Margins of Marginalisation: The Nuance of Intersectional Equity
TYLER PUGH | OPINION PIECE
The Graduate Inequality Review, Volume II (July 2023)
Our social structures appear to be crumbling at the hands of those trying to maintain them. From Black Lives Matter to #MeToo modern social movements are catalysing critical conversations about inequalities in our societies, and the silent realities of many are being pushed into the light. Yet, are we truly progressing towards a better, more equal world?
It can be argued that the social pressure to combat inequality has, unfortunately, itself created inequalities. With the #MeToo movement, for example, while it empowered women to share their experiences with and reaffirm the commonplace of sexual assault and harassment, men who concurrently shared their own experiences were often met with responses rooted in homophobia and toxic masculinity. Importantly, to say that the #MeToo Movement was ill- conceived or poorly executed would grossly underappreciate the impact it has had on women sharing their stories. However, while sexual violence itself is deeply rooted in patriarchal social fabrics, when the foreground of the movement is predominantly white, cis-gendered women, it is difficult to decipher what resources are truly for all. When actor Terry Crews spoke up about his sexual violence experience on social media, the attention he received did not centre or celebrate his bravery (Vanity Fair, 2018). Instead, he was questioned: “Why didn’t you fight back?”, “You’re bigger than he is, don’t men just roughhouse?” They silenced him: “This isn’t sexual assault.” Social media is not the sole perpetrator of this phenomenon either. Academia, research, and support resources have defaulted to gendered pronouns to address sexual assault and have flooded the literature with female-only documentation, describing perpetrators as male andcreating pamphlets directed towards “women of any background.”
In describing experiences as exclusively gendered, society invalidates the reality of those on the margins of marginalisation. Research indicates one in 33 men will experience sexual violence (RAINN, 2021). While this proportion exists at a different scale to that of women’s one in four--a ratio which justifies female-only spaces and movements that uplift their voices--it is an incomplete statistic, as it does not account for the men whose perception of sexual assault isskewed by the “female-only” narrative written by the #MeToo movement. Although Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo, has been outspoken about the platform being an inclusive movement free from gendered language, it is clear, through discourse surrounding male survivors, that for some individuals, adversity must wait for its turn to speak.
This disparity is not uncommon, from bisexuality being marginalised in LGBTQ+ discourses to mixed-race people feeling displaced in conversations on racism, our society silently ranks adversity to parse through whose voice actually matters. I argue that such a system disallows those caught in the cracks of well-intentioned movements from feeling validated,counterintuitively perpetuating inequalities we’re actively working against.
This is not to say that these spaces and experiences are not important. Organizations like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have amplified stories to an international scale and forced us to reconcile the still-existing inequalities that plague every aspect of our communities. Further, it is both normal and necessary for those in the majority to receive attention and care first. Similar to the triaging of a hospital waiting room, those with the most serious injuries should always be deemed most urgent. This piece is not arguing for an abolishment of such a “social triaging” rather a more holistic approach to the process, one that includes all patients in the figurative waiting room rather than only those most urgent.
Our next steps as a society must be ones grounded in empathy and intersectional awareness. In our efforts to create a more equitable world, we must remain conscious of those across the full spectrum of adversity. In practice, this would manifest in holding space for men in conversations about sexual violence or biracial people in panels on racism. It can look like acknowledgement of male rape while holding seminars exclusively for female-identifying survivors. More importantly, these movements must be accompanied by those in the minority of the marginalized, interviewing male survivors or biracial activists. In expanding the representation of such a platform, you expand the definition of how adversity presents itself. Conclusively, the societal step presents two dichotomous realities existing in an “and” rather than an “or”. Men andwomen experience sexual assault, gay and bisexual people experience homophobia, black and biracial people experience racism. These realities are not mutually exclusive. While the severity of adversity may differ, the adversity itself still remains.
In our advancements towards equality, we have seen fissures of inequality spread, cracks unacknowledged and slowly growing. Our social triaging has only provided us with dialogue across the majority. Yet, the marginalisation of the margins has disallowed equality to truly exist. It is only when we combine well-intentioned movements with the awareness of those on the margins that we can truly catalyse the betterment of everyone.