Intersectionality is a theory that was developed in the 1980s by the African-American legal scholar Dr. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. She defines it as "a metaphor for understanding the ways in which multiple forms of inequality or disadvantage sometimes compound themselves and they create obstacles that are not often understood within conventional ways of thinking about whatever social advocacy structures we have."
In practice, this means a recognition that no student is just their race, ethnicity, gender, ability, class, etc. They are all those things at once. We all live at the intersections of our various identities. A student might have privilege because they are white but have less privilege in other instances because they are disabled. A student might have less privilege because they are a woman but hold more privilege than others because they are thin.
The purpose of intersectionality is to give us a lens through which we see each other so we can better understand our lived realities.
Some tips for teaching sexual violence prevention from an intersectional lens:
- Understand who is impacted. We have already discussed how sexual violence is gendered but not all women face the same risks. In Canada, Indigenous women over the age of 15 are 3.5 times more likely to experience sexual violence than non-Indigenous women. Queer people are almost 3 times as likely to experience physical or sexual violence. Women with disabilities are twice as likely as able-bodied women to have experienced sexual assault. People with a cognitive disability are approximately 4 times as likely to experience violence as those who are neurotypical.
- Offer a variety of bystander strategies. Recognize that people's ability to intervene is directly linked to the power they hold in the situation. For example, young men can more easily interrupt a misogynist comment versus young women who are more likely to be dismissed. It is safer for straight students to call out homophobia than their queer counterparts. But that doesn’t mean marginalized students are incapable of being effective bystanders. It just means we need to offer a variety of tools for each scenario so that every student, regardless of their privilege, can safely intervene and make a difference.
- Diversify your resources. When you’re using resources such as videos, posters or books, consider these questions: Do they only feature white, able-bodied, straight-passing people? When you invite a guest speaker, are they also white, able-bodied and/or straight-passing? If you do invite speakers of colour, is it just for discussions on race, racism, and diversity? Change that! Students thrive when they see themselves represented in all areas of life and this topic is no exception.