Intersectionality: Race and disability topics

Within the field of feminist theories of the body, the intersection of bodies, race, class and sexuality connect with the field. Kimberlé Crenshaw (1994) first coined the term intersectionality as a political framework. She asserts in Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color, that women of color do not experience racism and sexism separately, but instead as distinct types of oppression. For black women, racism and sexism intersect to shape their lives. Crenshaw (2020) includes a variety of writings on identity politics, the female body and race in Intersectionality: Essential Writings. Hailey Nicole Otis (2019), expanded upon Crenshaw’s methodology and explored the intersectionality of feminist rhetorical scholarship.



Otis states:

The juncture of theory and experience demonstrates the power of bringing the body into rhetoric in the form of embodied rhetorical praxis, which not only destabilizes normative assumptions about where theory and knowledge come from, but also locates the body as a valuable site of knowledge production and rhetorical construction that allows rhetors to make compelling claims about how oppression comes to bear materially upon marginalized bodies. (384).

Body politics is another key topic within understanding the intersections of class, race and the female body. Marissa A. Juarez (2014) defines body politics in “Toward a Chicana Feminist Body Politic” published in Feminist Challenges or Feminist Rhetorics? Location, Scholarship, Discourse stating, “body politics aim to disrupt discourses that marginalize bodies in an attempt to reclaim political power for the body” (302). Juarez discusses the need for Chicana feminists to explore how body politics can disrupt the Western, Eurocentric tradition in the field. Gardner calls for Chicana feminist scholarship to invoke the body in two ways, including calling attention to the brown body as a racialized subject with racialized identities and demand awareness of the lived experience of the brown body.

There is recent scholarship on race and bodies, specifically the black woman’s experience of her own body. Michael Bennet and Vanessa D. Dickerson (2001) compiled Recovering the Black Female Body: Self-Representations by African American Women to explore the dominant historical images that have mediated black female identity. Through this work the authors analyze how black women have resisted often demeaning popular cultural perceptions in favor of more diverse, subtle presentations of self. Sabrina Strings (2019), author of Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia, addresses the historical narrative surrounding fat phobia and black women. Strings posits that the contemporary ideal of slenderness is racialized and racist. She argues that fat phobia isn’t about health, but rather a way to use the body to validate race, class and gender prejudice. Strings posits that the rise of the transatlantic slave trade and the spread of Protestantism were two critical historical developments that contributed to America’s desire for a slim body and fat phobia.

Disability theorists, such as Carol Thomas (1999) in Female Forms: Experiencing and Understanding Disability and Nancy Mairs ([1990] 1996) in “Carnal Acts” have explored how disabled bodies play a role in understanding gender experiences. These scholars explore how the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity, ability and sexuality all intersect to create the experience of the lived body. It’s important to understand the lived experience of all women’s bodies with all abilities. Often those with disabilities are marginalized and the dominant voice in feminist studies represents the white, able bodied, cis-gender female.