We are in a thought provoking year to talk about race, gender, economic status.  As a nation we are having more conversations about the nature of gender and sexuality. Parts of the country seem to be melting down at the notion of fluid sexuality or gender. Transgender people, and transgender people of color especially, are facing venomous attacks.

All the identities that a person possesses have to be understood in order to learn about a person.

At the risk of alienating readers, I have to use a definition:

 Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities. These identities that can intersect include gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness, and physical illness as well as other forms of identity.

I plan to discuss different aspects of  intersectionality through experiences, as well as the arts. This month, a book that touches on gender, race, and sexuality.

Gender in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Essay

“We Should All be Feminists” is a short introduction to women’s equality. Adichie, a noted author, gave a TED Talk that explained some of the core issues of women’s empowerment. It quickly became a cultural phenomenon.

She points out that in her own life people have made misconceptions about what it means to be a feminist. For example, the idea that feminists are angry. We can be angry about issues, but also be happy and love who and what we love. Female anger seems to threaten people while male anger is normative.

I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change; but, in addition to being angry, I’m also hopeful.Because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better.

Another misconception is that we don’t accept difference. Feminists respect and value differences. What we don’t appreciate is that certain differences make us ‘lesser.’

For example, the recent controversy at Google, with an engineer who claims that our biological differences mean that women are not going to be as proficient in the technological world.  That is nonsense and not supported by any science.

The intersection of culture and gender

Adichie is a clever storyteller and you can read this essay or watch the talk quickly. She speaks about culture and her experiences in Africa and with African men and women who want other women to conform to certain roles. Ethnicity and nationality are two other dimensions that should be considered in understanding the human experience. Ultimately, Adichie feels that culture can and should change to reflect what is an essential human value- equality:

So if it is in fact true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we must make it our culture.

Adichie and Trans Rights

There is much to admire in this essay. Recently, Adichie was embroiled in a controversy over remarks that were seen as not fully supportive of trans women. After reading her statements and then defense, I believe she is fully supportive of trans rights. She makes a distinction in saying that our life experience does inform how we see gender and I think that is true:

“But really, my position remains: I think gender is about what we experience, gender is about how the world treats us, and I think a lot of the outrage and anger comes from the idea that in order to be inclusive, we sometimes have to deny difference. I think that because human difference for so long, in all its various forms, has been the root of so much oppression, sometimes there’s the impulse to say let’s deny the difference, as though by wishing away the difference we can then wish away the oppression.”

Embracing our histories will help us to connect and relate to one another more honestly. I recommend reading this book and giving copies to various people in your life. Start a conversation!