About Central

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama is recognised as ‘world leading’ both for its arts research and as a provider of professional training for the creative industries. In 2016 Central’s research team continued their collaborative partnership with Tonic Theatre and embarked upon the second phase of Advance, building on the research established with Advance in 2014. Read more about Central’s role in Advance 2016.

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What is Intersectionality?

By Dr Lisa Woynarski, Advance Research Associate, Central’s Research Team

Advance is a project that has been focused on gender equality but we understand these issues do not exist in isolation and are part of a wider understanding of diversity and equality.

Inevitably we began conversations with organisations that considered other identity markers, oppressions and inequalities, including Deaf and disabled people, BAME people, transgender people and class divisions. An intersectional approach takes into account these differences.

Intersectionality is the idea that forms of inequalities overlap and are interrelated at both a personal and structural level (i.e. racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, Islamophobia, etc.).

These ‘isms’ and discriminations do not exist in isolation. This means that addressing sexism or working towards equality requires acknowledging the different forms of oppression faced by people and how they intersect to create varied experiences.

Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’ in the 1980’s as a way of addressing the separation of race and gender in anti-discrimination law in the US (which protected people against discrimination either based on race or gender, but not the overlap of both). She was building on a long history of black feminist work that insisted that differences among women needed to be taken into account when working towards gender equality. For example, the inequalities faced by women of colour are different than the inequalities faced by white women. Since the 1980’s intersectionality has expanded to include multiple forms of identities and oppressions.

Taking an intersectional approach to gender equality in the UK performing arts means acknowledging the different experiences of privilege, access, opportunity, power and tradition.

To take a simplistic example, a middle-class, able-bodied white woman who grew up exposed to the performing arts may be able to access and navigate the industry more successfully due to relationships, education, experience, bias and the way they communicate, compared to a working-class woman of colour (or a disabled women) who did not necessarily grow up experiencing the performing arts. If you consider:

  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • class
  • religion
  • ethnicity
  • disability status

a complex set of structures around access and opportunity begins to emerge. This means that equality cannot be achieved through single actions, rather it requires multi-faceted changes on multiple levels. During the Advance process, organisations considered how gender equality fit into a wider picture of diversity in the industry and were able to learn from successes in work with disabled artists, BAME artists and working with people from a variety of class backgrounds.

Lisa Woynarski
Advance Research Associate

+ Read Lisa Woynarski’s article “What do we mean by gender?”
+ Read about Central’s role in Advance 2016

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