Volume 19, Issue 1, 2009
Coalitions Across Difference
On Intersectionality, Empathy, And Feminist Solidarity
A Reply To Naomi Zack
Naomi Zack’s Inclusive Feminism: A Third Wave Theory of Women’s Commonality (2005) begins with an original reading of the paradigm shift from gender essentialism to intersectionality that ended U.S. second wave feminism. According to Zack there has been a crisis in academic and professional feminism since the late 1970s. Her project is to explain the motivation behind the shift from commonality to intersectionality, to outline its harmful effects, and to reclaim the idea that all women share something in common (2005, 2). To accomplish this Zack careful retools essentialism in ways that simultaneously acknowledge women’s differences and dodge what she perceives to be intersectionality’s fragmenting effects. This paper addresses Zack’s critique of intersectionality and her effort to ground a feminist empathy-based solidarity in women’s commonalities. My discussion begins with a basic account of intersectionality. I explore Zack’s reasons for rejecting this popular approach by replying to her two strongest arguments against intersectionality: (1) that intersectionality complicates the category woman by multiplying genders beyond necessity, and (2) that intersectionality has a segregating effect on feminist political movements. I argue that Zack’s inclusive feminism generates an oversimplified account of empathy and thus fails to engage the tensions among feminist movements that intersectionality makes visible. I conclude that her account requires a more robust epistemology of empathy if political solidarity is to be grounded in the FMP category.