Cross Roads at Intersectionality with Gender Identity – A Tibetan feminist perspective

Our multicultural society at large is so diverse that we struggle to define or identify people in categories. We are all taught not to judge others, and treat others the way we would like to be treated. However, in practicality it’s often the case that due to the lack of information about others, we depend on stereotypes of their communities and practice racial profiling. In most cases we look directly at the physical features of a human being to try an guess their identity. We approach them in the manner that fits the definition of our very own standards – the unconscious bias. One common struggle of inequalities appears when we judge others by their gender. Intersectionality has been accepted by many feminists as being a key to understanding the gender divide that exists in our society.[1] Race, nation, gender has been amongst many other factors that assist in categorizing people into objects of commodities accessible for judging and positioning. The fact is even women don’t believe that all women want the same equal rights because everyone has their own priorities that follow their social surroundings and their beliefs and values in their individual personal lives.

What we fail to realize is that many people are so inter racially linked now that only the dominant traits appear in their physical features and we cannot define them properly or even fully define ourselves. All that knowledge however does not come forward in our consciousness when we use just our eyes to define others. Perhaps it is meant to be that people shouldn’t be approached differently based on their physical appearances – which often times leads us to manipulate their identity in small categories.

“Since critics first alleged that feminism claimed to speak universally for all women, feminist researchers have been acutely aware of the limitations of gender as a single analytical category. In fact, feminists are perhaps alone in the academy in the extent to which they have embraced intersectionality—the relationships among multiple dimensions and mo- dualities of social relations and subject formations—as itself a central category of analysis. One could even say that intersectionality is the most important theoretical contribution that women’s studies, in conjunction with related fields, have made so far.”[2]

The United States Census Bureau estimated that just in California alone 6,798,406 people are currently mixed with two or more races.[3] Surely it would be very difficult to define all these people based on just their physical traits and it would take ages to find definitions that they would all comply to.

Understanding intersectionality is a necessity in understanding our own identities. We believe that our identity is meant to express ourselves. Thus, when others decide to do it for us, we feel a discomfort of forced or coerced silence. A simple factor of acknowledgement would be that an individual’s social identities profoundly influence one’s belief based on their experience of gender.  It’s important to look into their surroundings, and acknowledge their individual wishes to define themselves on their own terms without being coerced into categories of subjects. The mere factor that there exists so many forms of identities within each individual should be a major underlying factor in the feminist movement’s attempt to unify all women rights into positions of consideration for change – In compliance and agreement to the right priorities that women deserve ofcourse.

When Melanie M. Hughes, a PHD candidate at Ohio State University did a study on “Complications at the Intersection: Overcoming the Challenges of Cross-National Research on Minority Women’s Legislative Representation”, she stated that “Differences such as race, ethnicity, religion, and language not only impact women’s identities and interest, but form intersecting social hierarchies that shape women’s access to power.”[4]

In Ella Shohat’s article “Dislocated Identities”[5], she shares her personal experience of having to choose between two of her identities in order to serve the purpose of the war that had taken place. Shohat describes the syncretic identity that formed within her as an Arab Jew in the United States.  Shohat’s priorities to her womanism might not be the same as Mimi Nguyen; a Vietnamese American carrying a load of history with her physical appearance in the United States. Ngugen talks much about how “everything changes when she travels”[6] because of the perception of her identity defined by the “othering” factor.

Though Ella Shohat and Mimi Nyugen both share similar feminist ideals in wanting equal rights for women their priorities are separate than mine.  China occupied my country, Tibet in 1959 – forcing my grandparents to escape into exile. Though I have this opportunity to excel in education and various other professional fields in this free country, I have also lost a lot of my traditions, my culture and my history back home and often feel dissembled within my own small community of Tibetans. Though I am an advocate for equal rights, I will not use all the rights handed to me for I want the choices in life which work to identify my authentic individuality.

In the end, it is our determination to have various choices in our life that portray our personal accountability and responsibility for our actions without the feeling that YET AGAIN we have become victims of oppression. Instead we must take on the role of survivors who will work for progress of choice for women and men all over the world while promising that we will not make the choices for them. Instead, we owe it as a universal responsibility to all mankind to advocate for others rights! The right to make their own choices in their personal inhabitant that fits their personal surrounding identity – as with ourselves.

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1)      McCall, L. “The Complexity of Intersectionality.” SIGNS -CHICAGO-. 30. 3 (2005): 1771-1800. (Online); http://www.rochester.edu/college/psc/news/intersectionality_readings/mccall.pdf

2)       U.S Census Bureau, “M0207. Percent of the Total Population Who Are Two or More Races”. U.S Census Bureau. 11/29/2009

http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/ThematicMapFramesetServlet?_bm=y&-geo_id=01000US&-tm_name=ACS_2008_3YR_G00_M00633&-ds_name=ACS_2008_3YR_G00_&-_MapEvent=displayBy&-_dBy=040#?126,262

3)      Grewal, Inderpal, and Caren Kaplan.  Gender in a Transnational World.”Dislocated Identities”; Ella Shohat, pg 440; Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2006.

4)      Hughes, Melanie M. Politics at the Intersection A Cross-National Analysis of Minority Women’s Legislative Representation. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, 2008. (online); http://sociology.osu.edu/people/mmh/APSA_paper.pdf

5)      Grewal, Inderpal, and Caren Kaplan.  Gender in a Transnational World.”Viet Nam: Journal/Journey”; Mimi Nguyen; pg 435, Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2006.


4 thoughts on “Cross Roads at Intersectionality with Gender Identity – A Tibetan feminist perspective

  1. Pingback: Cross Roads at Intersectionality with Gender Identity – A Tibetan feminist perspective | tangnyom

  2. Lekshmi Sasidharan

    Thank you Shakya, this article was very useful for me for one of my seminars. It was very informative and your writing style is very interesting. Hope you come up with other such articles….

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