Gender & Society in the Classroom: Intersectionality

Organized by: Kyla Walters, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Updated by: Linda Gjokaj, Oakland University

Intersectional feminist scholarship moves beyond issues solely focusing on gender and sexuality in order to address the complex realities that we embody and experience. Race, ethnicity, class, nationality, age, ability, and other dimensions of difference or social locators do not exist apart from gender and sexuality. Instead, these aspects of individual identity, interpersonal relationships, social institutions, policies, politics, and cultures intersect to form myriad experiences and power arrangements. In pursuit of greater understanding of multiple perspectives and increased social equality, we must examine the most salient social locations in a given case or study.

Flippen, Chenoa A. 2013. Intersectionality at Work: Determinants of Labor Supply among Immigrant Latinas, Gender & Society, 28 (3) 404-434.

This interesting piece by Flippen uses the intersectionality framework to examine how legal status, labor market position and family shape the labor supply of Latinas in Durham, North Carolina, which is a new immigrant destination. The author uses data from a local, representative survey of Latino immigrants and interviews in Durham/Chapel Hill metro area. The initial survey, conducted between 2001 and 2002, included 209 women between the ages of 18 and 49. In 2006 and 2007, an additional 910 were interviewed, for a total sample size of 1,119 women. The author shows, for instance, that Latina women’s position in the economy constrains their labor supply. For example, human capital (e.g., education) does not translate into significant gains in labor market participation. English language skills and time work better at shaping whether women work and work full-time. However, legal status and family status are disadvantage for immigrant Latina’s labor market experiences. This is a good article to introduce to students because legal status and national origin seem to be an important piece in the intersections framework, and this study also cuts across other important arenas – family and work, and transnationalism. 

Lépinard, Éléonore. 2014. Doing Intersectionality: Repertoires of Feminist Practices in France and Canada, vol. 28 (6): 877-903.

Lépinard applies the intersectionality framework to women’s rights organizations, looking to see if and how this concept has been adopted by various women’s rights organizations.  Doing qualitative and quantitative data analysis, the author draws from interview data with activists working in various women’s rights organizations in France and Canada. The author demonstrates how intersectionality is used and understood by these organizations (how they fail and succeed with the intersectional challenges), which she calls repertoires, as a way to understand the social experience and the political interests of women in various intersectional positionalities. There are also national differences across France and Canada that bring in notions of citizenship and immigration. This is a great piece for addressing issues in social movements and academic versus activist understandings of concepts relevant to both groups. 

Bahati, Kummba, M. 2002. “You’ve Struck a Rock”: Comparing Gender, Social Movements, and Transformation in the United States and South Africa. Gender & Society 16(4): 504-23.

Women civil rights and anti-apartheid activists endured and organized against multiple forms of oppression within the broader social movements in their respective countries. Bahati compares primary and secondary sources from antiracist movements in the US and South Africa. In using a gendered lens of racial justice and liberation social movements, the author examines the structural and ideological ways gender intersects with race and class to shape activist opportunities, experiences, and outcomes. African/Black women occupy unique social locations in society, shaping their experiences and their perspective of oppressive systems. It follows that these women of color also occupy unique and important positions within social movement organizations that dominant narratives often overlook. 

Moller, Stephanie. 2002. Supporting Single Mothers: Gender and Race in the U.S. Welfare State. Gender & Society 16(4): 465-84.

Moller’s quantitative analysis measures black-white racial disparities in welfare generosity single-mother families received in the continental U.S. This study looks at amounts of welfare given to single-mothers at three intersections of the U.S. welfare state: 1970, 1980, and 1990. The U.S. welfare system is split into two basic tiers, a system subject to much feminist and class-based sociological critique. Moller moves these critiques forward in two important ways. Firstly, she looks at the American Families with Dependent Children Act (a second-tier welfare program) payments to single-mother families using quantitative measures. Secondly, she asks how welfare policies play out in patriarchal ways with intersections of racism and classism, showing that gender, race, and class locations converge to form different treatment for black mothers and for white mothers. Findings show that single-mother families received uneven support from welfare programs across the three time periods. White single mothers enjoyed higher levels of welfare support than black single mothers. These findings support previous arguments that state policies institutionalize racism and perpetuate white privilege. 

Kang, Miliann. 2003. The Managed Hand: The Commercialization of Bodies and Emotions in Korean Immigrant-Owned Nail Salons. Gender & Society 17(6): 820-39.

Kang’s ethnographic study of six New York City Korean-owned nail salons provides insight into the intersections of gendered beauty service work, race, and class. Building on Arlie Hochschild’s (1983) concept of emotional labor in service work, Kang conceptualizes how service workers not only perform certain kinds of emotions and feelings for customers but also how workers perform body labor. Body labor, a concept broken down into three types, connects gendered work to racial and class aspects of physical and emotional services customers expect and receive. Nail salon workers touch and talk to clients as part of their job. But the types and amounts of these physical and emotional interactions and services vary by the luxuriousness of the salon and the class and racial status of regular customers. The differences between high-service body labor, expressive body labor, and routinized body labor reinforce structural and ideological notions of differences between women. 

Duffy, Mignon. 2005. Reproducing Labor Inequalities: Challenges for Feminists Conceptualizing Care at the Intersections of Gender, Race, and Class. Gender & Society 19(1): 66-82.

Using U.S. census data, Duffy identifies and examines two different conceptualizations of care work from an intersectional perspective. The way we define care work shapes how apparent and problematic we understand the racial and class inequalities within this labor force. Care work’s central characteristic is the dependency of care receivers (like children, disabled people, the elderly). The nurturance conceptualization of care work focuses on the emotional and relational aspects of the work. The reproductive labor framework considers the service activities of care work as well as the emotional and relational aspects emphasized in the nurturance conceptualization. Duffy traces the historical evidence of racial divisions of reproductive labor, which include occupations in the service sector. The expansion of reproductive labor to include service sector occupations allows us to see the racial stratification of these forms of labor, which are largely performed by working-class black women. Findings suggest that using the nurturance conceptualization of care work excludes large numbers of black and poor women. 

Andersen, Margaret. 2005. Thinking about Women: A Quarter Century’s View. Gender & Society 19(4): 437-55.

Andersen provides a thorough overview of feminist sociology, advocating for an incorporation of power, historical, and structural analyses in studies of gender and sexuality. Gender and sexuality, however, cannot and should not be extracted from the web of social locations (or flavors or whatever metaphor you prefer) in which they exist. This intersectional view understands gender as a piece of larger puzzles of social realities including race, class, sexuality, and nationality. This theoretical perspective allows us to conceptualize how gender (and other locators) shape symbols, interactions, structures, and other social phenomena. This article analyzes central debates in feminist sociology, giving helpful background information alongside detailed critiques. These key focuses of feminist scholarship include structure and agency, power, sexuality, intersectionality, and inequality. Everyday realities, privileges, hardships as well as diverse experiences and practices form a social world chock full of complexities for us to examine. 

Hanser,Amy. 2005. The Gendered Rice Bowl: The Sexual Politics of Service Work in Urban China. Gender & Society 19(5): 581-600.

Using ethnographic fieldwork collected in three urban Chinese retail settings and interviews with various service workers and retailers, Hanser explores how naturalized meanings or essentialized discourses of gender connote class distinctions on the sales floor. Grounded in historical and political understandings of Chinese gender, class, and service work, this article reveals how local ideals of femininity and sexual identity embody class status in retail work. Store managers seek and hire less sexualized, young, attractive women as service workers in luxury, privately owned stores. Their youthful bodies and nonthreatening, helpful dispositions help form a commercialized space that upper-class clientele find appealing and appropriate. Middle-aged, desexualized women work in state-owned retail stores. These women perform a femininity fitting with a pre-cultural reform socialist ideology valuing hard work (not youthfulness and attractiveness). Lastly, Hanser finds hyper-sexualized, less educated, young, attractive women working in the least prestigious retail markets. These women perform a lower-class coded femininity as they embody sexual and moral deviance and lack cultural capital to secure sales positions in luxurious stores. Importantly, Hanser connects gender and sexuality with class meanings as well as the service managers’ organizational practices producing social inequalities among female bodies in the post-Mao service sector. 

McGuffey, C. Shawn. 2005. Engendering Trauma: Race, Class, and Gender Reaffirmation after Child Sexual Abuse. Gender & Society 19(5): 621-43.

This article examines parental coping strategies with child sexual abuse using interviews with a racially and socioeconomically diverse sample of 60 parents. McGuffey finds that mother-blame is a consistent strategy parents employ to cope with the trauma ensuing their child’s sexual abuse. Mother-blaming involves reinforcing traditional gendered family dynamics, like women being primary caregivers and remaining outside of the paid labor force. Homophobic reactions are discussed in relation to normative performances of masculinity. The authors points out the ways race, class, and gender shape parental responses to child sexual abuse, noting that race and class shape familial expectations, makeup, and larger structural forces around the family. Women are negatively affected with gender reaffirming coping strategies. 

Harvey Wingfield, Adia. 2009. Racializing the Glass Escalator: Reconsidering Men’s Experiences with Women’s Work. Gender & Society 23(1): 5-26.

Building on the “glass escalator” concept of how men tokens enjoy advantages in women-dominated occupations, Harvey Wingfield argues that black men do not enjoy the same ride as their white counterparts. The author examines racialized aspects of the gendered mechanisms that move white men upward in traditionally female occupations that mitigate these effects for black men. These “glass barriers” include racist stereotypes about black men, acts of blatant discrimination, and white supremacist perceptions of occupation suitability. Another glass barrier involves black men as unwilling to dissociate from feminized aspects of their occupation, which points to a caring self that men of color adapt as a tactic to combat racial inequality and reject white hegemonic masculinity. These findings suggest efforts to promote equality in the workplace should combine undoing gender by blurring the boundaries between femininity and masculinity with upsetting systems of racial inequality that marginalize men of color. 

Bose, Christine E. 2012. Intersectionality and Global Gender Inequality. Gender & Society 26(1): 67-72.

In a symposium on the work of Patricia Hill Collins, Bose describes global approaches to intersectional scholarship. Intersectional research plays an important role in social policy worldwide, particularly useful because this lens does not pit oppressions against one another. Scholars may choose from a variety of interpretations of what intersectionality is and how to employ it methodologically. Bose discusses group-centered, process-centered, and system-centered practices of intersectionality. She argues that researchers can amend a system-centered approach to study salient intersecting inequalities within and across nations.