Intersectional feminism encouraged during Women’s History Month

By Jenni Kallenback, Assistant Features Editor

Many people have been paying increasing attention to the language used to refer to people in relation to feminism and LGBTQ+ activism. For example, the words “womxn” and “Latinx” are gaining popularity. Beyond language, many people point to the need to focus more on intersectional feminism by centering on the stories of trans women and women of color.

“The use of the ‘x’ in the term women is part of a long feminist history of tinkering with language to disrupt heteropatriarchal norms and practices,” Gender and Women’s Studies assistant professor Emma Velez said.

The ‘x’ is meant to take the words “men” or “man” out of “women” and “woman,” and some people use it to be inclusive of trans people. However, there is debate on whether it’s inclusive.

People also use an “x” in Latinx to disrupt the gender binary in the Spanish language. Velez taught a Latinx feminism course in fall 2020, and she uses the “x” because of what it signifies rather than for linguistic reasons.

Velez pointed to poet, essayist and scholar Alan Pelaez Lopez’s understanding of the “x” in Latinx in Lopez’s piece “The X in Latinx Is A Wound, Not A Trend”. According to Lopez, the “x” signifies the prevalence of femicides in Latin America, the oppression and violence that trans and nonbinary people have faced in Latin America and colonization that imposed a gender binary on Indigenous peoples.

“The ‘x’ can grant visibility to these issues that are particularly faced by women and femmes, but particularly trans women and femmes of color,” Velez said.

However, Velez warned of the performative allyship that can happen when people use this language without making efforts to support these communities.

Velez said she saw the need for more intersectional feminism that both highlights the activism and work of trans women and femmes of color and amplifies their stories.

“In the history of feminist organizing, there’s been an appeal to a universal experience of being a woman, and we have to grapple with that history when we’re grappling with Women’s History Month or International Women’s Day because a lot of these events have arisen out of white feminist organizing,” Velez said.

Maggie S., senior in LAS, said there needs to be more support and focus put toward Black trans women and femmes who have historically led and established intersectional feminist efforts.

“One issue I’ve been focusing on in my research is extending the definition of feminism to include more people. I think right now it’s really exclusive to cis white women still, and historically has been that way,” M.S. said.

M.S. said that the origins of adding ‘x’ or ‘y’ in the word ‘women’ come from trans-exclusionary radical feminists who believe women are only women if they are born female. Thus, M.S. said this modification of the word is not inclusive or effective as a feminist practice.

“One thing that’s important to consider is how has our history of women been taught to us,” they said.

M.S. also said that the contributions of Black women and Black trans women are not embedded in women’s history curriculums, and that the only way to learn about them is to actively seek them out. They also point to the importance of community building in feminism.

“The work of feminism shouldn’t just be placed on cis women. It definitely needs to be placed on men as well, and everyone involved in that process because you can’t really handle those power dynamics if you’re not tackling it from both sides,” they said.

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Maggie S.’s pronouns. Maggie S.’s correct pronouns are they/them. The Daily Illini regrets this error.