Literary Primer to Intersectionality: 11 Essential Texts for Every Feminist

Intersectionality might be a new concept to some, but for most, it’s an essential feminist tenet. Defined as “what happens when forms of discrimination combine, overlap, and intersect,” the term was coined by civil rights activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Since then, the concept of intersectionality and the discourse behind it has become pivotal in centering the experiences of underrepresented women within the feminist movement. It’s become a corrective lens to the limited  scope of mainstream feminism and a way to dispel the shadow of the second wave.

Often spotted on Twitter feeds, t-shirts, and yes, even tote bags, intersectionality hasn’t just become a widely celebrated concept, but a buzzword. In attempts to keep the term from being misinterpreted or misused, we’ve crafted a primer of feminist texts that best illustrate what intersectionality means, whose lives it impacts most, and the reason why you should think twice before using the term flippantly.

The cover of the book How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River CollectiveHow We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, celebrates the pioneering voices of the women whose coalition in the 60s and 70s paved the way for Black feminism and women’s liberation today. Comprised of compelling interviews with Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, Demita Frazier, Alicia Garza, and Barbara Ransby, How We Get Free opens with the Combahee River Collective statement which perfectly sets the historical and ideological context of the collective’s goals and legacy for its audience. Each of the women featured in this book are feminists whose work continues to move the voices of Black women and women of color from the margins. A crucial addition to any feminist’s library, How We Get Free is a testament to why we persist.

 

The cover of the book This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of ColorThis Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color

Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa

One of the most quintessential feminist anthologies to date, This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, showcases the voices and stories of women of color with an unflinching boldness. A seminal contribution to the birth of the third wave, This Bridge Called My Back uplifts the narratives of those previously excluded by mainstream feminism. Through poetry, first person accounts, critical essays, and illustrations, writers like Donna Kate Rushin, Mitsuye Yamada, Cheryl Clarke, and Genny Lim share their truths seamlessly. Each of their voices ring out with unwavering strength. This is the sort of book you’ll return to again and again, and each time it will give you hope to continue fighting for justice.

 

The cover of the book Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New MillenniumSisterhood Is Forever: The Women’s Anthology for a New Millennium

Robin Morgan

Like Our Bodies, Ourselves and Feminism is for Everybody, Robin Morgan’s trailblazing anthology Sisterhood is Powerful was an essential contribution to feminism’s second wave. In Sisterhood Is Forever, Robin expands on the countless conversations her 1970 anthology fostered while celebrating solidarity’s capacity to transform communities and foster change. Sisterhood Is Forever, as Morgan writes in her introduction, “gleams with the vision of a New World,” a more just world, a world where equal rights isn’t merely a dream, but a reality. This anthology affirms that “feminism is the politics of the twenty-first century.”

 

The cover of the book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of FreedomTeaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

bell hooks

In her essay “Holding My Sister’s Hand: Feminist Solidarity,” the legendary bell hooks articulates why solidarity is vital with the following illuminating words: “We need to examine why we suddenly lose the capacity to exercise skill and care when we confront one another across race and class issues.” Within this essay and throughout her collection, hooks gives readers the vocabulary and praxis required to subvert the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and move towards freedom. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom is the perfect companion text to Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center and is a necessary touchstone for activists of all stripes. Its pages push us to “collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries” and to above all “transgress.”

 

The cover of the book Women, Culture, & PoliticsWomen, Culture, & Politics

Angela Y. Davis

In the introduction to Women, Culture & Politics, the iconic Angela Y. Davis writes, “My… work over the last two decades will have been wonderfully worthwhile if it has indeed insisted in some small measure to awaken and encourage… new activism.” This 1990 collection of essays and speeches—much like the rest of her bibliography—will awaken the activist within every reader and sustain them for years to come. As always, her words shake us from our complacency and force us to examine the way our national and personal politics impede progress. Her insights ring as true today as they did decades ago. She confronts us to reckon with the movement’s failures as a way to ensure its future. She reminds us that “the women’s movement cannot afford to repeat its mistakes of the last century or even of the last decade.”

 

The cover of the book Sister OutsiderSister Outsider

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider is a required text for all readers. Originally published in ’84, Lorde’s collection of essays and speeches examine the ramifications of patriarchal oppression while challenging the violence of systemic issues like homophobia, classism, and racism. Lorde unapologetically asserts her identity and the way who she is—a Black lesbian mother warrior poet—impacts the way she is treated by others. What makes Sister Outsider such a life-altering read is Lorde’s anger, wisdom, and vulnerability throughout the collection. Her words aren’t fenced in, sanitized, or palatable. There’s no hesitation in the way she shares her experiences. Each sentence is truth in the purest sense of the word. If you’ve already read Sister Outsider, make sure to gift a copy of it to a friend.

 

The cover of the book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual RevolutionHeadscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution

Mona Eltahawy

Social justice activist and journalist Mona Eltahawy’s Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution doesn’t just reveal the dire need for feminism in the Middle East, it reveals the dire need for feminism everywhere. With fiercely impassioned prose, Eltahawy condemns the patriarchy’s detrimental impact on Middle Eastern politics, religion, and culture. She wields her pen like a warrior swinging a double edged sword, cutting through centuries of silence and misogyny to exalt the stories of women like Huda Shaarawi and Doria Shafik alongside the story of her own feminist awakening. As the Gloria E. Anzaldúa epigraph to her book suggests, Eltahawy is a truthsayer. Her words will spark revolution.

 

The cover of the book Women Who Run with the WolvesWomen Who Run with the Wolves

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD

To say that Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype is an essential read is an understatement. This widely celebrated text is a riveting meditation on the folklore, myths, and fairy tales that reveal the intuitive power that women possess. Whether it be the role of healer or divinator, Estés’ examination of the female psyche honors the Wild Woman‘s, and all women’s, need to be free. With the discernment of a seer and the wisdom of a sage,  Estés’ bestseller is a liberating and life affirming feminist tome.

 

The cover of the book Critically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist StudiesCritically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies

Joanne Barker

Edited by Joanne Barker, Critically Sovereign Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies unearths the impact of colonialism and Western imperialism and feminism’s potential to subvert the patriarchy’s detrimental treatment of Indigenous communities. Each essay uncovers the capacity of feminist ideologies to confront, deconstruct, and heal historic wounds inflicted by the aftermath of colonization. Through a collective of brilliant voices, the essays in this book grapple with the significance of gender, sexuality, and politics with searing wisdom. Critically Sovereign gives readers a reason to hope for a decolonized tomorrow.

 

The cover of the book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much MoreRedefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More

Janet Mock

The debut memoir by New York Times bestseller and award-winning activist Janet Mock recounts her journey towards adulthood and the many lessons she learned while growing up as a trans person of color. With heart wrenching honesty and unflinching courage, Mock recounts the ups and downs that go hand in hand with finding oneself and the moments that taught her how powerful owning the vulnerability of sharing your personal truth can be. She urges readers to ask themselves the same question she reflects upon in the introduction to Redefining Realness: “How do I tell my story authentically without discounting the facets and identities that make me?” Each page offers her audience the answer.

 

The cover of the book Unruly Bodies: Life Writing by Women with DisabilitiesUnruly Bodies: Life Writing by Women with Disabilities

Susannah B. Mintz

In Susannah B. Mintz’s groundbreaking book, the narratives of women with disabilities take center stage. Far too often overlooked within feminist discourse, Unruly Bodies looks at the lives of writers like Eli Clare, Nancy Mairs, Georgina Kleege, and May Sarton in order to reveal why it is important for the truths of all bodies to be not just celebrated, but documented on the written page. Unruly Bodies proves the importance of “texts [that] ‘talk back’ to dominant cultural paradigms” and the power that can be found in their ability to “work to validate unrecognized categories of identity and experience.” If you consider yourself a feminist, this book should be on your shelf.

Advertisements

Literature Nobel In Doubt Amid Claims Swedish Princess Was Sexually Harassed

Protesters gathered earlier this month outside Stockholm’s Old Stock Exchange building, where the Swedish Academy meets. Demonstrators showed support for resigned Permanent Secretary Sara Danius by wearing her hallmark tied blouse.
Fredrik Persson/AFP/Getty Images

by Colin Dwyer, May 1, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR

If the crisis facing the Swedish Academy looked dire earlier this month, this weekend spelled still worse trouble for the 18-member committee responsible for selecting the Nobel Prize in literature each year. Already deeply roiled by sexual assault and harassment allegations against a prominent cultural figure closely linked with the group, the Swedish Academy found that his ledger of alleged victims has added one more very prominent name: Sweden’s heir apparent, Crown Princess Victoria.

Three witnesses told the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet they had seen photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, an influential cultural impresario in Stockholm, put his hand on Victoria’s behind during a 2006 event at an academy-owned property.

“He came lurking from behind and I saw his hand land on her neck and go downward. It was all the way down,” Swedish writer Ebba Witt-Brattstrom, who had been attending the event, later confirmed to London’s The Telegraph.

Witt-Brattstrom says a uniformed aide to the princess, who was then 27, “just flew herself” on the then-59-year-old Arnault. “She grabbed him,” Witt-Brattstrom added to the Telegraph, “and ‘whop’, he was gone. The crown princess turned in surprise. I guess she had never been groped. She just looked like ‘what?’ ”

Arnault’s attorney has told several media outlets he denies these allegations as well as the incidents of sexual assault and harassment alleged by 18 women in November.

His denials have done nothing to ease the turmoil wreaked on the Swedish Academy, of which Arnault’s wife, Katarina Frostenson, was a longtime member before resigning earlier this month. Questions about when and what the committee’s members knew about the allegations led several other members to resign before her, either in protest or because of the protests — including Permanent Secretary Sara Danius.

The controversy has even raised the prospect that this year it might be unable to perform its most famous duty, picking literature’s Nobel winner in October. The committee discussed the prospect of postponing the award last week “and came to no decision,” member Per Wastberg told The Guardian after the meeting last week.

He added that members would resume the conversation at another meeting this Thursday, at which point they will very likely reach a decision on whether it will be necessary to skip the prize this year and instead announce two winners in 2019.

If indeed the Swedish Academy decides to postpone the award, this would mark the first year since the depths of World War II, from 1940 to 1943, that no writers won the Nobel Prize in literature.

Another member, former Permanent Secretary Horace Engdahl, downplayed the possibility to The Guardian — but the committee’s public statement last week made little secret of the “state of crisis” it is currently experiencing.

“Confidence in the Academy has been undermined, the number of active members is diminished, and there has been an unplanned change in the post of Permanent Secretary,” the group acknowledged.

It noted that it had already engaged an outside law firm to investigate the situation. The firm has found that the Swedish Academy violated its conflict-of-interest rule by financially supporting a cultural forum co-owned by Arnault and Frostenson and that there had also been “a breach of the Academy’s secrecy rules” relating to the Nobel.

 

The Swedish Academy added that another damaging revelation had also recently surfaced: that as far back as 1996, the committee had received a letter detailing an alleged sexual assault at the forum and had ignored it.

“The Academy deeply regrets that the letter was shelved and no measures taken to investigate the charges and possibly stop further reimbursements to Kulturplats Forum,” the group said. “The Swedish Academy strongly condemns sexual harassment and sexual aggression wherever it occurs.”

One potential problem for the Swedish Academy does appear on its way to resolution, at least. As we reported earlier this month, the committee’s bylaws have had no formal provisions for members to resign their positions, which are supposed to be lifetime commitments. Those same bylaws also demand a quorum of 12 members to make any significant decisions — like, say, changing the provisions on resignation and selecting replacements. All but 11 members have de facto stepped down at this point, leaving the academy in a rather tough bind.

But the group’s patron, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf, stepped in earlier this month with the announcement he is planning changes that will facilitate resignation.

“It is a given premise of Swedish and international law that any person who no longer wishes to be a member of an organisation must be allowed to leave,” he said in a statement. “This premise should also apply to the Swedish Academy.”

Exoneree Diaries with Alison Flowers

Join us for this discussion with the author about her work and issues it addresses.

IL Reads - Exoneree Diaries