Intersectionality

May 12, 2021

Intersectionality is the “complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination combine, overlap or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Thompson said gender, sexuality, race and socioeconomic class are all factors that influence which cases of sexual harassment gain attention from the media and the general public.

For example, Thompson said two women of color, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, were killed in a London park this summer, yet very few were aware of the incident. She said this event lies in stark contrast with the response to the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, who was a white woman. Although she said the two incidents were similar, the media only popularized the Sarah Everard case.

“You didn’t see it in the media, probably because they were two women of color,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of harassment of women, but if you think about race or other marginalized groups, like transgender or members of the LGBTQ+ community, it can also be a hate crime.”

Olsher concurs that sexual harassment poses a risk to marginalized groups, as they said receiving equal attention and care for instances is a prevalent issue.

“The picture of a sexual harassment or assault victim or survivor tends to be a white woman,” Olsher said. “It’s 100% fantastic that white women are feeling empowered and able to call out their assaulters and harassers and are reclaiming that power and holding people accountable for their actions. However, it’s then 10 times harder for those that are not white women.”

This awful tangle of systemic oppression, racism, stereotypes and the sexualization of women of color is still very much intact and it involves absolutely everyone, not just minority groups.”

— Ruby Read ('23)

Read said that as a woman of color, the intersectionality of race and sexual harassment “hits close to home,” and is a consequence of entrenched racism in society. She said racism unjustly shifts blame from the harasser to the victim on the basis of race or other identifiers.

“People within marginalized communities are being blamed for sexual harassment just because of the way they look or stereotypes of the way they act,” Read said. “This awful tangle of systemic oppression, racism, stereotypes and the sexualization of women of color is still very much intact and it involves absolutely everyone, not just minority groups.”

Moreover, Olsher said this widely accepted perception of a female victim has implications on male victims coming forward with their experiences.

“When you have a male that comes forward to talk about it, oftentimes you’re hit with things like, ‘You should have enjoyed it,’ or ‘You’re so lucky this happened to you,’” Olsher said. “It’s like people believe that it happened, but they don’t believe how it happened. They believe you perceived it wrong.”

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