What are some valid criticisms of intersectional feminism?

Kes Sparhawk Amesley 

PhD Rhetorical Studies, MFA Writing, organizer, professor

As I see it, one major criticism of “intersectional feminism” is its claim to be a product of the third wave, and something new.

That in itself is a result of the source of the “third wave” concept, who was the daughter of a noted and talented feminist of the second wave who, like many younger feminists, was trying to distinguish her generation’s values and goals from her mother’s generation. An article published through her mother’s contacts in the glossy commercial publication Ms. Magazine made her name nationally known for this claim.

In the process, she ignored the feminist movement’s actual history. Because Rebecca Walker had the privilege of her mother Alice Walker’s name and her parents’ wealth, she was given a national platform for her essay. The irony of the daughter of a second wave African-American feminist published as an ethnic minority in a magazine designed to appeal to middle and upper class suburban women claiming that second wave feminism did not address race or class seems to have been completely lost on her readership.

Other young women with an equal lack of knowledge adopted the idea that they were a third wave, significantly different from their parents, and far more morally pure. This was because they came to define their generation’s difference as the awareness of intersectionality — the points of marginalization where several identity issues overlapped.

Of course, it’s obvious that awareness of intersectionality — and attention to it — existed long before the writing of a ’90s essay. It even existed before the birth of the daughter who appropriated its conceptualization for her generation. To appropriate the idea, these younger feminists made invisible and irrelevant the women of color, disabled women, elderly women, lesbians, working class women, and other intersecting minorities who had published widely and written beautifully about the complications and consequences of being, for example, both black and female, hispanic and lesbian, disabled and old, or any and all of the other possible combinations of oppression from the ’60s on. **

Besides appropriating their mothers’ issues, and invalidating their struggle, third wave feminists then developed what I call “entitlement victimhood.” This developed to privilege certain oppressions more highly than others. That hierarchy of oppressions was combined with the old insight that the powerless should speak up for themselves and those exercising power over them be quiet and listen. Unfortunately, the result is attempts to silence anyone who is not in the privileged categories (which vary depending on feminist site) on the grounds that they’re unqualified to discuss oppression if they’re not from the appropriate victim category.*** Thus, you can be accused of “playing the class card” if you suggest that working class males might in some ways be worse off than upper middle class academic women, slut hating if you suggest prostitution is not a desirable trade for most women, woman-hating if you support sex work as a choice, and so forth. Again, this varies by feminist locus.

So far, I’ve mostly provided theory without evidence. Obviously, providing enough evidentiary examples for this would fill a book in itself. I refer you to the following link for some recent examples from my own experience: Kes Sparhawk Amesley’s answer to Are microaggressions relevant?, which halfway down discusses some microaggression of “intersectional” anarchist feminists, and Kes Sparhawk Amesley’s answer to Are feminist laypeople who learn about feminism from pop culture (“Tumblr feminists”) often misinformed about academic feminist theory?, which directly deals with entitlement victimhood (though I wrote it before I came up with this term).

Now, assuming that becoming entitled by one’s victimhood is the only way intersectionality theory manifests does it a great disservice. The term itself is relatively new; it was coined in the ‘90s, to describe issues that had been struggled with for 30 years and would continue to the present, and beyond.

The term is useful. There is nothing wrong with intersectional feminism as a concept. We undeniably have overlapping oppressions which position us in particular ways; and those must all be explored to understand how they interact, and how they can be dismantled.

What is wrong is the way intersectional feminism has emerged as a practice, and then only when it manifests to privilege some oppressions over others. If I thought people would read this answer indefinitely, I’d discuss how this practice avoids economic oppression as much as possible, and is ultimately liberal. Certain middle class academic people of color, for example, feel perfectly comfortable attacking working class whites for using the wrong language. Some lesbian feminists criticize other women for liking men. Very young feminists may find elderly women uninteresting and unimportant. Invalidation of the concerns of other minorities is rampant. ****

But in all cases, suggesting that your entitled victim has more economic power than you is frowned on. I haven’t found a feminist site yet which gives more than lip service to “class” or “poverty” as one of the intersections. This is probably because most social media sites, and blogs, tend to be written and maintained by raised-middle class people.

I suppose the simplest way to put my criticism is that when intersectionality is used as a theory which informs practice, it’s valuable. When it’s used as a practice to invalidate and/or obscure some oppressions in order to privilege others, and that practice uses the language of the theory to gaslight members of oppressed groups, it’s unacceptable. Attention needs to be drawn to the behavior immediately.

I think we need to move as quickly as possible to directly addressing the problem, because it’s destroying the possibility of alliance. It reflects the problems of our government (two greedy and intellectually dishonest entities which fail at self-reflexivity) but that’s no excuse. The grassroots needs to be more intelligent than its ruling class, because that’s the only way to make changes.

Josh DiGiorgio,

One of the more significant and valid criticisms of intersectional feminism is on an academic level. Much of the work done by intersectional feminists in academia is, to put it politely, less than credible.

Sourcing evidence for this argument is easier than it has ever been before via Twitter. In particular, an account by the name of New Real Peer Review aggregates the realm of academia looking for absurdities. When the owner of the account finds an absurdity, he/she relays that to the account’s followers and the rest of us get to peek into the world of postmodern academia. The sources that follow have been located and distributed via New Real Peer Review.

This is an abstract from a paper written in 1995 by a feminist:

The scientific method is a tool for the construction and justification of dominance in the world. The invention of statistics was a major methodological advance in the descriptive sciences causing a shift from descriptive analysis to mathematical analysis. The new methodological techniques were invented by men who were interested in explaining the inheritance of traits in order to support their political ideology of natural human superiority and inferiority. The statistical techniques transformed the scientific method and resulted in a process that constructs knowledge and establishes “significant differences” between the dominant group as the norm and the subordinate group as the “Other.” The five steps in the process that integrates domination into the scientific method and results in the scientific construction the Other are: (a) Naming, (b) Quantification, (c) Statistical Analysis, (d) Reification, and (e) Objectification.[1]

The conceptualization of a hierarchical system where one group dominates others is a foundational to intersectional “theory”. Intersectional feminism, as seen in the above abstract, wages war against all aspects of society, including the other sciences in an attempt to alter them to conform to its ideology.

It’s important to actually comprehend what has been written in this abstract. The scientific method, a generalized algorithm by which many of the most important questions about our universe have been successfully filtered through, is, in the words of this precursor to intersectionality, a “tool for the construction and justification of dominance in the world”. Just let that sink in for a moment. Science doesn’t tell us how to create vaccines or how much energy we need to get a rocket in space. No, it tells us how to justify our continued oppression of other groups of people. You really have to ask yourself what planet these academics are living on and if, by some chance, they may be mentally ill.

Here’s another example of the harm that intersectionality has done to academia:

“Students should also note that government websites and statistical data are NOT scholarly sources..”

“Scholarly sources are required to be limited to sociological sources.”

So, sociologists shouldn’t use statistical data in their research? How can they possibly answer large-scale questions in a meaningful way without mathematics? Are they supposed to source anecdotal accounts when over-reliance on anecdotal data is a well known logical fallacy?

Here’s yet another example of intersectional encroachment on academia:

“..disrupting space imperialism by ‘queering’ outer space.”

This guy is a PhD candidate at Memorial University in Newfoundland. Someone apparently told him that space anthropology was a real thing since, you know, there’s so many humans currently in space. Even more absurd are his claims that queer folk have a superior capacity for imagination, as if their inability or unwillingness to conform to societal norms regarding sexuality has somehow endowed them with special creative powers.

There are usually a few common themes associated with academics who do this kind of work. One of these underlying themes is that they are almost always intersectional feminists. Intersectional feminism is the mainstream regarding sociology and gender studies. It’s not an outlier. It’s not fringe. Intersectional feminism is also an ideology that is exported to other realms of study.

So, what is the criticism of intersectional feminism?

It’s an academic ideology that pushes pseudoscience in a desperate attempt to be recognized as being as credible as an area of study such as quantum mechanics. This, in turn, harms the general cause of science which is to attempt to explain the world in a demonstrably rational and replicable way. Intersectional feminism is free ammunition for people who are anti-science that they can, in turn, use against the rest of the community in order to poke holes in the credibility of scientific findings.

However for all its controversy, intersectionality has helped to eliminate the racism, homophobia, transphobia, class-ism and able-ism present in earlier strains.

Please observe the following prediction:

These problems will never be solved to the satisfaction of intersectional scholars. Why? Because if they were, these people would be out of a job. For more on why social activism is a business rather than a movement, you can read my argument in another answer that I’ll link below:

Josh DiGiorgio’s answer to What are your thoughts on The Good Men Project’s gendered approach to cheating?

This is the same reason that so many of these academics put the bulk of their work behind internet paywalls. Research is a business. These problems might be solved in the near future, but these solutions won’t be acknowledged by intersectional scholars who need to make a living.

There’s a lot more to write about this subject, specifically the effect of intersectional ideology on the enactment of legislation in westernized nations. We could also talk about Marxism and how it’s being pushed through an intersectional lense. I’ll stop right here though, and present this as a starting point.

Shane Werstan

Non-Feminist Egalitarian

Others have provided some good answers, but I think their points are more criticisms of third wave feminism in general. As far as I’m aware, there is really only one criticism that applies to intersectional feminism specifically:

Intersectional Feminism co-opts other causes to bolster the flagging validity of its own.

Feminism as a whole is a dying ideology, one need look no further than the dozens of online polls to see that this is true. Even the Huffington Post, a liberal, pro-feminist, online ragsheet “news” source, acknowledges this.

Poll: Don’t Call Me This (Even If It’s True)

Intersectional Feminism co-opts other causes in an attempt to reverse this trend. Now one could argue that this is a step towards a more egalitarian version of feminism, which is a good thing. However, intersectional feminists co-opt these other causes and adopt them as a subset of the feminist cause. That is to say, that take an issue like racism, and apply it using the feminist model, using it to show that black women are disadvantaged as compared to white, and then to claim that this proves sexism.

I would not wish to discourage any feminist from broadening their worldview, intersectional feminists really do need to take off the feminist lens before looking at other issues. It skews their perception, and leaves them blind to realities that don’t conform to the preconceived expectations. They need to learn to look at things objectively, and to judge causes by their own merits, not by how much they can be made to look like a feminist issue.

My answer applies to western feminism. Feminism in the east is facing an entirely different situation, and I am not familiar enough with the specifics to make a fair analysis of it.

My view is that feminism should simply be known as women’s rights and nothing more. Women’s right movements in the past did not really succumb to ideology like feminism had in later years. Poor women, women of color, women in developing countries, etc would already be represented in any woman’s rights movement so in my opinion there’s no need for intersectionality.

Feminism has definitely become more ideological with each subsequent generation, and that has been problematic and is what’s leading to its current scrutiny. Intersectionality just adds more problems to an already problematic movement-ideology. I already disagree with progressives on race issues so to me intersectionality just adds more problems to an already controversial movement-ideology.

LGBT issues are another thing that irk me as a liberal. What I mean is that I don’t agree with the concept of LGBT itself. Whether many progressives want to hear this or not LGBT issues are not as interconnected as they think, something I’ve touched on several occasions.

I can agree with the core notion of intersectionality, but only when it’s relative to each cultural hegemony. Example: America has a white, Christian foundation behind it so it’s obvious that being a straight white cisgender male would be the easiest type of person to live as. However, this changes in each culture and in some cultures it can be Christians or whites that are subjugated instead. However, even considering my latter point, I’m still not entirely sure I agree with many progressives on how to address social justice issues.

I’d support feminism if it was just a woman’s rights movement without the dogmatic ideology. Now with intersectionality we have a multitude of ideas I previously did not agree with merged with another: Nazbol madness. Intersectionality has not only contaminated what should be a woman’s rights movement, but it has also made it more difficult to address different issues in any meaningful way by creating a conglomerate. It’s also exacerbated the let’s blame the white cis gender male for all of the world’s problems mantra, creating more division.

I find this question very vague. Apparently it is about intersectionality, but then OP Tom Ramsay offers some suggestions in a comment on the question, and for most of them I can’t really see how they relate to intersectionality. And other answers to this question come up with similar things and name problems that don’t relate to intersectionality, and talk about “third wave feminism” (I still don’t have a clue what that term even means) instead of intersectionality in particular.

I mean, sure, women feeling entitled to benevolent sexism and justifying it with feminism is objectionable, but what does it have to do with intersectionality? Corporate feminism is pretty bad, but what does it have to do with intersectionality?

If anything, some of these problems listed can be attributed to too little intersectionality. Intersectionality often means more nuance instead of a binary oversimplified classification into oppressors and oppressed, because it acknowledges that power is complex, situational and dynamic, an oppressor can be a victim (and might become an oppressor because they are a victim). Intersectionality is a counter to sweeping generalizations like “all people from demographic X have experienced Y and think Z about issue W”, because it acknowledges that people from demographic X have very diverse backgrounds and have just one property in common. Intersectionality is a counter to misandry.

A frequent objection to feminism is that many feminist analyses of male experiences and gendered power dynamics don’t take class differences into account. That’s insufficient intersectionality, not too much intersectionality. If anything, we can have a discussion about the idea of intersectionality and compare it to its actual implementation in practice, and maybe make a point that in practice the focus on class discrimination (compared to other axes of discrimination) is disproportionally low. But that’s not a problem with intersectionality per se, that’s a problem with its implementation.

Is this really a question about intersectionality or is it a broad, vague question along the lines of “name anything you don’t like about feminism these days” (no matter how heterogeneous feminism is) that just slaps the label “intersectional feminism” on it because intersectionality just happens to be a comparably recent idea that functions as a pars pro toto scapegoat for anything else in feminism that people perceive to be a recent development?

Well. I am aware of one criticism of intersectionality that is actually about intersectionality, and it is the flip side of the above-named acknowledgement of complexity, namely the idea that if you acknowledge more and more complexity and nuance because in theory there are infinite oppression axes, and every issue can be infinitely explored and analysed further and further where you take more and more demographic background and nuance into account … then you’ll never come up with a conclusive result. Then every single analysis and theory is incomplete and imperfect.

Basically, intersectionality is not pleasant for people who feel uncomfortable with ambiguity and open questions and who feel more comfortable when a final decision is made. And arguably, when you go from theorizing to taking action, you’ll need some conclusions. At least preliminary conclusions.

For instance, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper has a problem with it:

We are told that if we accept intersectionality – which we ought to – then we also ought to accept a radical form of identity politics that says we can never generalize from people’s particular experiences, can never legitimately speak for any one other than ourselves, and where personal narrative and testimony are elevated to such a degree that there can be no objective standpoint from which to examine their veracity. This is an unattractive – indeed, an incoherent – picture of what politics should be like, which followed through to its logical conclusions is entirely self-defeating. And as we are sold this vision of politics as part of the intersectionality package, if we can’t accept it we are told that we must reject the intersecting oppressions story too. But this is a mistake.

Starting from the uncontroversial idea that our identities are comprised of many different elements, resulting in complex, possibly unique experiences of oppression for each individual, comes the quite plausible sounding claim that each individual is the best judge of her own experiences. Given that we all have these multifaceted identities and experience multiple and intersecting forms of oppression, each person is likely to be best placed to recognize and understand the oppression she faces. I think this is likely to be true, or at least, most of the time, we should assume it to be true. And if we believe that, then we ought to pay close attention to people’s testimonies, listen carefully to oppressed people, and let them use their own voices to share their experiences and understandings of the injustices they have faced. This is all very sensible and attractive. Any attempt to eradicate injustice and improve the lives of oppressed people ought to begin by listening to those people and learning from their experiences.

But this desire to listen to oppressed people’s testimonies and respect their particular experiences, although motivated by only good intentions, often seems to lead to a wholly counterproductive and self-defeating approach to politics that can’t offer any practical guidance, and can’t do anything to make oppressed people’s lives any better. Listening to people’s stories is important. But if it is to have any value, besides satisfying people’s desire to be heard, then we need to do more than listen. We need to be able to generalize from those stories to more abstract principles, which then inform our action and guide policy. Particular experiences and personal testimonies are of political importance because they can help to illuminate general principles; they cannot trump those general principles.

The reason for this is that there is no way to make sense of concepts like oppression or injustice, unless we understand them as having some objective criteria – that is, criteria that determine whether an action oppressive, independently of how it is experienced by those subject to it. If it did not – if oppression was entirely a matter of whether or not a person feels they have been oppressed – then there would be no way to distinguish between action that is oppressive, and action that I just don’t like very much. And clearly, when people claim to have been oppressed, they think they are saying something different, and more compelling, than merely “I don’t like this”. There are lots of things people could do (or refuse to do) to me that I wouldn’t like very much. I might like to win the lottery, or to borrow your car. We can all agree that the fact I would like to get these things but don’t get them is not oppression, no matter how strongly I might feel about it. And when I say I am being oppressed by something you do, I believe I am saying more than just “I would have liked you to do this”; I believe I am saying, “I have a right to this, and you ought to do it”. And the fact that you ought to do it does not depend on how I feel about it, or on the fact that I would like you to do it; because if it did, there would be no difference between you oppressing me, and you not lending me your car. As soon as I claim to be oppressed, I am appealing to some objective criteria of oppression, criteria that are independent of my subjective feelings and interpretations.

Of course, we still need to determine what those criteria are. And listening to people’s narratives and experiences will be very useful here, for any plausible account of what oppression is presumably needs to fit reasonably well with our intuitions and considered judgements about what oppression is like. These criteria need not be set in stone – they can be open to constant revision. And (hopefully) obviously, the dialogue where we determine what these objective criteria should be needs to be open to as many different voices as possible, especially those who have typically been marginalized and oppressed. But ultimately, we need to try to come to a set of objective criteria about what constitutes oppression. And once we do, then we can use these criteria in specific cases to judge whether a particular claim to be oppressed is correct or not. This leaves open the possibility that the person who feels oppressed may in fact be mistaken. While she may feel strongly and in good faith that she has been the victim of oppression, this is not sufficient for it to be true that she has. She may well have been; but this is determined objectively, independent of her experience, interpretations and feelings. So therefore, it is at least possible for people to be mistaken about their own oppression. Trying to ensure that our beliefs about oppression and injustice are as objective as possible is essential, and I do not mean to deny that less oppressed people frequently fail to recognize the ways in which their beliefs about oppression are clouded by their own unchecked and unacknowledged privilege. In real life politics, this is by far the bigger problem facing social justice activists – people in positions of power and privilege frequently fail to examine the ways in which their privilege has shaped their views abut what justice and oppression are. Without a doubt, people with privilege have much to learn from the voices and experiences of the oppressed. My point is simply that the knowledge they gain is only of use if it informs general and objective principles that guide future political action.

The problem with some versions of intersectional identity politics is that, in elevating subjective experience above objective knowledge, they dissolve the possibility of making coherent, meaningful claims of injustice or oppression at all. On this logic all complaints are reduced to an expression of one’s personal preference or feelings, with no way to distinguish genuine injustice from mere dislike. If we want to hold on to the concepts of injustice and oppression, and if we want them to have real political weight and to signify actions and practices that need to be altered, then we have to understand them as having objective criteria that are defined independently of how any individual experiences them. The intersectionalist demand to attend to people’s narratives and to learn from people’s experiences can, at its best, shed a great deal of light on difficult concepts like oppression and injustice, and help us to understand the forms they take and the remedies they require. But at its worst, it descends into solipsism and narcissism, where we mollify oppressed people with the consolation that they are being listened to, but where we and they ultimately lack any resources with which to end their oppression.

The problem elaborated in this post is probably a consequence of what happens if you take the attitude that you shouldn’t ever make generalizations like “all people from demographic X have experienced Y and think Z about issue W” to its extreme. You don’t end up with theories, you end up with a lot of chaotic data without structure.

(Also, she raises a very interesting point about whether oppression is objective and whose authority decides whether something is oppressive, but that’s another matter.)

I have a slightly different take on this – I believe you can get very far without a clear definition what constitutes oppression – but I see her point.

I would curious to hear SPECIFICALLY how it has done those things, but that is not the point; there are many criticisms of third wave feminism.

First, feminism was a movement about closing the gap between male and female rights and opportunities, in regards to women. All of this “feminism plus” stuff does not work towards that. Essentially, third wave feminism co-opts feminism, because it is easier to hijack a movement than start a new one.

Second, third wave feminism is full of unscientific, nebulous, and even illogical ideological concepts. For example, “the patriarchy”.

Third, third wave feminism is based around perpetuated literal lies. For example, the gender wage gap.

Fourth, third wave feminism pressures women into lifestyles that negatively impact them. Since the 1970’s, women’s happiness and life satisfaction has steadily declined and is now lower than men’s, whose hasn’t changed.

Fifth, third wave feminism has adopted a “”with us or against us” mentality where anyone who is not in lock-step agreement is branded as “mysoginist”, “sexist”, or, in the case of other women, “having internalized mysoginy” (which denies women the agency to think for themselves). This has led to normal people coming to oppose feminism, because they have been branded as these things despite knowing it’s not true.

Sixth, third wave feminists say one thing and do another. Feminists will claim “feminism means gender equality”, yet anyone who believes in gender equality but not any of the countless other concepts in third wave feminism is then attacked. Despite meeting the supposed definition of feminist. Less than 25% of women in the US now identify as feminist, despite 85% believing in gender equality. This alone shows that feminism has lost its way and women know this.


From what I understand of intersectional feminism, it doesn’t address the core flaw within feminism – it still presumes men are privileged.

Recognising that a black gay poor man has disadvantages for being black and gay and poor is one thing, but if it’s still assumed that a black man is more privileged than a black woman, that doesn’t make feminism particularly well-equipped to address male-specific problems (since it largely downplays or trivialises them) and in my view at least means intersectional feminism is still misdiagnosing the root causes of sexism.

My answer history has already preached a lot about how “misandry is the beginning of the process, misogyny is the end” so I won’t repeat it all here. Still, misogyny rests on male obligation to women, and that misogyny will never be effectively tackled until that expectation of male obligation to women is addressed. Expecting male obligations to disappear once we tackle misogyny is putting the cart before the horse, only not as viable as putting a cart in front of a horse because horses can push.


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