Is feminism truly intersectional?





Amy Gray interviews Ruby Hamad

Ruby Hamad is QVWC’s keynote speaker for International Women’s Day. A prolific writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and SBS, she often appears on the Drum to give nuance and intelligence to the daily news.

Her intelligent writing offers an education into systems of oppression happening locally and abroad, from the food we eat, things we buy and races persecuted for their nationality and religion.

One thing is clear: Ruby will challenge current notions about feminism, our obligations and what true change could look like in her upcoming speech “Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and the Global South: When Feminism and Neoliberalism Collide”.

AG: You weren’t a fan of a recent H&M advertisment lauded for being ‘diverse’ while people ignored its history of exploiting women workers. Do you think people are being sold an empty feminism?

Ruby Hamad: Yes. Empowerment is about liberation and empowering you to take control but I think the way we sell empowerment is about making you feel good about what you’ve already chosen. That’s not liberation – the idea of liberation is to be free from that.

AG: Yet instead of liberation we’re assuming a simple battle between good or bad choices, or heroes and villains. Isn’t that dangerous?

RH: The problem with that is we don’t really interrogate or examine our choices. In fact, we’ve got feminism to the point where there are no bad choices anymore, whatever you do is [considered] a good choice.

We’ve taken choice from the feminist concept of abortion and the right to control your body and broadened choice to mean that anything you do or choose is feminism. That’s not the case, because those choices have consequences, not necessarily for us but for other people.

So if we’re choosing H&M clothing (or most clothes these days) we are directly perpetuating the exploitation of other women and people in sweatshops making those clothes. We’re still choosing the oppression of women in other parts of the world that we don’t see every day.

AG: it’s not just about we’re too obsessed with choice, it’s about interrogating our choices not just for ourselves but others and examining the impact of them.

RH: Yes! What I’ve seen is when you bring up sweatshops and people get quite upset, like ‘well, you’re now shaming women who don’t have the money to buy (non-sweatshop clothes), it’s not their fault what companies do in Bangladesh and in India’. 

That’s where we’ve really dropped the ball because drawing attention to these practices does not mean we are shaming individual people for making that choice.

That goes for people across the board for anything. If we’re talking about why women are changing their names after marriage, each critique of society is taken as a rebuke against every single individual and it’s not. We can still say women have the right to get married but that doesn’t mean you can’t look at the history of marriage as a patriarchal institution.

AG: How does this tie in with that superficial view of feminism that wants the easy win (like an H&M ad) rather than ongoing work and critique?

RH: It’s a shallow victory; it’s representation over structural change. Representation is important and should reflect a challenge to exploitation but, at the moment, it just gets thrown up as a substitute.

[The H&M ad] is an advertisement; it’s not going to translate into more women in parliament or meaningful change. It should reflect changes across the board rather than a token that’s meant to keep us happy but not seek change.

AG: Is the problem that feminism is increasingly seen as an identity instead of an act of resistance against oppression?

RH: Yes, and I think this is the tension. Identity is important, identity politics are important but what we really have is that we’ve bought too much into the individual.

When we talk about systemic oppression that affects the individual – it affects us all as individuals – however, it is not aimed at individuals, it is aimed at groups.

Women’s oppression is aimed at all women. I don’t think that you really can address systemic oppression at an individual level because then you have to address every individual in every single conversation and every single issue and that’s impossible.

I don’t have children and I never will, so I’m not going to be affected by attitudes to breastfeeding in public or the impact of getting pregnant will have on my career and relationships, but these are still feminist issues. But I don’t feel the need to be included in that because it doesn’t affect me as a person but it does affect me as a part of this group called women

Ruby’s keynote speech continues QVWC’s tradition of women challenging the status quo and moving feminism ahead with blistering intelligence. Last year’s keynote speaker Celeste Liddle made international news with her talk on feminism and Indigenous Australia and this year will be just as substantial and spectacular.

Book tickets to Ruby Hamad’s keynote International Women’s Day speech


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