A Hollywood Masterclass In What Intersectional Feminism DOESN’T Look Like

A few days ago, the LA Times posted an article about a meeting of Hollywood ladies where they decided to have some real talk about inequality in the industry and the struggles that women face.  This meeting happened at Sundance, and ended up having a somewhat raw exchange about the challenges women working in the industry face and intersectional feminism.

So, can you do something for me?  Read that LA Times article first.  Now, take a minute to note your feelings and reactions to the exchange.

Ready?  Next, read this piece by Jordan Kauwling about the exchange that was published on Very Smart Brothas.  Now, take a minute to note your feelings and reactions to the critique to the exchange.  And compare the two.  Because this, what Jordan Kauwling did, is what intersectional feminism in practice looks like. It means having the backs of women like Jessica Williams and recognizing that, however well-intentioned Salma Hayek may have been, she was Not In The Right on this one.  Salma seems incapable of recognizing  how her statements suggesting the amount of choice available to women who experience oppression from the outside world are so SO influenced by the incredibly privileged and rarified position she holds.  And she seems to have absolutely no idea how condescending her tone seems when she lectures using the diminutive “baby” over and over again and directs Jessica to make eye contact with her.  That is, without reservation, fucked up.

And Shirley?   Shirley, who I have loved?  Shirley, who fought her own feminist battle when Twentieth Century Fox screwed her out of a movie where she was going to star as a rad, Civil-War-era feminist and abolitionist; instead Fox tried to argue she should be happy settling to play the love interest in a western?  Shirley, who had no problem playing the victim (plaintiff) when she sued in court.  But now, dear Shirley seems to have forgotten herself.  I couldn’t help but think of the recent Kate McKinnon skits about women in Hollywood, where she plays the aging actress who thinks everyone who is talking about rights is being too demanding because everyone should be cool rolling with sexual harassment and unequal wages and such, because that’s just the way it is and.  I’ll echo Jordan’s question, what does “find the democracy inside” even mean?

But back to the intersectional feminism.  Jill Soloway gets it right.  People need to be really listening when women of color and women in the LGBTQ community are talking.  We need to be prioritizing those voices.  Because they bear the brunt of inequality most regularly and most acutely.  The rest of us need to not get defensive when we flub it.  We need not to pull a Salma and go into lawyer mode.  And by lawyer mode, I mean using questioning and exchange to try and defend one’s point, rather than to truly listen, learn and understand.  We need to be allies to those women who may be getting shouted down and talked over, and use our own voices to make space for the marginalized voices to be centered.  But we also need to be careful not to “other” those voices by forcing them to be the voice for all women of color, for all queer women.  That’s unfair too.

Jessica Williams is incredible — super smart and SUPER funny (if you aren’t listening to Two Dope Queens, get with it and you’re welcome).  Salma and Shirley have also made incredible contributions and have helped shatter ceilings themselves.  The point is, though, that doesn’t make them immune.  The work to get intersectional feminism right, and to check our unconscious / implicit biases, is one that imposes constant demands for everyone.  But especially for those of us who benefit from privileges that others don’t (e.g. my race, class, gender presentation, and sexual orientation) — we have to work the hardest.


Katherine Kimpel

Kate Kimpel is the Senior Editor of Shattering the Ceiling and is also an accomplished civil rights lawyer. She represents women and people of color in discrimination cases (and other kinds of employment and civil rights matters).  When not lawyering, she likely is bragging about her hound dog Ulysses, inventing cocktails to serve at her next dinner party, or convincing her husband to watch reruns of a Joss Whedon television show (any of them will do). 

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