auto/biographical narrative, critical self reflexivity & intersectionality

              Auto/biographical Narrative,

              Critical Self Reflexivity &



Who am I?
How do I identify myself?

Is this a matter of preference, ‘personal choice’?
Or is it ‘given’? Or maybe a mix?

Is your identity ‘simple’?
Or complex?

Singular, multiple, hybrid?

Fixed or fluid?

Are there aspects or features of my identity
and/or positionality that matter more than others?

To me and/or to others?

Do I control this process?
Or am I subject to it?

Does my identity fuel or determine vested interests?

Does it bring with it social, cultural, economic or political
privilege or power?

Either generally, or in specific social settings and environments?

Does it bring with it social, cultural, economic or political
disadvantage or stigma in this society?

Or in specific social, cultural, economic or political
contexts and environments?

How does your autobiographical narrative and identity as a
woman or trans feed into, determine, problematise
and/or nourish your feminism?

Is this process personal or political?

Or both?

               Who am I?

Is my answer to this question simple or complex?
An assertion

Is your answer tentative or adamant?
Celebration or defiance?

A measure of uncertainty,
bewilderment, even defeat?

A plea, cry for help or re-assurance.

Is it a ‘complete answer’ or
something in the making?

Who are you?

Signals interrogation, confrontation, challenge or friendly inquiry.
Perhaps an invitation to move closer, to share secrets.

Approach intimacy and alliance. Co-creativity.

The feminist problematic is both joyful and uncomfortable; painful and often gruelling. For as women we live at the centre of a contradictory, complex reality, and this is heightened, not simplified, by feminist consciousness and values, which draw attention to our differences, in the cause of social justice, while we also seek out common or relational ground, the possibility of mutual acceptance, reciprocity, friendship, intimacy, collaboration and alliance. Trust. Not sameness, but a degree of solidarity that amounts to social and political power.

And in societies in which gender power is organized to influence, control and dominate ‘woman’ as a signifier within a heterosexist political economy, the category ‘woman’ is the most difficult of all around which women themselves can organise as a political force. In a patriarchal society, the invitations and coercions to do otherwise, to remain compliant, are all-pervasive, insidious and well funded.

For the powers that be, it pays to keep women divided, distrustful of each other, and disorganised; to create the conditions in which we will monitor, judge and disempower each other. That birdie on the shoulder that represents a woman’s fear of heterosexual men’s disapproval or rejection; the desire for that male approval, which allows her to betray a sister.

We internalise this stuff from childhood and can spend the rest of our lives disentangling our minds and brains and hearts and bodies from all that ‘noise’. And we cannot do it alone; we need other women around us and on our wavelength – mothers, friends, daughters, colleagues, partners, lovers, co-activists, strangers (in all their variety and difference) – to create a climate of possibility (can do), and laughter to keep us going, as we devise new ways of being, living and doing. In my experience, these are women who make you think, feel, laugh and cry till you ache!

Intersectionality is an ugly word for a crucial discourse that combines empathy, social and political analysis, and personal/political commitment. An incomplete checklist embraces:

  • both self awareness and social analysis
  • cultural and political knowledge
  • power differentials and inequalities
  • structures and relations of social injustice
  • complexity / hybridity / multiplicity
  • understanding that no woman is singular – we are all multiple and hybrid
  • and born into hierarchy.

It entails lifelong learning. There is no ‘destination’, no ‘arrival’. Just a shared journey.
It means living with uncertainty, bearing it.

And not starting from the position of: “I know” and/or “I am right”.

val walsh/12 04 2014


[i] Part of a contribution to the panel on ‘Women, intersecting vulnerabilities and inequality’. Engaging with Gender Issues: A Knowledge Exchange with Women’s Community Groups Workshop, Day 1: 08 04 2014. Blackburne House, Liverpool. Convened & organised by Charlotte Barlow, Dept. Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology, University of Liverpool.