The Intersection of Race and Gender: Examining the Politics of Identity in Women's Studies

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Abstract

Although race and gender are often treated as discrete dimensions of social identity, their conceptualization as intersecting categories has become central in some feminist critiques of existing theory. This study examined women's awareness of the intersection of race and gender in relation to attitudes regarding two issues manifesting identity politics in women's studies: (a) the marginalization of women of colour and (b) proposals for separate women of colour studies programmes. Identity and attitude measures were completed by 110 students enrolled in a women's studies programme. The results of a structural equation model lend support to our hypotheses that attitudes toward a separate women of colour studies programme would be determined by an awareness of the race/gender intersection, and by a perception that women of colour are marginalized in existing programmes. Responses to issues regarding race and gender in women's studies are discussed.

Discourse surrounding the production of knowledge in the social sciences is increasingly characterized by the vocabulary of identity and power. Sampson (1993) has referred to the set of concerns voiced by disadvantaged social groups as reflecting an identity politics. One manifestation of this politics is the criticism that psychological knowledge "implicitly represents a particular point of view, that of currently dominant social groups" (Sampson, 1993, p. 1221). Sampson linked this critical perspective to the emergence of several social movements, including feminism and (in the United States) the African - American movement.

Psychology's responses to the challenges described by Sampson (1993) are evident primarily in the increasing presence of feminist critiques of traditional theory and research. The existence of a distinctive psychology of women became evident in the 1970s, with the establishment of Division 35 of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1973, and its journal, the Psychology of Women Quarterly, in 1976 (see Denmark & Fernandez, 1993). In the Canadian Psychological Association, the origins of the Section on Women and Psychology (SWAP) date to 1976, when the Interest Group on Women and Psychology was formed (Pyke, 1992). While the extent of influence of the psychology of women on mainstream psychology is unclear, there are arguments for its maintenance as a separate subdiscipline (see Kahn & Jean, 1983; Walsh, 1985).

Whereas the psychology of women has argued that much existing psychological research reflects a male point of view, the criticism that this bias is also implicitly White highlights an even more persistent neglect. Graham (1992), for example, found that research on African Americans in six APA journals actually declined from 1970 to 1989 (the overall figure was 3.6%). This lack of representation extends to the psychology of women (Reid & Kelly, 1994). One study reported that 18 of 28 psychology of women textbooks contained little or no mention of African - American women, while Asian, Native American, and Hispanic women received even less attention (Brown, Goodwin, Hall, & Jackson - Lowman, 1985). An examination of studies published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science also indicates that there is relatively little research on non - Whites in the Canadian context. From 1990 to 1995, for example, we found only six articles (out of a total of 216) with a substantive focus on non - White populations.

In feminist scholarship, the politics of gender and race(f.1) are particularly salient, as evinced by the prominent (and problematic) status achieved by the notion of "difference" (e.g., Crosby, 1992; Griscom, 1992; Maynard, 1994). While these concerns tend to occupy the margins of mainstream psychology, they frequently inspire debate in women's studies programmes. The present study, therefore, examined issues of identity politics within the context of women's studies, with a focus on the representation and inclusion of women of colour. …