Bikes, Haircuts, & Lenses: the Fluidity of Intersectional Feminism


Harini Narayan is a Student Staff member at the Women’s Center. She is an MLLI major and is currently a co-facilitator of the Women’s Center’s discussion groups, Between Women. 



The lyrics, “I am woman, hear me roar!,” made history thanks to singer Helen Reddy, lending an amazingly catchy slogan to the movement of women’s rights. The phrase itself is innocuous, associating strength with femininity. Girl Power and the Future is Female are other popular slogans adopted by modern-day feminists (these examples are literally lifted from shirts that I own) with the goal of empowering their users.

Empowerment is like a haircut: the styles that suit people largely vary, and not everyone prefers what looks conventionally attractive.


A huge issue with modern-day feminism, or the Second Wave, is the Westernized perversion of what liberation looks like. This concept is commonly dubbed, “white feminism,” and usually consists of white women enforcing standards of equality centered solely around their status while simultaneously disregarding the privilege afforded to them by their race. This type of indirect discrimination is often not purposeful, but can be a product of ignorance. When people do not consider the varied lens through which others experience the world, they do not consider the effects of multifaceted identities on marginalized people’s perspectives. Intersectional identities overlap like different colors, creating new ones through these combinations. If sexual identity and ethnicity are the colors red and blue, respectively, then the intersectional identity they create would be purple. However, when those representative colors are not alike between individuals, confusion arises: one person’s purple identity can be misidentified by someone who does not see both blue and red; to someone who cannot see blue, red is the only identity that is recognized. Building bridges toward intersectionality begins with understanding this concept of different lenses. No two people have identical sets of lenses, but that does not invalidate the existence of lenses unlike our own. I may not have a blue lens to mix with my red, but perhaps my intersectional identity is represented by orange, made by the same red with my unique yellow. What makes an inclusive feminist is a person’s ability to recognize and validate the identities that are unlike their own and respect cultures to which they might not belong or even understand.

Upon reading the phrase, “Forcing opinions about religious head coverings on female and nonbinary Muslims,” what do you imagine? Is it a man forcing his wife or daughter to wear a hijab, or is it a “free the nipple” Westerner telling her/them to take it off and conform to their idea of freedom? White feminism is very exclusionary and, more often than not, is also subtly cissexist and racist. It’s what decrees that all Muslims that choose to wear head coverings must be oppressed, because why else would they do that? It can’t possibly be their own choice. An intersectional feminist, Muslim or not, would be able to understand that freedom from oppression lies in the ability to make decisions for oneself.  

Exclusionary logic undermines women under the guise of liberation: it implicitly creates a preconception of what freedom looks like. Objectively, housewives that choose their own lifestyle are every bit as empowered as a female CEO. The power lies in the freedom to make such decisions for oneself. Making the assumption that a woman can’t be free unless she emulates men in mannerisms, occupation, or lifestyle perpetuates misogynistic stereotypes that only further the stigmatization of feminism. The concept of “white feminism” is overtaking a movement that is supposed to represent equity over equality.



The concept of equity vs. equality is pictured above. Equality is everyone receiving the same exact bike, even though only one person of the four can ride it comfortably. Equity, on the other hand, is everyone receiving something catered to their individual needs for a result of all four people being able to comfortably ride their own bikes.

Perception of women is an equity vs. equality issue, as well. Empowerment is not a one-size-fits all concept, but rather it is the readily available option to live on one’s own terms, without answering to stereotypes or discrimination. Empowerment should mean nobody looks down on nurses, teachers, or homemakers, as if their occupations are unworthy of respect because they are female-dominated fields. For some women, empowerment is Helen Reddy’s, “I am woman, hear me roar!” but for some, empowerment is quiet and unassuming. Power comes from the ability to make a choice, and to have that choice be respected.


For more information on the concepts discussed, here are some resources!

September Knowledge Exchange Roundup: A Voter Resource Guide


Student staff member Hannah Wilcove provides a recap of the semester’s first Knowledge Exchange

Last week, we had our first Knowledge Exchange of the Fall 2018 semester. With the midterm elections coming up in November, our overarching theme for these Knowledge Exchanges is political and civic engagement. The topic for this Knowledge Exchange was knowing your voting rights, and over the course of the event, we talked about the history of the fight for the right to vote, some of the reasons people don’t vote (such as gerrymandering and voter suppression), and issues of accessing information. We also did an activity to demonstrate the overly-strict matching standards some states use to maintain their voter rolls, and discussed the accessibility of political engagement in the United States as well as stories of feeling encouraged or discouraged from voting. For people with family and friends that are active in politics, it can be hard to think that there are people who don’t know how to vote, but the truth is, seeking out that information can be difficult and time-consuming. From this conversation, the need for a voter resource guide was born.  

Side note: This blog is meant to be a general resource, and election laws vary by state, which means it’s hard to cover all the complexities and variations. Because so many people at UMBC are from Maryland, that’s what my examples will cover, but if you want more detailed information about a specific state, I encourage you to look up your state’s name and the information you’re looking for (ex: “Virginia voter registration deadline”).

  • Registration: The first step in voting in the United States is registration. Unlike some other countries, voter registration in the U.S. is not automatic. So if you’re not registered to vote and you would like to be, take 2 minutes to register here. Make sure to do that before your state’s voter registration deadline, and if it’s passed, check whether or not they have same-day registration (you can do all of that here). In case you didn’t know, Maryland’s voter registration deadline is October 16th, 2018 at 9:00 pm. One thing we focused on in our conversation was voter suppression and the fact that many people–including active voters–have been purged from the voter rolls in recent elections. If that’s something you’re concerned about, you can take 30 seconds to double check your registration status here.nu1110_vote
  • Voting Method: So you’ve got your registration all worked out; now it’s time to figure out how you’re going to vote. Depending on your situation, you have a few different options. If you have some time on Election Day (Tuesday, November 6th), then you can go the traditional route: go to the polls, wait in line, and vote. However, that option won’t work for everyone. If that’s the case, fear not. Maybe you have some time before Election Day, but not on that Tuesday. If that’s the case, you should look into early voting. The details vary by state, but here is a link where you can look into which states have early voting (Maryland does), and here is a calendar that tells you when the early voting period for each state is. If that still doesn’t work, you can look into absentee ballot. With absentee ballots, you don’t have to go to the polls because you just mail in your ballot. This is a great option for people who don’t have reliable transportation, but note that there are two downsides to doing this. The first is that absentee ballots aren’t counted unless the difference in other votes is close enough to warrant it (i.e. if Candidate A is 100 votes ahead of Candidate B, and there are only 20 absentee ballots, those 20 votes won’t be counted because they won’t change the outcome), and the second is that you don’t get a sticker. Still, you shouldn’t assume that your vote won’t be counted, so if absentee voting looks like the best option for you, then check out your state’s rules for it here. Just like early voting, the deadlines around absentee ballots vary by state, so take a look here at what your state’s deadlines are.computers-clipart-confusion-7
  • Action Plan: Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to vote, the next step is making an action plan. This might seem like overkill, but given the craziness that is life, an action plan can help you make sure that you don’t forget to vote or run out of time on election day. So what do you need to know? If you’re voting via absentee ballot, then you just need to make sure that you apply for your ballot and send it in by your state’s deadlines (links are in the above section). If you’re going to the polls, either during early voting or on Election Day, then there’s a little bit more to it. First, you need to figure out where your polling place is, so you can actually go there. You can use this link to find your polling place, but the most reliable method is to use your state’s board of elections website (a list of those is provided on the linked page). For early voting, there may be fewer polling locations open, but you can use this website to find out the specifics for your state and county (you just click on “early voting” under topics and your state, and voila). With these sites, you should also be able to find the specific hours that your polling place is open. Lastly, once you figure out where and when you’re voting, you just need to figure out how to get there. If you have access to a car, then that’s taken care of, but if not, have no fear. If you can’t get a ride from someone, check if your polling place is accessible by public transportation. If so, look up the schedule and make sure that there’s a time you can get there. Not the case? Not a problem. The rideshare company Lyft is offering 50% off rides to the polls on Election Day. For UMBC students, SGA is providing free transportation to early voting in six counties across the state, which you can learn more about here.action
  • Research: You’re all set; you know how you’re going to vote and when, and you’re ready to head to your polling place and vote for…oh, right, you actually need to know who’s on the ballot and what they’re running for. At our Knowledge Exchange, we talked about how hard it can be to figure out all the details because, frankly, not everyone has the time to do that kind of extensive research. The good news is that there are people who have already done some of the work for you. If you need to know what district you’re in, you can use this website if you live in Maryland (just click on the button that says “who represents me” at the top right), and this one if you don’t. The League of Women Voters also has a great tool on their website where you can enter your address and see all the races on your ballot, learn about candidates’ backgrounds, and compare their answers to various questions. For all you Maryland folk reading this, The Baltimore Sun has a voter guide just for you, with comprehensive bios, questionnaires, and articles about each candidate running for elected office in our state.


  • Tell your friends! Now you’re really all set. If you want to increase the voter rate in the U.S., then one of the best ways to do so is word of mouth! As I’ve said before, it can be difficult and time-consuming to figure all this out, but now that you’re basically an expert, you can help your friends work through it. Plus, with all the links right in front of you, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; just share this guide with your friends to make voting a little more accessible.


Further Reading:

  • A video about gerrymandering that we played at the Knowledge Exchange
  • An article that lists and describes 12 current methods of voter suppression (note that this article does have a clear slant, however it does a great job at explaining each method)
  • A webpage by the League of Women Voters that has several articles about current efforts to combat voter suppression and increase voter turnout