I Know What the Caged Bird Sings

Understanding the Intersectional Approach towards Gendered Violence

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The material collected in this ‘Gender Hub’ illustrates how important it is to bring a gender lens to understanding radicalised violence. However, gender is not the only marker of identity which impacts upon how people will experience the world and their place in it. Amongst the people we identify as ‘men’, ‘women’ or ‘trans’, there are differences and varied experiences of oppression as a result of other facets of identity. Kimberle Crenshaw famously captured this important idea with the concept of ‘intersectionality’, which adds a vital dimension to further illuminate gender analysis.

The word intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, an American lawyer, civil rights advocate and activist in her paper “Mapping Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence” to explain the multiplicity of power relations through which women of colour suffer “multiple forms of exclusion” (Crenshaw, 1991) . She later on extended this concept to all the vulnerable groups who are the target of different kinds of intersectional exclusions by commenting that “not just black women, but people with disabilities, immigrants, LGBTQ people, indigenous people.” (Crenshaw, 2017)

If we are not intersectional, some of us, the most vulnerable, are going to fall through the cracks
By Kimberle Crenshaw

By exploring the dynamics of violence and disempowerment she made intersectionality a dynamic lens to see and understand the “othering” of marginalised groups. Intersectionality breaks through the politicization of survivors’ experience by bringing the hidden details to the fore. Crenshaw divided intersectionality into three parts which are as follows:

1. Structural intersectionality

Structural intersectionality refers to the social intersection of power relations that create a “matrix of domination”. Some examples of the structural intersectionality are access to employment, housing and wealth benefits. According to Crenshaw, the factor of class plays a big role in perpetuating structural intersectionalities.

2. Political intersectionality

The concept of political intersectionality refers to the political bifurcation of two subordinated groups that frequently pursue conflicting political agendas. The need to split one’s political energies to pursue different agendas can disempower one of the two conflicting objectives. The example of political intersectionality could be seen in the intricate interlocking of gender and race for the women of colour who were torn to fight between patriarchy and racism.

3. Representational intersectionality

Representational intersectionality takes places through the distortion of representative images of a group in order to undertone their complexity. A potent example of representational intersectionality is the early representations of feminism only representing feminist struggles for an isolated “housewife” and a complete negation for the women of colour and working class women are were not housewives/mothers.

4. Experiential intersectionality

This is quite similar to political intersectionality but here the struggle is personal where there is a constant tussle of various intersections of experience. People who are a member of more than one social group often fail to decompose their experience of being a member of each. As an example, the experience of being a ‘third world woman’ is not just the experience of being from a third world and hence “a colonized slave” but also the experience of being a woman who is also shacked in the internal patriarchy of her indigenous tribe. The experience of third world women is a proper compound of two or many more experiential intersectionalities.

Patricia Hill Collins further extends this concept and calls it a ‘‘matrix of domination” and advances a practical approach towards intersectionality in her book “Black Feminist Thought” (1990). The book argues explicitly that intersectionality is not just a form of inquiry and critical analysis but necessarily also a form of praxis that challenges inequalities and opens a “collective space for both recognizing common threads across complex experiences of injustice and responding to them politically” ( Collins, 2014 in Ferree 2018).

She further explains that people who are at the intersection of various power struggles often struggle with the complexity of their lives. In this scenario, intersectionality comes as a dynamic form of politics that resists and questions violence both physical and symbolic. Violence according to Collins acts as a “navigation tool” in naturalizing dominance in society. Different organization of power rely on different forms of violence like the interpersonal violence that women experience in terms of domestic abuse (sexism), Islamophobia toward Muslims, extermination towards Jews (religious intolerance), the routinized violence against racial and indigenous communities (racism), and the state-sanctioned violence of warfare (nationalism). Collectively, these expressions of violence create a “malleable conceptual glue that both structures the forms that violence takes within distinctive systems of power and that facilitates their smooth interaction” (Collins year). Therefore, violence breeds a contentious site of intersectionality where power relations become potent and visible. To resist this domination, Collins further shows how intersectionality also acts as a way of engaging with resisting. The example of hashtag #BlackLivesMatter from 2012 to 2016 exemplifies the proliferation of Black feminism which blew the façade of the state-sanctioned racial violence. This intersectional struggle brought problems like deaths of several young African American men and sexual assault on African American women to the fore and they acted as a catalyst for a strong intersectional revolution on the social media. Therefore, intersectionality is both a tool to access vulnerability and also a weapon to fight and resist. In order words, it makes us understand that “different things make different women vulnerable” (Crenshaw, 2017).


  1. Bauman, Zygmunt. 1989. Modernity and the Holocaust. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  2. Hill, Collins Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000.
  3. Collins, Patricia Hill. 1998a. “It’s All in the Family: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Nation.” Hypatia 13 (3): 62–82.
  4. Collins, Patricia Hill. 1998b. “The Tie That Binds: Race, Gender and U.S. Violence.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 21 (5): 918–938.
  5. Collins, Patricia Hill. 2001. “Like One of the Family: Race, Ethnicity, and the Paradox of US National Identity.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 24 (1): 3–28.
  6. Crenshaw, Kimberlé Williams. 1991. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43 (6): 1241–1299.
  7. Crenshaw. Kimberle Williams. 2017. Different things make different women vulnerable. The African American Policy Forum. Accessed on 21st January. Article Link