“Intersectionality” is a word most people probably don’t come across every day. It is usually thrown around in law school classes dealing with the –isms, like racism and sexism. And unfortunately, in the wake of the Imus/Rutgers Women’s Basketball debacle, much of the commentary has missed an important opportunity to bring this idea to the general public: what happens when the –isms combine.
Some people just don’t get it. One reporter asked a player if she was offended more as a woman or as an African-American. This is inane. Black women in America do not – and should not be expected to – separate out the components of the types of venom spewed by Imus in making his despicable comments.
In addition to racial and gender bias, Imus also betrayed more than a hint of homophobia. Imus and his producer compared the women on the Rutgers team to men’s NBA teams, suggesting these were women playing a man’s game. He also contrasted them to the “cute” Tennessee team – clearly showing that the RU team failed to live up to his “feminine” ideal. This gender stereotyping of sports as a masculine endeavor and female athletes as less than “real” women undermines women’s equal participation in sports. These very stereotypes have been used repeatedly over the years to justify harassment and discrimination against female athletes. The pervasive nature of these stereotypes shows that nearly 35 years after Title IX was passed, we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
Most people know about racism. And most people know about sexism. But the concept of intersectionality captures what happens when society feels the need to distinguish black women from other women in order to justify their oppression and degradation. Historically, this was done by perpetuating the stereotype that black women are simply “different” from white women: they are either hyper-sexual, asexual, or masculine. The year 2007 all of sudden looks a lot like 1851, when Sojourner Truth asked the Women’s Convention: “Ain’t I A Woman?” Imus’ comments didn’t lead to the resounding “yes” black women should expect and surely deserve.