Intersectionality – but what does it all mean?

Intersectionality – but what does it all mean?

What does that term ‘intersectionality’ mean and how is it relevant to a campaign on ageism?

None of us is one thing. None of us live our lives in one dimension. I don’t live my life just as a woman, or someone from a different cultural and language background, or just as an older person. I live my life as all these things…and more.

Sometimes I may be stereotyped, devalued and discriminated against because of the personal characteristics I hold.  And sometimes when a few of those personal characteristics (for example, my sex and age) are viewed together, a different and new form of discrimination can emerge. The sum of the discrimination can be more than, and function differently, to the parts.  That’s intersectionality.

If I continually keep getting rejected for work is it because I am a woman, older or from a different background? Is it all three? How can I know? Chances are no one is going to tell me on which particular dimension(s) I was thought to fail to meet the requirements of the job (probably because it is against the law!). Yet common attitudes and practices towards all three aspects of my identity, individually and together, may ‘intersect’ to compound and reinforce each other, generating a whole new basis for discrimination and working against me getting that job.  

But my characteristics are not the problem.

Age is not the problem – ageism is.

Being a woman is not the problem – sexism is.

And having a different cultural and language background isn’t the problem – racism is.

Further, if I experience disability in my older age, I may be faced with the widespread stigma and stereotyping associated with having a disability (the problem of ableism).

And so it goes with different forms of discrimination and prejudice, such as homophobia and so on.

Life is complex – and so are we. Not all older people are the same. Taking a more nuanced view of how ageism may be experienced opens up new conversations and insights. There is no one way to age and there is no one way of experiencing ageism. That’s why intersectionality is relevant to EveryAGE Counts.

For an articulate and well-argued overview of intersectionality and older people in the time of COVID-19 check out this piece from AGE Platform Europe (from page 37).

To start a conversation about the intersection of ageism and racism check out this resource produced by our friends at Old School

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