One of the major issues with intersectional feminism is its emphasis on eroding the barriers between the public and private spheres. This is best summed up by the phrase “the personal is political”, originally used by feminists of the second wave to encourage a debate about women’s place in domestic life. However, taken to its logical conclusion, this creates a poisonous identity politics in which certain identity markers, such as race, gender, or sexuality, define one’s ability to speak on a particular subject.
Moreover, intersectionality blurs the distinctions between a person’s ideas and their identity. When all aspects of your life are politicised, it is easy to believe that any criticism of your ideology is an attack on your person. Adopting this mindset leads to overreactions to even the most casual of discussions, something I have anecdotal experience of on campus, both first- and third-hand. Further evidence of this can be seen in the profligate over-use of the term ‘violence’ to describe types of speech, eroding the meaning of the term when applied to actual physical violence.
More perversely, this intellectual authoritarianism is couched in highly disingenuous language. Strangling one’s own right to free speech is presented as a simple act of respect and kindness, and I think it is extremely unlikely that you reading this article have not experienced at least one conversation along those lines during their time at Warwick. But denial of free speech is never respectful. Free speech is one of the fundamental values underpinning our society and to throw it away to protect certain individuals from offence is both short-sighted and highly dangerous.
To be a full adult citizen of a Western country you must be able to hear ideas that run contrary to your own, without demanding that they are silenced
You cannot have it both ways. If the personal truly is political, then all aspects of one’s private life are open to discussion without restriction. Of course, a more sensible idea would be to acknowledge, in the classical liberal tradition, that your private life is just that: private. It is not anyone else’s business. This means you must also recognise the right of everyone else, including those you consider to be privileged, to free speech unencumbered by ideas of oppression-based hierarchies.
The denial of free discussion is also an act of bigotry towards supposedly oppressed groups. To be a full adult citizen of a Western country you must be able to hear ideas that run contrary to your own, without demanding that they are silenced. To argue that certain groups should be protected from this infantilises and patronises them to the point of discrimination. To anyone holding real beliefs of human equality, this kind of pandering is abhorrent.
A second serious problem with intersectionality is its insistence on attacking the basics of human biology. For instance, the oft-repeated phrase ‘there are no differences between the genders’. Here, intellectual honesty demands that we distinguish between the concepts of sex and gender and defend the fact that everyone is born with XX and XY chromosomes that do not ever change, with the exception of some people afflicted with genetic conditions that result in them being born intersex. The vast majority of people fall neatly into two sex categories, not at points along a spectrum. While everyone should be free to live as they want personally, one’s behaviour does not change the biological fact of whether you are male or female. While the notion of gender should be debated, the nature of sex is more set in stone.
The erosion of the idea of sex also creates a serious logical contradiction at the heart of intersectionality.
The erosion of the idea of sex also creates a serious logical contradiction at the heart of intersectionality. To attempt to deconstruct the notion of sex, as opposed to just gender, fundamentally undermines the dysphoria of many who are transgender. These dysphoric feelings stem from biological causes, and attempting to ignore this by regarding the sexes as identical would be dismissive of the struggle that transgender people have. Moreover, to deny any differences in sex deprives transgender people a meaningful transition in their personal lives.
I can’t emphasise enough my strong belief in radical individualism and the freedom of all to live as they please. However, to try to institutionalise speech codes and attack basic biological facts is the opposite of individualism. It is a highly dangerous kind of collectivist authoritarianism.