Intersectionality, and I *heart* Nomy Lamm

It's cool when the reading you're doing for two of your classes runs together, isn't it? It is for me. In my Gender, Rhetoric, and Literacy class, we're reading selections from the anthology Available Means, including Nomy Lamm's essay, "It's a Big Fat Revolution." It just so happens that what Lamm's saying fits very well with this week's problematic in my Women's Studies class: Theorizing the Multiplicitous Subject, or Intersectionality. Here's my response to the texts ("The Combahee River Collective Statement," "The Impossibility of Women's Studies" by Wendy Brown, "U.S. Third World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Oppositional Consciousness" by Chela Sandoval, and "Notes from the (Non)Field: Teaching and Theorizing Women of Color" by Rachel Lee).

When I think about all the marks I have against me in this society, I am amazed that I haven't turned into some worthless lump of shit. Fatkikecripplecuntqueer. In a nutshell. But then I have to take into account the fact that I'm an articulate, white, middle class college kid, and that provides me with a hell of a lot of privilege and opportunity for dealing with my oppression that may not be available to other oppressed people. And since my personality/being isn't divided up into a privileged part and an oppressed part, I have to deal with the ways that these things interact, counterbalance and sometimes even overshadow each other. For example, I was born with one leg. I guess it's a big deal, but it's never worked into my body image in the same way that being fat has. And what does it mean to be a white woman as opposed to a woman of color? A middle-class fat girl as opposed to a poor fat girl? What does it mean to be fat, physically disabled and bisexual? (Or fat, disabled, and sexual at all?)

Nomy Lamm, “It's a Big Fat Revolution.”

The above quotation is a dramatization of the current problematic on theorizing intersectional identities. The Combahee River Collective brought this problem to the fore in the 1970s with their landmark essay stating that their own identities and loyalties were not reducible to gender and feminism, and that oppressions, particularly racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia, are simultaneous and multilayered. As a result primarily of the Combahee River Collective's statement, academic feminism began trying to theorize the multiplicitous subject and interlocking oppressions. Women's Studies departments began rethinking the curriculum to account for these issues as well. Wendy Brown takes such a curriculum revision as a point of departure for her analysis of the multiplicitous subject. Using the right to privacy to show that, legally speaking, individuals can be liberated or repressed depending on facets of the same identity (“woman” and “homosexual” respectively), Brown argues that Women's Studies has painted itself into a conceptual corner. In other words, because of the multiplicitous subject, gender is no longer appropriate as a fixed category or an object of study, and Women's Studies is no longer feasible as a discipline.

While Brown sees theoretical stalemates in theorizing the multiplicitous subject, at least in Women's Studies, Chela Sandoval advocates a “theory and method of oppositional consciousness,” a “tactical subjectivity” that “denies any one ideology [or identity] as the final answer” (p. 14). Sandoval's multiplicitous subject, working from a differential consciousness, is a mobile guerrila who moves through ideologies and identities freely, engaging one, then another, or several at a time. This move toward a tactical approach rather than a strategic one is considered political and pragmatic rather than theoretical and intelletual.

Rachel Lee sees a problem with Brown's and Sandoval's approaches. Both Brown and Sandoval approach power from a Foucaultian perspective, claiming that power, by way of discourse, both oppresses and produces subjects. Lee points out that feminist theorists must not ignore the top-down model of power. Lee argues that while it is tempting to indulge in the impulse to abandon the project of theorizing the multiplicitous subject and to embrace the idea of the multiplicitous subject as a mobile guerrila who has no territory and “is everywhere and nowhere at once,” these approaches ultimately get women of color nowhere, neither academically nor politically. Women of color must, according to Lee, claim privilege and institutional territory and “seek out the places that are haunted by ghostly presences not yet articulated” (p. 98).