Intersectionality & Men’s Violence Against Women of Color

Intersectionality is a tool for analysis, advocacy and policy development that addresses multiple discriminations and helps us understand how different sets of identities impact access to rights and opportunities. Intersectionality is used to study, understand and respond to the ways in which gender intersects with other identities and how these intersections contribute to unique experiences of oppression and privilege. Association for Women’s Rights in Development

“Since violence is used to control women in patriarchal societies, it is important to understand the nature of patriarchy and its relationship to other forms of oppression such as racism, colonialism, heterosexism, etc. Violence against women of color is affected by the intersection of racism and sexism and the failures of both the feminist and antiracist movements to seriously address this issue.” Crenshawe (1994) Intersectionality, Identity Politics, & Violence Against Women of Color

“Analysis claiming that systems of race, social class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, and age form mutually constructing features of social organization, which shape Black women’s experiences and, in turn, are shaped by Black women” Collins (1990) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment 

Intersectionality is an essential component of any activism, advocacy, curricula, services, or trainings that are aimed at serving women and dismantling patriarchal structures of violence. Prioritizing and centering the experiences of Black women, Latinx women, Indigenous women, trans women, women with disabilities, Muslim women, immigrant women, undocumented women, and gender nonconforming individuals of color is singular in achieving progress through intersectional feminism. In order to address gender-based violence, we must recognize the unique barriers that women of different backgrounds face, as they are subject to multiple layers of oppression and violence.

An important application of intersectionality can be seen in the distinction between racial equality and racial equity. While “racial equality” has been traditionally used to refer to the goal of having egalitarian opportunities and rights for all individuals regardless of race, the term “racial equity” more clearly describes the actions that must be taken in order to ensure justice for communities that society has marginalized. “Equality” is associated with the concept of leveling the playing field, and “equity” states that more resources must be provided to those who need them due to historical and modern oppression. The term “equity” allows for the examination of solutions that are intersectional and that work to address the imbalance of privilege that exists in our society.

This image is a great visual representation of the difference between equality and equity. Intersectionality leads us to understand that equality does not fully address the issue, and that uniquely sized crates are needed to reach the same place. In noting ableism as well, ramps may also be needed.

Oppression and Gender Based Violence

Oppression is the systemic mistreatment of a defined group of people that is reinforced by society. This system of advantage enables privileged groups to exert control over targeted groups by limiting their rights, freedom, and access to necessary resources and social power. Oppression is built into societal structures, and oppressive behaviors and conditions often become normalized over time.

Women of color face the oppressive forces associated with sexism, as well as discrimination and violence that is motivated by racism. The oppression of women of color on the basis of gender is rooted in the patriarchy, which values masculinity and rigid gender roles. This system promotes the objectification of women, the dehumanization of nonbinary and genderqueer individuals, and the power to exert control over their bodies. Learn more at our Rape Culture page. Additionally, society and mainstream media often promote harmful racial stereotypes about women of color that lead men to fetishize and/or hyper-sexualize them, thus contributing to objectification and racism.

Systemic racism and the ongoing oppression of women of color due to race and/or ethnicity have multiple impacts on their safety. Instances of sexual violence and relationship abuse perpetrated by men against women of color, specifically Black and Indigenous women, are often ignored or dismissed due to racist biases.

Institutional/State Violence

Some examples of the effect of state intervention on women of color survivors include:

  1. The arrest of those very same women for experiencing relationship abuse, even when they were using self-defense
  2. Unwarranted removal of children from women who have been abused
  3. Prosecution of women survivors involved in criminal conduct (which is often part of the abuse by the abusive partner)

Sokoloff (2005) Examining the Intersections of Race, Class & Gender

“The patriarchal state’s initial preoccupation with women’s morality and decency is a form of institutional violence that makes women primarily responsible for the violence directed against them.”
Fregoso, R.L.(2006) The Complexities of “Feminicide” on the Border

Additional Resources