Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2001

OCLC FAST subject heading

Civil rights


While essentialism remains a prominent feature of progressive social movements, critical scholars have offered persuasive arguments against traditional, single-issue politics and have proposed reforms in a variety of doctrinal and policy contexts. The feminist of color critiques of feminism and antiracism provided the earliest framework for analyzing oppression in complex terms. Feminists of color and other critical scholars have examined racism and patriarchy as “intersecting” phenomena, rather than as separate and mutually exclusive systems of domination. Their work on the intersectionality of subordination has encouraged some judges and progressive scholars to discard the “separate spheres” analysis of race and gender. The powerful intersectionality model has also inspired many other avenues of critical engagement. Lesbian-feminist theorists, for example, have challenged the patriarchy and heterosexism of law and sexuality and feminist theorists, respectively, and, recently, a growing intellectual movement has emerged that responds to racism within gay and lesbian circles and heterosexism within antiracist activism. These “post-intersectionality” scholars are collectively pushing jurists and progressive theorists to examine forms of subordination as interrelated, rather than conflicting, phenomena.

This Article arises out of the intersectionality and post-intersectionality literature and makes a case against the essentialist considerations that informed the Human Rights Campaign's endorsement of then-United States Senator Alfonse D'Amato, a Republican from New York. Part I discusses the pitfalls that occur when scholars and activists engage in essentialist politics and treat identities and forms of subordination as conflicting forces. Part II examines how essentialism negatively affects legal theory in the equality context. Part III considers the historical motivation for and the efficacy of the “intersectionality” response to the problem of essentialism. Part III also extensively analyzes the “multidimensional” critiques of essentialism offered by the most recent school of thought in this area--the race-sexuality critics of law and sexuality and critical race theory. Finally, Part III examines the conceptual and substantive distinctions between multidimensionality (and other post-intersectionality theories) and intersectionality and offers suggestions for future theorizing in anti-subordination jurisprudence.