Can Feminism Be Intersectional?

The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) primarily focuses on a set number of projects. For example, when my fellow interns and I arrived at the office on the first day, we were presented with four research projects to choose from: the National Center for Women and Policing, the goal of which is to improve gender equality in police departments in order to reduce the use of force and improve responses to domestic violence; Feminist Campus, which seeks to improve civic engagement among college students and specifically among college women; the National Clinic Access Project survey, which will end in a publication which draws from surveys that are completed by abortion providers about harassment by anti-choice extremist groups; and finally the National Clinic Access Project monitoring, which assists abortion clinics by notifying them and the authorities when anti-choice extremist groups threaten abortion clinics or providers. When divided amongst the staff and the seventeen summer interns, the FMF is able to make huge strides on these projects in the summer. However, this leaves little room to pursue other things. Specifically, the FMF does not have the capacity to pursue objectives pertaining to intersectional feminism, such as those that would primarily impact LGBTQ communities or women of color.

FMF’s dedication and efficiency set it apart from other non-profits that I have experience working with—here, things move quickly and people give their all to these causes. In this way, the FMF is extremely successful. It sets out to complete specific tasks, and completes such tasks in a relatively short time period. Further, these tasks are of vast importance—they both compel people to care and take action in furthering the feminist movement through research and data, as well as directly assist people such as by protecting clinics and making sure they stay open to serve women needing abortions, birth control, or other forms of family planning. The constant passion and dedication that FMF staff and interns put into these projects is both inspiring and necessary to the success of the organization.

The FMF does not always have the capacity to focus on all issues it considers pressing, such as LGBTQ rights. Popovich, Matt. LGBT Equality Flag Outside the Supreme Court. Unsplash, 27 January 2016, https://unsplash.com/photos/UVe-5ZyDdAE/info.

I find myself wondering, though: how are these projects chosen? And what if there are more “pressing” issues that we should be on? This is not to say, of course, that the FMF staff does not care deeply about other issues—immigration, for example. Just last week, the majority of the office spontaneously took a half day so that we could attend an anti-ICE rally, in protest of the separation of undocumented parents and children at the border. Although we came out and showed support, we came as a group of predominantly white, American-born women holding signs that said “Feminists Fight Back” and “Stop the War on Women.” While these are indeed powerful slogans, since we were preoccupied with our main projects, we did not prepare specific signs nor were we able to contribute in organizing this event or rallying behind this movement in other ways besides our physical presence. I grappled with this guilt and began to question the FMF.

Not only do we not focus enough on immigrant women in this political climate, but at the protest it also occurred to me: we do not do enough in addressing racial inequities amongst women of color. This was highlighted to me by the fact that the majority of the women at the FMF office are white. Further, FMF’s absence in the realm of LGBTQ activism struck me. LGBTQ rights are so intertwined with women’s rights, surely, we should expand our advocacy? A massive portion of my daily work is dedicated to reproductive justice, and much of that work is catered to heterosexual women. We all know that “white feminism,” as it is known, is a non-inclusive, problematic form of feminism. Are we guilty of perpetuating that form of feminism by failing to directly address issues of intersectionality?

One of the FMF’s main research projects is the National Center for Women and Policing, which seeks to decrease the use of force and improve responses to domestic violence complaints by increasing the gender equality of police departments in the US. Withans, Spenser. Unsplash, 22 January 2017, https://unsplash.com/photos/IxooIwnNjCA/info.

My concerns about FMF were completely forgotten when I came back into the office that afternoon. The earnest dedication of the women that stayed in the office to finish their work for the day were reminders that this is the nature of non-profit work. One must choose the causes that they can make effective change in—they cannot tackle every movement that matters. Otherwise, they risk losing efficacy as their resources diffuse. Limited resources require sacrifice. This is the reality of non-profit work. The question asked by successful non-profit organizations is not “what are the important issues?” but rather, “what are the important issues in which we can make a meaningful impact?” Then, taking into consideration its limited resources, areas of expertise and knowledge, and needs in the community, it makes an informed choice on the prioritization of these issues.

The Urgency of Day-to-Day Activism

Here at the West Coast’s Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), we occasionally discuss the differences between our office and our sister office on the East Coast, the Feminist Majority. The Feminist Majority, located in the nation’s capital, often engages in politics such as lobbying for legislation. This is central to its social welfare mission and is permitted by its tax code status as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization. The Feminist Majority Foundation, on the other hand, dedicates itself solely for the purpose of achieving equity and for assisting the vulnerable as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It is not permitted to distribute any net earnings to individuals. As a result, or perhaps coincidentally, the Feminist Majority Foundation’s daily routine looks noticeably different from the Feminist Majority’s. I see it every day: in the impassioned conversations between coworkers about the injustices that occur out in the world and how the organization can respond, in the long hours and over-time hours that FMF staff thanklessly dedicate to their work, and in the humility and persistence of accomplished activists. The FMF has a unique sense of urgency in completing the day to day routine groundwork for effecting meaningful social change.

The Feminist Majority Foundation works toward achieving the sometimes-elusive goal of gender equality. On a day-to-day basis, this mission manifests itself in a lot of different ways—some of the FMF’s ongoing projects include the cross-referencing the FMF’s list of all abortion clinics in the United States with other comprehensive lists online, calling police departments to gather information about the gender breakdown of police forces in big cities, combing through university websites to see how they encourage civic engagement on college campuses, and many, many more.

We will not be silent. Protestors in Vancouver, BC as part of Women’s March on Washington, Vancouver chapter. Mazzarello, Alexa. The sign ‘Still We Rise’ is seen among the protesters in Vancouver. Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/photos/_VmtSk6mSTU.
Some of the projects that the FMF is currently working on require the urgent, daily, and often repetitive tasks of manually calling hundreds of abortion clinics and police departments and university campus representatives, probing them with questions, and not taking “I don’t know” for an answer. Others include monitoring the rhetoric and subject matter of news sources, including those with opinions which both agree and disagree with the FMF’s mission, and recording these observations on a daily basis. These tasks are very detail-oriented. Excluding us interns, the women working at these tasks are qualified to do other things or pursue other careers. But they choose this.

This guerrilla-style activism contrasts with the Feminist Majority’s more structural approach to social change, but it is big and sweeping in its own ways. The work being done at our sister organization on the East Coast is of vast importance and we often depend on it for its information and activism. However, this difference in workplace culture illustrates the different approaches of the Feminist Majority Foundation and the Feminist Majority.

Activists represent the FMF at a rally. Photo of activists with Feminist Majority Foundation banner. Feminist Majority Foundation, 2014, http://www.feminist.org/welcome/.

Feminist activists have the duty and obligation to fight for, or rally behind, structural and legislative change. This is a slow and deliberate process. After a law is passed and celebrations ensue, though, it could take several years for women and especially vulnerable women to see the effects of the change.

The women working at the FMF understand that women need increased access to information and reproductive healthcare and other resources. For this reason, they work toward directly increasing this access through research, through phone calls, through “know your rights”-esque campaigns. The FMF appreciates that facts and data influence people’s opinions—and so they research and conduct surveys and scour the internet to develop these numbers.

Much like fighting for gender-progressive bills to be signed is a no-brainer, doing the legwork of helping these vulnerable women is of equal importance and perhaps overlooked. Activism is about celebrating every victory, but the FMF may not see concrete victories, but slow and gradual change instead, the kind of change that comes in the form of increased access or representation. This job is often thankless but it is of vast importance.

The nature of nonprofits is that resources will be limited. This, paired with the intense passion for dismantling the patriarchy, puts pressure (the good kind) on FMF staff and interns—the work you do must be efficient, meaningful, and intentional. Michele encourages us to pitch relevant projects we feel strongly about, but warns us that our bosses will ask us what this will achieve in the struggle for social change. And we must be certain of our answer.

There is no doubt in my mind that both the FMF and the Feminist Majority feel the sense of urgency to dismantle the hetero-patriarchy and to achieve gender equality. The approaches to social change embodied by both, no matter how different, are undeniably noble and indispensable to the cause. But the women at the FMF have inspired and moved me. Their unrelenting dedication to doing the day to day groundwork of fighting against the patriarchy, which entails incremental rather than radical change, requires the utmost passion and resilience.