For this year’s annual symposium, the Association for Women in Architecture + Design has chosen the topic of Intersectionality. We realize that some may not be familiar with the term, and may not see how it relates to design and the built environment. The term intersectionality theory was first coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989.
“…intersectionality is not easy. It’s not as though the existing frameworks that we have - from our culture, our politics or our law - automatically lead people to being conversant and literate in intersectionality. Intersectionality draws attention to invisibilities that exist in feminism, in anti-racism, in class politics, so obviously it takes a lot of work to consistently challenge ourselves to be attentive to aspects of power that we don’t ourselves experience. I think that the same kind of openness and fluidity and willingness to interrogate power that we as feminists expect from men in alliance on questions of class should also be the expectation that women of color can rely upon with our white feminist allies.”
What is Intersectionality?
Intersectionality is a tool that allows us to think about systemic oppression in a broad context and emphasizes individual’s experiences in an effort to understand privilege and power. Further, intersectionality requires that we understand that the combination of these factors produce a unique, substantively different experience of discrimination rather than an additional burden of discrimination.
What does Intersectional Feminism have to do with Architecture and Design?
Intersectionality in architecture and the built environment disciplines is not just about the politics of recognition. As a framework for architectural advocacy, intersectionality is about the compound issues of inequity and discrimination that plague the profession. We practitioners have a collective responsibility to take action toward practices that are inclusive, egalitarian, and socially just. With sensitivity to differences of gender, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin, race, class, age, ability, sexuality, immigration status, religion, etc., we can transform dominant power relations, and build alliances and networks to revolutionize the profession responsively, reflective of its practitioners. Intersectionality includes feminist practices, which emphasize interconnectedness to redistribute power and work for the collective good, not just the individual.
How does it affect us as women in the profession?
Intersectionality also places emphasis on collaboration, cross-disciplinary exchange and cooperative interdependency. Women have always succeeded in alternatives to normative forms of practice (by necessity), making significant contributions to the built environment. Embracing and acknowledging these allied diverse practices is an essential part of intersectionality. An intersectional approach demands that we recognize the different types of discrimination as points of overlap or as coming together at a point of intersection. The goal is not to show how one group is more oppressed than the other, but to recognize where we have similarities and differences in our experiences of discrimination, and to work to build within- and across-group solidarity.
The Association for Women in Architecture and Design’s mission is to advance and support women in the allied fields of architecture and design. We encourage and foster high levels of achievement by providing educational programming, mentoring, and illuminating career opportunities for students and professionals in these fields. We cultivate awareness of the value and advancements created by our profession.
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