The term intersectional feminism was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to highlight how different dimensions of oppression – for example sexism and racism – interact to create an experience of oppression which is not just quantitively, but qualitatively different from “just” sexism, or “just” racism. Intersectional feminism is a growing current in academic and activist feminist circles and a defining feature of third wave feminism. But while it aims at broadening feminisms scope to address issues faced by all women, it still remains too close to academia and theory too often. In her book Hood Feminism, Mikki Kendall takes intersectional feminism to the hood, to the streets and into the home.
Kendall provides an important reminder that feminism starts with survival and safety and shows that “leaning in feminism” (the idea that women need to act more like men to become CEOs and then the patriarchy will magically disappear) and similar movements only cater for a very small, privileged group of women – that, whenever another glass-ceiling is shattered, it is usually other women who clean up the shards. Kendall’s main focus are basic needs, which, she argues, need to be treated as an essential feminist issue. Only once we have shelter and are freed from hunger – or fear thereof – can we turn our attention to other social and political issues. Too often, she writes, the women who have the resources and the time to become voices or faces of the feminist movement are too far removed from situations of need and fail to register the pressing nature of these issues. Too often, the movement’s focus is not on guaranteeing the health and safety of many, but rather on increasing privileges for the few.
The chapters in Hood Feminism read like mini-essays about issues such as living wages, guaranteed health care, food insecurity, equal access to education and domestic violence. She interweaves anecdotes of personal experience into her social criticism. While addressing grander social issues, Kendall always relates them back to marginalised groups, and to black women in particular. The fact that Hood Feminism draws more on personal experience, than on statistics and scientific research does not take away from its importance – rather, it is key to it. Research and theory are important to an extent, but we cannot lose sight of what feminism actually is about: actual women and their lived experiences. I would say, however, that the integration of the personal aspects in this book is not always perfectly executed. At times Kendall seems to drift off, and her attempts to relate the anecdotes back to her political statements can get slightly clumsy and repetitive. There are a few moments when the argument loses its focus. And yet, I would highly recommend Hood Feminism to everyone in need of an introduction to intersectional feminism. And even those already well-versed in the subject matter will benefit from Kendall’s more personal approach to feminist politics.