Shields, S. A. (2008). Gender: An Intersectional Perspective. Sex Roles, 301 – 311.
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(The article was submitted by Anna Brix Thomsen as a part of an examination at Stockholm University in February 2012. All rights are reserved.)
 Even though Kimberleé Crenshaw is famous for coining the terms, I refer to Collins because she is a sociologist (Crenshaw is a professor in law) and because of her specific approach towards Intersectionality as intra-categorical and because of her view on Intersectionality as providing a needed compassion in the social sciences. (Allan, 2009, p. 3)
 I use the term in italics when referring to the text and without italics when referring to the actual lives of Global Women.
 I use the terms ”south/east” and ”north/west” loosely to describe the differences in global income and living conditions according to how the text “Global Women” uses these terms to describe the divide between women of affluence and women of poverty in the respective regions and continents.
 Referring to Ehrenrich’s description of how the West is experiencing a care deficit because of the increasing number of women on the labor market, which creates the demand for nannies from abroad but at the same time how the migrating women are too leaving their own children behind in the care of others. (Ehrenrich, p.8)
 As Collins referred to (black) as having a “collective standpoint does exist, one characterized by the tensions
That accrue [sic] to different responses to common challenges” (Collins p. 28, emphasis original in Allan, 2009, p.4).