On intersectionality and toxic body culture…AND…detrimental assumptions.

Alright kiddos, this article right here is a must read. No really. It is. Trust me.

In a guest post for Feministing, Sayantani DasGupta touches on some pretty key issues that arise for women who work to promote intersectionality while simultaneously discussing the detrimental effects of body through the broader social lens of race, class, gender, and sexuality.

The following is an excerpt that truly penetrates and has got my mind churning (it’s either this or the caffeine and I’m thinking it’s a little of both). While several of her points are spot on and important to the advancement of the discourse around gendered, racialized and commodified bodies, there was one part that really stuck out to me.  DasGupta claims:

Although I knew I was to speak with a powerhouse panel of women on globalization and medicalization, and I also knew Courtney’s commitment to diversity and a feminist intersectionality (thinking about gender oppression in the context of race, class, sexuality, etc., see here), my first thought on entering the room was “this issue isn’t relevant to me.” It was a strange, visceral reaction that wasn’t about who was present in the room, but how (I assumed) the argument was being framed.

For me, this is such an honest confession of what women like myself, who identify with several marginalized identity groups, often carry and hold onto. This assumption that we are going to be excluded, to put it bluntly, is one that I find hard to shake off.

I have been conditioned to think this way not only to validate my inherent skepticism of the level inclusion in whichever setting I find myself in, but to protect myself from utter disappointment and subsequent resentment. In essence, yes, holding onto these assumptions that people won’t understand, be inclusive, representative, or flamboyantly anti-racist, anti-homophobic, etc. is simply a defense mechanism I have developed over the years.  Frankly, I would not be at all surprised if this is the case for other marginalized individuals.

What I’m learning is that time and time again I have felt the need to prepare myself for this exclusion, subtle as it may be, and it’s really…wearing…me…down.

While I am in no way, shape, or form ready to offer any advice for how to come to terms with this, I am realizing that mindfulness is key. Yes, these assumptions are in direct opposition with the very way that I have been challenged to see the world (through the kaleidoscopic lens of intersectionality), but I want to catch myself here and just accept their existence.  I want to be aware and keep it there. I want to harness the blame and judgement that I feel building.  It’s not about who is causing “x” reaction– it’s about the fact that this reaction to activate these assumptions even occurs.  What does this say about the society that we live in? The feminist movement  today? The experiences of minorities in any given category? The experiences of individuals who work to promote intersectionality?

Clearly, I am still struggling with this issue of feeling unrecognized. But my time at Barnard has taught me to own my voice, to SPEAK because I can, and to speak and so that we can. And while issues such as these not-so-productive internalized assumptions come up, I’m learning to continue fighting a not-so-quiet battle to accept these realities (hence this pretty tangential post).

Le sigh…I have much to learn and while this has definitely added another layer to my path of self-cultivation and understanding, I am appreciative that I have been challenged and similarly, that I have been supported through this journey.*

So uh, in summary… can we get Sayantani DasGupta to speak at Barnard? No really… like right nao.

*Please note that this post might just be a “HOLY CRAP I’M GRADUATING IN 6 WEEKS” type rant. #$$&$**$%!!

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2 thoughts on “On intersectionality and toxic body culture…AND…detrimental assumptions.

  1. update: SHE TEACHES AT COLUMBIA.
    SWOON.

  2. Very good article, Kim.
    I empathize with you on this point of being worn out from the exclusion… I myself have had those moments where I asked “why am I still fighting?” for whatever minority cause I feel needs to be represented – not for lack of love in the issue, but for loving too much. For not accepting the majority opinion or following the majority culture. And when you’re trying to teach people to think about intersectionality and have them take other points of view, it can be the most frustrating time to see that your efforts still do not produce “enough” change.
    This article really takes me off my high horse though – because when you feel like you’re fighting on the side that “understands,” you can really ignore your own prejudices. It’s nice to hear that people are trying to be mindful and are seeing these things deeply.

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