TOTD: Feminist and Queer Theory: A Healthy Partnership

March 16, 2021 - Gigi Shannon

Feminism and queer activism may seem like separate social movements: one advocating for women and the other advocating for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community. However, like people, they are much more complex than that, and can be used together to advocate for everyone. Some people have even attempted to use this misunderstanding of who these movements are for to reverse the progress both movements have worked so hard to accomplish.

Queer theory and activism generally carry the theme of being against identity politics, that is, resenting the idea that rights should be fought for on the basis of one fixed identity. Queer theorists see identity, including gender identity, as being of a fluid nature (Barker, 2016, p. 28). Identities are something you experience, not a box that you’re put in. Queer theory also resists the idea of “normal” identities and embraces those that are traditionally othered. These traditionally normal identities are ones that are cis-normative, heteronormative, or neurotypical. Queer theory is representative of those who practice it in that it itself has no fixed identity or beginnings. There’s no linear history of queer theory as a concept (Barker 61). Because of this, it’s difficult to define if not speaking in general terms.

Feminism has a much more defined history which can be followed through the analogy of separate waves (which a queer theorist might in fact criticize for putting feminists into fixed categories). Here, I’ll focus on the intersectional feminism that our office advocates for in Women*s Student Services. This theory, which focuses on the complexities of individuals’ lived experience and how they’re effected by the simultaneous oppression of multiple identities (Patton, 2016, p. 30). Intersectional feminism incorporates intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, which is the notion that the intersection of two oppressed identities, particularly being black and a women, is more oppressive than both the racism and the sexism that person experiences (Crenshaw, 1989, p. 140).

These two theories can seamlessly work together, if you allow them to. One acknowledges that an individual possesses multiple identities, each influencing the other and how they shape the individual’s lived experiences. The other acknowledges the notion that an individual’s identity can change over time, and that many are abstract and socially constructed. Together, they reject the idea that oppression exists against one fixed identity in an individual.


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