Displacement through Feminist Reconstruction of Diverse Legal Norms

Dr. Jackie F. Steele

Emerging from a different strand of feminist thought grounded in the disciplinary thinking about anti-discrimination doctrine as it relates to legal rights enshrined in law, constitutionalism, and court precedents, rather than within political philosophy, feminist intersectional analysis or intersectional feminist strategies emerged from the dialogue between feminist legal theory, feminist critical race theory, and feminist law reform movements working to overturn narrow legal interpretations of diverse women’s rights, notably in the United States and Canada. As coined by American scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in her 1989 article “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” the term “intersectionality” was launched to give a name to the multiple intersections of women’s exclusion. In the same year, in Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race, and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms, Canadian feminist critical race scholar Sherene Razack (1998) further problematized the logic of intersectionality with her concept of “interlocking systems of oppression” informing women’s subjectivities and experiences of race, class, colonialism, mother tongue, sexual orientation, and/or disability (See also: Carastathis, 2008).

Watch this video by Kimberlé Crenshaw on the Urgency of Intersectionality


Within practitioner spaces, signaling the complex forms of marginalization and denigration of women, feminist legal and political theorists as well as feminist research and social justice movements (Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women [CRIAW], 2006; Grillo, 1995) have continued to probe the concept of intersectionality over the last two decades. Sharing Canadian scholarly and practitioner applications of intersectionality in Japan for over two decades, I offer literacy tools in English and Japanese, as well as executive workshops on “Intersectional Thinking” for corporate and public policy leaders.

Postmodern (deconstructive) diversity feminism chose the rejection of the concept of “women” and all legal categories as monolithically oppressive. By contrast, intersectional reconstructivist feminisms opted for an explicit displacement of white, middle-upper-class women as the “norm” of feminist theory-activism, and a re-centring and reconstruction of diverse womxn’s intersectional experiences of inequality as the political and legal category around which intersectional feminist organizes. Be it through feminist research methods, feminist institutionalism, feminist legal analysis and policy activism or feminist law reform movements, all have worked to realize an intersectional coalition politics in favour of democratic equality and freedom for diverse womxn and more recently, in explicit solidarity with diverse men as well.

Womxn (defined)

Womxn: a woman. A term used within intersectional feminism, as an alternative spelling to avoid the suggestion of sexism perceived in the sequences m-a-n and m-e-n, and to also signal the recognition of diverse gendered identities and the normative inclusion of trans-women and individual women who identify as nonbinary.

Through this contestation of diverse women’s thought leadership and variants of democratizing feminist change agency, and with this robust competition of ideas seeking the realization of the promise of democratic equality for all women, the binary concept of sex/gender has been blown open, squarely displaced and then normatively reconstructed around the concept of intersectional privileges and oppressions/inequalities as the new “normative lens” through which to structure all citizen-subjects within the democratic community. This has made conceptual and discursive space for the necessary recognition of the complex diversities of all women’s, men’s and non-binary individualities and for the fuller range of experiences of complex inequality due to multiple, intersecting fault lines of historic power and oppression, liberty and disenfranchisement.


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Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Jackie F. Steele is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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