In this episode, Holly Lawford-Smith reads her academic paper, The Metaphysics of Intersectionality Revisited. Lawford-Smith co-authored the paper with Kate Phelan, and it was published in the Journal of Political Philosophy.
Holly Lawford-Smith is an Associate Professor in Political Philosophy in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. She works in social, moral, and political philosophy, with a particular interest in feminism, climate ethics, and collective action. Most of her current research is centered on the conflict of interests between gender identity activism, on the one hand, and both women’s rights, and lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) rights, on the other hand.
In February 2021, she launched a website, www.noconflicttheysaid.org, that invites women to contribute anonymous stories “about the impacts on women of men using women-only spaces”.
In May 2022, she published her debut book titled Gender-Critical Feminism, which analyzes the new view of gender that has emerged in recent years an ‘identity’, a way that people feel about themselves in terms of masculinity or femininity, regardless of their sex.
According to Lawford-Smith, women are socialized to conform to norms of femininity (and sanctioned for failure), and masculinity and femininity exist in a hierarchy in which femininity is devalued. This view, she argues, helps us to understand injustice against women, and what we can do about it.
In this paper, The Metaphysics of Intersectionality Revisited, Lawford-Smith articulates some of the ways that intersectionality is being interpreted to the detriment of the women’s movement, and attempts to clarify the history behind the concept.
“The insights of early black feminists on this topic were original, imaginative, and important, and they pointed to an urgent gap in social justice-oriented theory and politics,” say Lawford-Smith and Phelan.
“Here we are not questioning their significance, but rather the way the concept of intersectionality has been taken up in contemporary mainstream feminism, both inside and outside the academy. The idea of ‘intersectionality’ has assumed enormous cultural importance, but is variously deployed in ways that seem far from what its originators had in mind.”