Hey SciComm, Intersectionality isn’t just a Buzzword

According to good old Wikipedia, intersectionality is “an analytic framework that attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society”

Which is a fairly hefty definition. For me, intersectionality has always been about understanding how the demographic groups different people belong to affect their lived experiences in intersecting ways.

Ever since I first heard the term, it’s stuck with me in a really visceral way because it has helped me to process my own intersecting experiences, feelings and outlook.

I’m a woman of colour. I have health issues that limit my energy and my time (and now as a freelancer, my income too). I spent part of my childhood on a council estate. I received free school meals as a kid. I went to northern state schools and neither of my parents went to university.

My experiences of sexism have always been coloured by race & religion. My health has always been impacted by sex and gender. My lived experiences are intersectional. When you try to put me in the same box as all people of colour or as all women in science, it just doesn’t work.

I don’t type the list above in an attempt to get sympathy or attention, but to begin to explain why the two-dimensional approach of so many Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) conversations is steadily exhausting me.

It’s why I want to scream when I hear about yet another conversation in which someone implicitly or explicitly told one of the Black or Asian men I know that we can only focus on race when we’ve solved the issues facing women in science.

It’s why I feel sick when yet another conversation about unpaid work turns to ‘well if you can’t afford to, you should just work and volunteer alongside it’. This simply isn’t an option for plenty of people with health issues or for many parents and carers  – nevermind the ethics of anyone doing it or having to do so.

It’s why every time someone tells me ‘we can’t focus on race while forgetting about class’ (usually in the context of Minorities in STEM, the network I co-founded) I want to challenge them to set up their own bloody network. For the record, I would truly love to see the SciComm equivalent of Museum as Muck but, as I’ve mentioned, I’m exhausted.

It’s why I was floored when I opened Twitter this morning and was faced with UNESCO marking International Women In Science day with this image which truly represents women in science all over the world, NOT. Heidi Gardner has written a brilliant blog about how angry this image made her which you should read.

I don’t have any easy answers, and I’m too tired to come up with solutions.

For now I’m going to ask that if you are behind equality, diversity and inclusion then start being more intersectional about it. Every single one of us has room to improve. I kicked myself for immediately noticing how white the UNESCO image was but not that all the women appear to be able-bodied.

So please, challenge yourselves and challenge those around you. We can be better.