Gender inequalities and intersectionality

04 April 2022

Previous blogs in this series have looked at gender inequality, how safe women and non-binary people feel in public spaces, what other systems fail women and non-binary people, and what can drive positive change. This blog considers intersectional issues.

Introduction

Gender is not the only unequal power structure that impacts on women and non-binary people’s lives. We all have intersecting characteristics which are subject to discrimination or hostility. Experiences such as racism, homophobia and ableism add to the adversity faced by women and non-binary people and can entirely change how we experience our gender and what expectations we face.

Dealing comprehensively with all the ways that gender intersects with other power structures is impossible in a short blog. We instead look at three different characteristics that impact on how gender inequality is experienced.

Racism and sexism

Race, like gender, is a social construct that creates structures of privilege and power. It adds another layer to the experience of sexism faced by women and non-binary people of colour.

Biased attitudes and beliefs about Black people and Black femininity can manifest into racially motivated misogyny. This differs from misogyny faced by White women and is described as ‘misogynoir’, a term coined by feminist American academic Moya Bailey in 2010. Two core stereotypes create the landscape of misogynoir in the West.

First, is the idea that Black people have animalistic traits; are stronger, more ‘wild’ or uncontrollable. An example of this bias translating into hate was when a Conservative official was suspended after sharing a photo on Twitter depicting Labour MP Diane Abbot as an ape wearing lipstick. This ideology creates the caricature of the ’angry Black woman’ or the ’strong Black woman’ which translates into structural inequalities and harmful bias-driven outcomes. For example, healthcare professionals are thought to subconsciously assess pain thresholds differently between Black patients and White patients. Black women are also more likely to die during childbirth which may be partly due to racial bias in healthcare.

Secondly, is the hyper-sexualisation of Black women stemming from the Jezebel stereotype from the Jim Crow era in the USA. This contributed to the justification for sexual violence, slavery and dehumanisation of African people. The shadow of this stereotype remains in popular culture and media today. Hyper-sexualisation stemming from racial stereotypes affect other women, and non-binary people, of colour. The Orientalism trope which brands East Asian women as submissive and ‘exotic’ and the stereotype of ‘mail order brides’ from East Asia each paint a dehumanising, objectifying image of East Asian women.

These stereotypes position women of colour in an extremely harmful light which can affect the way in which they are perceived, believed, and treated. Therefore, these issues must also be considered in mainstream feminism and conversations around gender inequality.

Disability and safety in public spaces

Disabled women face the same gendered othering processes as discussed in blog 4, but they also have to contend with ableism, which ‘others’ people with a disability. One consequence of this is that they face higher rates of harassment and sexual assault (5% versus 2.8% for non-disabled women).

The murder of Sarah Everard heightened fears of attack, particularly for those whose disability might mean they do not hear someone approaching them from behind. Disabled women may feel pressure to hide their disability, in case attackers perceive it as a vulnerability.

Strangers frequently touch or grab disabled women, in public without consent, using the excuse that they are ‘helping’ with a task – even when no help has been asked for. Dr Amy Kavanagh  started the ‘JustAskDontGrab’ hashtag to encourage people to re-think how they approach assisting disabled people in public.

Perpetrators of harassment use mobility to exert their power, attacking in situations where they are more mobile than their target – for example, harassing people on the street from a vehicle. When public space is designed in a way that limits disabled people’s mobility, they become more vulnerable to these tactics. Disabled victims of harassment also find that they are less likely to be believed when they do speak out about incidents, because ablest beliefs mean that they do not fit the image of a ‘typical’ victim. 

Harassment and sexual orientation

There are clear links between the hyper sexualisation of LGBTQ+ people and their experience of sexual harassment.

We live in a cis-heteronormative society that still seems to fear any form of queerness, which contributes to stereotypes that LGBTQ+ people are hypersexual and predatory. For example, gay men and trans women are viewed as predators, lesbians are fetishized by hetero men, and bi- and pansexual people are assumed to be promiscuous. These inaccurate and offensive stereotypes are dangerous because they contribute to the othering of LGBTQ+ people which is linked to an increase in violence, harassment, sexual assault, social exclusion, suicide, and self-harm . Furthermore, they generate a distorted understanding of gender relationships which can influence the extent to which violence and harassment within the LGBTQ+ community is understood among society (for example, same sex and homophobic rape is often ignored or denied) and rates of reporting.

Survey data highlight that LGBTQ+ people report significantly higher rates of sexual harassment than heterosexual people. For example:

  • 42% of heterosexual people, 64% of LGBTQ+ people, and 80% of trans people had experienced sexual harassment in the last 12 months.
  • 72% of heterosexual people, 86% of LGBTQ+ people, and 92% of trans people had experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime.

LGBTQ+ people are also more likely to worry about the risk of sexual harassment in their place of work, study, indoor and outdoor public spaces compared to heterosexual people. Yet, only one third of LGBTQ+ people would report an incident due to fear of being outed or not taken seriously, or assumptions that the process would be too stressful or embarrassing.  Nearly half (46%) of all LGBTQ+ people believed their sexual orientation was directly linked to the harassment they experienced (compared to 8% of heterosexual people). 

Summary

Unequal power relationships form the basis for all of these issues, and if we want equality, we must be focused on dismantling all of these intersecting harmful power structures at the same time.

Gender is important, but if we only consider gender, we miss the experiences of most women and non-binary people and will only make progress for a small minority. All of us, and particularly those of us who benefit from one or more of these unequal power structures, need to be equally focused on eliminating all forms of marginalisation in order to achieve a fairer future.  

This blog was co-authored by Mohasin Ahmed, Mairi Young and Katharine Timpson.

Read the first blog in this series on gender inequalities.

Read the second blog: Women have a right to the city

Read the third blog: Women’s public safety is a health issue

Read the fourth blog: Systemic failures contributing to gender inequality

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About the author

Mohasin Ahmed Public Health Practitioner Specialist

Contact
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Mohasin is a Public Health Practitioner working on the Common Health Assets research project to develop and deliver a Lived Experience Panel. This Panel will run in parallel with the research process to bring ongoing community expertise to the research design, methodology and interpretation of results.

She has a MA in Public Health from the University of Glasgow, and has various experiences working and volunteering with grassroots community organisations in Scotland. Her academic interests were related to racial inequalities and ethical issues in Public Health, which led her to research COVID-19 vaccine attitudes in South Asian women, living in Scotland, for her MPH dissertation.

Mohasin also works for an independent advocacy organisation with people who have lived experience of mental health issues, from LGBTQI+ and BAME communities. Her experience working with those with lived experience comes from a passion for helping to raise the voices of those from marginalised communities and her own experiences of belonging to marginalised communities. 

Read all articles by Mohasin Ahmed