“Ain’t I a woman?” – Intersectionality as a model of multiple discrimination

Group: Lisa Bennet, Lena Kunert, Pinja Fernström, Anna Majava, Julia Korhonen


The term „intersectionality“ describes a bunch of theoretical attemps to gather the interaction between gender and other factors of social disparities (cf. Lenz 2010: 158).  The argument about intersectionality started around 1970, initiated by black feminists in America. General Motors discharged a multitude of workers, whereby especially black women lost their jobs. The courts holt against the accusations from the discharged women, because General Motors kept on employing (white) women and (black) man, so that the judges could not see any discrimination about gender. The black feminists saw, nevertheless, that those women were not discriminated only because of their gender, but also because of their race. As a result they felt misguided in the debates about (most white) women discrimination and championed the awareness of multicausal segregation factors cf. Crenshaw 1989: 41 f.). For the leader of the stir, judge Krimberly Crenshaw stated : “Black women sometimes experience discrimination in ways similar to white women’s experiences; sometimes thy share very similar experiences with Black men. Yet often they experience double-discrimination – the combined effects of practices which discriminate on the basis of race, and on the basis of sex. And sometimes, they experience discrimination as Black women – not the sum of race and sex discrimination, but as black women.“ (Crenshaw 1989: 44). Thereby the term “Intersection of race, class and sex” was born (cf. Crenshaw 1989: 44), which was expanded later by other categories, like migration, sexuality, religion, age and disabilities (cf. Lenz 2010: 159).

Crenshaw compares intersectionality with a freeway, which interface different inequality factors, that create the moment of discrimination (cf. Walgenbach 2010: 249). To conclude, her model of intersectionality does not include only one factor (like e. g. gender), but different personal backgrounds, which are often misused for discrimination.

The intersectionality concept can be used for analyzing the difficult situation of disadvantaged pupils, because many children are excluded due to their different backgrounds. To increase the awareness of multiple discrimination, teachers should make intersectionality visible and thematize it in the lessons to encourage the development of an atmosphere which is against racism.

Here it becomes apparent, that dealing with the complex mechanism of racism is an important part in the battle against racism both in the society and in schools. Crenshaws model makes a valuable contribution to the work for an inclusive and human society.



Crenshaw, Kimberle (1989): Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”. In: University of Chicago Legal Forum. Vol. 1989, iss. 1, Article 8.

Lenz, Ilse (2010): Intersektionalität: Zum Verhältnis von Geschlecht und sozialer Ungleichheit. In: Becker, Ruth & Kortendiek, Beate (Hrsg.): Handbuch Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung: Theorie, Methoden, Empirie. Band 35. Von Geschlecht und Gesellschaft.

Walgenbach, Katharina (2012): Intersektionalität – eine Einführung. URL: www.portal-intersektionalität.de [last retrieval: 18.10.2017, 7.45 pm].

Gender in education

Group: Lisa Bennet, Lena Kunert, Pinja Fernström, Anna Majava, Julia Korhonen

Finland is considered to be a model country for gender equality and our school system is ranked among the best in the whole world. Gender equality is often viewed as something that is already achieved and not as a problem that should be addressed. Primary school is in a critical role teaching kids values and norms related to their gender; what it means to be a boy or a girl. This is usually something that happens unconsciously through the everyday interactions and conventions of school.

When kids start school they learn really soon that there are numerous rules on how to behave in a “right way”. These rules are essential to the fluency of the teaching but the problem is that they are different for boys and girls. In fact boys and girls are expected to behave in a very different way. Behavior that is seen as typical or natural for boys is not necessarily acceptable behavior for girls and vice versa. Girls are usually regarded as more peaceful, well behaved and better suited to school discipline than boys (Lahelma & Gordon 2003). In the everyday life of schools this means that teachers spend notably more time supervising boys behavior since girls are expected to naturally know how to behave correctly. On the other hand teachers react to girls bad behavior more negatively than that of boys, because bad behavior doesn’t fit to the stereotype of a well behaved girl (Gordon & Lahelma 2003). The general restlessness and tussling of boys is seen as typical for the gender and thus easily overlooked and not intervened since “boys will be boys”. The different kind of treatment based on gender stereotypes is usually done unconsciously and changing it requires gender sensitivity; knowledge and understanding of the gender system, the formation of gender-identities and the ability to recognize personal beliefs and assumptions concerning gender (Syrjäläinen & Kujala 2010). Teachers should try to encounter students as individuals and be aware of the ways that gender affects the individuals position in school.

Gender stereotypes may also have very far-reaching effects. The labour market in Finland is still really divided and gendered. The technical field of study and work is chosen mainly by men while occupations in care, for example nursing have woman majority. This is a problem because the classically masculine fields are usually respected more and one can earn more in these branches than in many feminine occupations. This separation starts already in schools with school subjects. There are still unconscious attitudes that boys are somehow naturally better in mathematical subjects than girls. This means that if girls succeed in these subjects they are praised for their hard work and boys’ success is attributed to their ”natural” skills. This puts girls in a position where they are seen as underdogs and that they should work twice as hard compared to boys to succeed in for example maths. Through these actions and attitudes gender stereotypes are passed to children who then might prefer the fields of work they are thought to be natural in even though individual interests might lie elsewhere.

Gordon, Tuula & Lahelma, Elina (2003) Vuorovaikutus ja ihmissuhteet virallisessa koulussa. Teoksessa Elina Lahelma & Tuula Gordon (toim.) Koulun arkea tutkimassa – Yläasteen erot ja erilaisuudet. Helsinkin: Helsingin kaupungin opetusviraston julkaisusarja, 42-59.

Syrjäläinen, Eija & Kujala, Tiina (2010) Sukupuolitietoinen tasa-arvokasvatus – vaiettu aihe opettajankoulutuksessa ja koulun arjessa. Teoksessa Markku Suortamo, Liisa Tainio, Elina Ikävalko, Tarja Palmu & Sirpa Tani (toim.) Sukupuoli ja tasa-arvo koulussa. Jyväskylä: PS-kustannus, 25-37.

Don’t judge without knowing

Based on the lecture by Jenni Helakorpi and group discussion. Group: Tytti Luuri (writer), Jenni Matilainen, Liisa Arponen and Anniina Tan 

 People are often quick to generalize. Certain kinds of people are categorized to be the same – without any reasoning. All engineers are labeled emotionally distant mathematicians, manual workers aren’t interested in politics and middle-aged people don’t understand technology. When the media displays news about a Roma who stole from the grocery store, all Romas are thieves. In these situations, we easily forget that not all 10 000 Romas living in Finland are the same. Similarly, there are tech wizzes in the middle-aged population and engineers can show their feelings. 

Occasionally, one can find themselves reading someone else’s opinion on a group they belong in. It may easily make the reader feel irritated, when a stranger is presenting opinions on you only based on your age or profession. Imagine a situation, where you read from the paper that a group you belong in is dubbed criminal? Additionally, people may be shouting to you on the street, or a guard is always watching you in stores – even if the only reason you are being labeled is belonging to a minority. From an individual’s point of view, the situation is unfair, because one characteristic should not be used to define a person. 

In her lecture, Jenni Helakorpi discussed Romas and their position in Finland and globally. On many occasions, she emphasized the diversity of Romas, which is an important thing to remember concerning all minorities, groups and people. It is natural to generalize people and things in our day-to-day lives. We live amidst a flood of information, which would be impossible to deal with without forming connections and generalizations. The problem is when we don’t notice how these generalizations affect our thinking and attitudes towards other people. 

We are always looking for things to back up our own views from the news, discussion between people and the environment. Therefore, it is important to consider our own beliefs. Why do I believe Romas to be thieves? What is this based on? Is it based on a case from a newspaper, or on something a friend said? It is good to challenge your own prejudices and consider their grounds. More than often, a prejudice is simply a matter of ignorance or generalizing an individual case. If somebody believes something, it is easy to ignore facts that don’t fit in with the belief. This causes prejudices and beliefs to grow stronger with time, because we address the things that back up our opinion and ignore the things that don’t. 

Maybe the most important thing that came up during our own conversation was that we should be open-minded about people! We should leave categorization behind and give everyone a change. When we have prejudices against other people, it is good to reflect how you would feel being belittled before even having the chance to do anything. 

Ann Phoenix: Intersectionality, childhood and education

Annukka Helminen, Henna Heikkinen, Heini Lehtinen (writer), Hanna Lindevall & Heli Neovius

In the last lecture Ann Phoenix talked about intersectionality in education. Basically the idea is that class, race and gender all differentiate childhood. There is no point to focus on one of them at the time because the two others are still creating differences between children. We can’t fix things unless we take them all account. All attempts to smooth out differences will be worth nothing if there is no understanding how class, race and gender affect to each other. Phoenix gave an example from British context where white middle class is in better position than coloured middle class members. So if we only focus on class, we’ll miss the fact that it’s actually class and race together that are positioning people differently.


Phoenix also points out that this issue chances depending on context; minorities are positioned differently in different societies. In western countries all of this has its roots in the idea of “normal” which means white, heterosexual, middle class member, usually male. These norms and values are like unwritten guidelines that tells us how a “normal” person should behave and what he/ she should wear etc. This idea of “normal” stays strong because of the narratives and discourses. Children are learning these norms and values from their parents and later the same ideas are strongly valued at school as well so they won’t get a critical perspective.


This leads us to a situation where even very young children understand the meaning of skin colour in their society. The story Phoenix told about the Muslim boy and the clock he created is a sad example how we teach our children to behave in intercultural situations. The story also shows how blind we are in western countries to our norms and values. The story told about a Muslim boy who made a clock by himself and he was proud of it and wanted his friends at school to see it. The clicking machine in his backpack led to panic at the school door. If the boy was white would all those adults at school have reacted this way? Why it is so hard to see these stereotypes we have and to criticize them?


Group: Rebecca Pape, Evelien De Vos, Maike Hohmann and Ronja Nordlin

Intersectionality is not a modern phenomenon even if the definition wasn’t coined until the 1980’s by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. Identities change depending on time and situation. No one is defined by only one thing and that is an important aspect to take into account in social sciences and particularly when it comes to social justice issues. No matter which specific topic is viewed it is important to acknowledge the influence that intersectionality brings to the issue.

In her lecture 3.10.2017 Ann Phoenix brought up the so called big three when it comes to intersectional identities: class, race and gender. Obviously these aren’t the only categories but by far those that are most often used in discussions about intersectionality. It is rarely allowed within Education and Social Sciences to generalize. But here it cannot be denied that everybody has intersecting social identities. That is why it is important to have an intersectional approach to research about social justice in education. Phoenix pointed that there are differences in possibilities that are situational. The patterns in attainment between ethnic groups differentiate across countries. For example in some cases ethnic minority children with a working class background do better than white children with the same family background.

It is not possible to exclude one part of the complexity that is one’s identity. All things operate simultaneously and have varied amounts of power depending on both the place and the time. We should not think of the categories of identity separately. As Crenshaw states in the video below that the concept of intersectionality can help us find the failures in social justice, repair them and to create opportunities for the kind of a world that we want to build.



Based on the course articles and group discussion.

Group: Tomas Blomqvist, Lucy Kaplan, Heidi Urpilainen & Tero Väisänen (writer)

Arnot’s article was about Willis’s research of ”lads” who were young working class males. They had three categories that defined them and made them ”the lads”: their age, social class and gender. They were not very interested about school and they had created their own behavioral codes, that had huge differences from those middle class behavioral codes that school required. ”Lads” knew well their own opportunities in society and thats why they had strong views what jobs were honorable to do and they were manual working class jobs. Willis suggests that this mechanism is the main thing that opresses these young working class males. When middle class school system does not recognize cultural capital of these ”lads”, they will try to create their own field that recognize these capitals and gives them chance to separate them from ”others”. The problem with this situation is that the system still will not recognize ”lads” cultural capital, so even though this mechanism might empower ”lads” in some level, it still opress them. For individual ”lad” it might be hard to try to brake this chain because if he act against the behavioral codes of ”lads”, he might be emasculated and he will be seen as the ”others”. So it is a cycle that might let these young working class males feel more accepted in their surroundings, but in long run it works against them by making them wrong kind for the middle class society.

As in ”lads” case the fields of society are born by social construction, so is gender, says Paechter in hers article. Most of us are born as male or female, which is defined by our genitals. After that moment when we have been divided by our sexes, the world around us starts to treat us differently. Girls will have dolls to play with and boys will have toy cars to play with. In school girls will be expected to be calm and hard-working, when boys will have much more space to challenge the schools rules because ”boys will be boys” attitude. This is large problem, because specially in Finland, this separates jobs between men and women. If person will go to a job that is considered to be opposite sexs job, for example man to work as kindergarten teacher, it could raise some eyebrowns of other people. So with gender comes lots of norms that people need to follow if they don’t want to be seen as ”different”. In the end of this blog post I would like to share one of my own experience about this. When I got in university of Helsinki to study education science (kasvatustiede), first thing that my dad said, instead of congratulating was ”Isn’t it like a girls thing?”. After months of hard work and achieving something like that, I will always remember that reaction.


Arnot, M. (2003). Male working-class identities and social justice. Ch 6 in Social justice, education and identity edited by Carol Vincent.

Paechter, C. (2003). Masculinities, feminities and physical education: bodily practices as reifies markers of community membership. Ch 8 in Social justice, education and identity edited by Carol Vincent.

Little things matter

Based on the lecture by Gunilla Holm on October 3th, related readings and group discussion. Group: Anniina Tan (writer), Jenni Matilainen, Liisa Arponen and Tytti Luuri

Finland is often perceived as a pioneer in gender equality issues. In many ways that is true; for example, Finland was the first country in Europe to give the voting right for women in 1906. However, even today gender equality is not fully achieved in Finland. The gender inequality exists for example at the Finnish labor market that is still divided into ”women’s professions and men’s professions” as well as ”women’s tasks and men’s tasks”. This is problematic especially in women’s perspective as the traditional women’s professions and tasks are generally paid less than men’s professions and tasks.

After the lesson on October 3th we discussed in our group about the gender segregation and why it is so hard to dispose. As discussed in the classroom, boys and girls are treated differently as soon as they are born. Paechter argues in her article “Masculinities, femininities and physical education: bodily practices as reifies markers of community membership” that the gender determines how the child is treated (or even raised) and how she or he is expected to behave. Even if the rearing at home is gender sensitive, the situation changes as soon as the child goes to the kindergarten. Despite the actions taken to eliminate the gender normative structures, Finnish educational institutions like kindergarten and school still reproduce the traditional gender roles. Children learn quickly at the kindergarten which roles and plays are for girls and which ones are for boys. When playing house, it is natural that little girls take care of babies while little boys go to work outside the home. Children also learn what kind of appearance is suitable for girls and boys; what kind of clothes they are supposed to wear and how they should do their hair.

At school gender based segregation is shown visibly for example in single-sex physical education groups. Girls do more “feminine activities” and boys do more “masculine activities” in their PE lessons (Paechter). The segregation is also hidden in the schools’ policy; how teachers speak to students and what kind of behavior they expect and tolerate from them. Girls are often expected to be kind, gentle and hardworking while boys are expected to be wild and smart. These visible and invisible factors affect inevitably how kids see their possibilities in the future; what kind of professions they feel are suitable and possible for them as girls or as boys.

How can we encourage kids to become just what they want and ignore the gender based expectations given to them by the society? First we should try to eliminate the structural mechanisms in education that produce the segregation between boys and girls. For example, any kind of division based on gender is simply inappropriate and should have been buried a long time ago. Teachers should also pay more attention to their actions and treat the kids as kids, not as girls and boys. Secondly we should all look in the mirror. Gender determines or at least affects in our daily choices; the way we dress our kids, the toys we buy for them, the hobbies we take them to. These little choices we make on behalf of our children are so natural that we don’t even see them. That’s why these things are so hard to change.






Homophobic Harassment in Schools

Based on the course articles and group discussion. 

Group: Krista Vihantomaa (writer), Wilhelmina Fröberg and Hanna Markoff.

Homophobic harassment does not usually get as much attention as other forms of discrimination. Term homophobic harassment is based on homosexual stereotypes and repeats the dominant role of heterosexuality in culture. Harassment is also one of the forms of discrimination.

In the article “Avoiding the issue. Homophobia, school policies and identities in secondary schools” Epstein et al. (2003) discusses how prevalent homophobic harassment and bullying can be in schools, arguing that the forms it takes are gendered, racialized and classed. Harassment can be explained by the fact that it can be invisible and may be difficult to identify. However, the study shows that homophobic behavior was visible to both students and teachers. This was seen, for example, how both students and teachers talked about the use of homophobic language. (Esptein et al., 2003.)

When we discussed about the Epstein’s (2003) article, we were surprised that how differently teachers saw the problem. Several teachers said that homophobia was a problem in their schools while others ignored this completely. Homophobia was ignored for example, telling how children always bully and cuss each other. The study shows, how schools found it most difficult to handle homophobic abuse and were most likely to ignore it. (Esptein et al., 2003.)

Homophobia is related to the emphatic masculinities prevalent in school situation. All in all, these results demonstrate ways of creating, regulating and maintaining different masculinity in schools. (Esptein et al., 2003; Arnot, 2003.) Some schools do not have clear policies and practices to respond to homophobic violence. Homophobia is afraid to speak and some even deny existence of the whole problem. Though, schools have a responsibility to develop better policies and practices to challenge homophobia. It is also important to pay attention everyday activities in school, like the use of appropriate language and bringing issues up


Arnot, M. (2003). Male working-class identities and social justice. Ch 6 in Social justice, education and identity edited by Carol Vincent.

Epstein, D., Hewitt, R., Leonard, D., Mauthner, M. & Watkins, C. (2003). Avoiding the issues. Homophobia, school policies and identities in secondary schools. Ch 7 in Social justice, education and identity edited by Carol Vincent.


Guest lectures 26.9 and 3.10

Group Lotta Laurikainen, Hiroe Ryosho, Kyllikki Kosunen and Petra Nurmi (writer). I will briefly write what our group discussed about three guest lectures.

First guest lecture was about racial categorization in school interaction. In our group we discussed about difficulties at teaching situation. It must be challenging to try to control so many children.  It is much challenging if the teacher doesn’t know what is correct way to address. That is why teacher education should focus more to issues about racism. It really should be clear to teacher after university education to know how to handle different situations.

Jenni Helakorpi lecture about Roma people research was important because it forced really think, what to teach about minorities to children and what stereotypes can follow some minorities for centuries. What parents transfer to their children and why?

Ann Phoenix at her lecture about intersectionality mentioned one thing, what really started conversation in our group. That was the fact that it matters much to what country, from where you are moving. Why people coming from Pakistan do well in some countries and in Norway they don’t. What are the reasons?

Also the things what cause inequalities: increasing costs of education and increasing accreditation and economic value were under discussion. Higher education is only for some, probably also in future.

Intersectionality, Childhood, and Education: Ann Phoenix

Group: Tomas Blomqvist, Lucy Kaplan (author), Heidi Urpilainen & Tero Väisänen

Normally, I am accustomed to hearing the word “intersectionality” used in activist circles when discussing praxis. Especially in feminist circles, discussion of intersectionality often comes about when stressing the importance of advocating for women of all races, sexual orientations, religions, et cetera. Ann Phoenix’s presentation situated intersectionality in an entirely new place for me- applied to education, intersectionality can create a deeper understanding of sensitive classroom management, as well as a more nuanced understanding of student performance data.

Ann Phoenix’s primary argument is that social categories do not operate in isolation from one another; rather, they simultaneously position people in multiple ways, meaning that their oppression will be different than what one might first assume. For instance, one might assume that white students, who all benefit positively from institutional racism, would attain the most knowledge in UK schools. However, this assessment lacks an understanding of the many societal factors that position a student in this way. Student performance data is not only affected by race- gender, sexual orientation, and social class also affect it. A more complex understanding of how societal positioning affects student performance brings in as many societal categories as possible. Thus, rich and male white students tend to perform well in school, while working-class male white students tend to perform poorly.

A situational understanding is important as well. Social categories’ effect on student performance can change depending on the place and time being studied. We know that race is made to be socially significant, rather than being natural; the way race is socially significant is very different between, for example, the United States in 1917 and Finland in 2017. Opportunities change from country to country, and they certainly change quite a bit over time. Different categories can even decenter each other over time and place.

With the understanding that education produces and magnifies inequalities, it becomes clear that intersectionality is essential not only to understanding student performance, but also is crucial for anti-discriminatory school practices. Antiracist, antisexist, antihomophobic pedagogies are all just parts of the larger issue- utilizing each independently is not enough for students. Intersectionality means that teachers will utilize these pedagogies while considering how they interact in order to truly work toward anti-discriminatory schools.