Intersectionality and Sexual Violence

I am interested in the power of intersectional feminist thought, as developed by Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and many others, to explain the reproduction of inequality. I am interested in working with students who seek to extend the insights of Black feminist theory into the role that violence–particularly sexual violence–plays in binding together dimensions of inequality within a matrix of domination.

Laura Hamilton, Lotus Seeley, Elizabeth Marie Armstrong, and I take up the problem of white femininity in our paper “Hegemonic Femininity and Intersectional Domination” (Sociological Theory 2019).  We examine how two sociological traditions account for the role of femininities in social domination. The masculinities tradition theorizes gender as an independent structure of domination; consequently, femininities that complement hegemonic masculinities are treated as passively compliant in the reproduction of gender. In contrast, Patricia Hill Collins views cultural ideals of hegemonic femininity as simultaneously raced, classed, and gendered. This intersectional perspective allows us to recognize women striving to approximate hegemonic cultural ideals of femininity as actively complicit in reproducing a matrix of domination. We argue that hegemonic femininities reference a powerful location in the matrix from which some women draw considerable individual benefits (i.e., a femininity premium), while shoring up collective benefits along other dimensions of advantage.

Miriam Gleckman-Krut, Nora Johnson and I review sociological scholarship on sexual violence in a 2018 Annual Review of Sociology article. The piece, “Silence, Power, and Inequality” argues that the study of sexual violence has been relegated to the margins of sociology, with consequences for knowledge about the reproduction of social inequality. We begin with an overview of key insights about sexual violence elaborated by feminists, critical race scholars, and activists. This research leads us to conceptualize sexual violence as a mechanism of inequality that is made more effective by the silencing of its usage. We trace legal and cultural contestations over the definition of sexual violence in the United States. We consider the challenges of narrating sexual violence and review how the narrow focus on gender by some anti–sexual violence activism fails women of color and other marginalized groups. We conclude by interrogating the sociological silence on sexual violence.

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