Intersectionality Is Making Teen Vogue’s Editors Stupid

CAMERA has written before about Teen Vogue‘s shift from fashion and beauty to political commentary, including pushing a one-sided Palestinian narrative to its teen readers. As it shifts to digital-only publication, it has continued this trend. Recently the magazine has lauded both the singer Lorde, who cancelled a scheduled concert in Israel under pressure from anti-Israel activists, and Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, a blogger who turned down an award from Revlon due to Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s role as Revlon’s brand ambassador and whose website contains antisemitic content.

It’s clear from reading their coverage that Teen Vogue‘s editors and writers know very little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the many complex issues involved. In discussing the topic in December of 2016, the magazine relied on far-left, anti-Israel academic Stephen Zunes, who has elsewhere – absurdly – called the First Intifadanon-violent,” and who falsely told Teen Vogue‘s readers that there are “Jewish-only highways.” Despite Zunes’s clear bias, Teen Vogue described the interview as “everything you need to know about the controversy surrounding the Israeli settlements.” An article about model Amena Khan, who demonized and delegitimized Israel by calling it “an illegal state,” “a sinister state,” and a “child murderer,” referred to those comments merely as “tweets criticizing Israel.” A second article about the singer Lorde that purported to relay Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s criticism of the singer undercut that criticism by saying the Rabbi contributes to the “alt-right publication Brietbart News.” In fact the Rabbi contributes to many publications and has hosted a television series. That article also also failed to rebut the charges of Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid” made by those who asked Lorde to boycott. A February 2017 article that purported to be a comprehensive summary of the issues read like a fact sheet from the Palestinian side of the issue. Teen Vogue has even quoted two twenty-something DJs (!) to articulate international law.

Why is Teen Vogue so insistent on promoting such a decidedly one-sided point of view? To answer this question, we need to look at the popular but intellectually lazy trend based loosely on the doctrine of “intersectionality.”

To back up a bit – Kimberle Crenshaw has said that she developed intersectionality theory to address a particular problem: a gap in discrimination law that African American women were falling through because neither racial discrimination laws nor gender discrimination laws adequately addressed their unique situation.

Intersectionality, she said, “draws attention to invisibilities that exist in feminism, in anti-racism, in class politics, so obviously it takes a lot of work to consistently challenge ourselves to be attentive to aspects of power that we don’t ourselves experience.” In a 2016 TED talk, Crenshaw described and focused on the “double discrimination” that African American women face.

Indeed, Crenshaw’s work in this area has been indispensible in advancing women’s rights.

But the leap from these ideas to supporting anti-Israel positions is a flight into the surreal. Those who truly support the rights of all women should of course support Palestinian women’s rights – but they must support Israeli women’s rights as well. Israeli women, like Palestinian women, have the right to be free from violence – free from suicide bombers, free from vehicular attacks, free from knife attacks, and free from rocket attacks. Those who truly support all women must also ask how the role of Palestinian leaders – who have refused every opportunity to create the state they claim to want, and who incentivize terror with cash payments – have affected the rights and freedoms of Palestinian women (and men).

Supporters of women’s rights, moreover, should celebrate Israel, the country with the best women’s rights record in the Middle East and recently rated one of the safest countries on earth for women.

When Teen Vogue interviewed Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, she told the publication, “we have to make sure that our feminism is inclusive of [all] women of color because history has taught us that we can’t compromise on liberation.” To Teen Vogue, apparently, feminism is not inclusive of girls like Malki Roth, who was blown up at age 15 while eating pizza, who never had the chance to grow up, and whose killer is free today in Jordan. It doesn’t include Kay Wilson, who was stabbed and left for dead, and whose attacker is paid a salary by the Palestinian Authority. Or Chaya Zissel Braun, killed at the age of three months old, when a terrorist intentionally plowed his car into her stroller during a visit to one of Judaism’s holiest sites.

The new discourse referred to as intersectionality ignores these women and girls and so many others who have been killed in Arab violence against Jews – not just in three intifadas since Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967, but during the Six-Day War in 1967, a war that was instigated by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, with the support of Arabs living in the West Bank; during scores of terrorist attacks between Israel’s independence in 1948 and the 1967 war; during the War of Independence in 1948, in which five Arab armies attacked the newly reconstituted Jewish state; and in the 1920’s and 30’s before there even was a modern Jewish state.

As it’s applied today, the term “intersectionality” seems to bear little resemblance to the important concept that Crenshaw originally described. In 2016 James Kirchick described it in Tablet as follows:

Because of intersectionality’s insistence that identity politics trumps all, reflexive condemnation replaces reasoned discussion, and those claiming to represent a higher good smother the rights of individuals. Likewise, intersectionality compels one to adopt agendas that have nothing to do with his or her own. Worse, in the name of “solidarity” with other supposedly “oppressed” groups, it leads to alliances with those actively hostile to one’s cause.

The headline of his piece put it more succinctly: “Intersectionality Makes You Stupid.”

In its current application, if not in its original form, what intersectionality seems to mean today is that once you decide you’ve accepted a certain point of view on one issue, there is no room to make up your own mind on a whole slate of others. One student described her time at Oberlin College*:

After a few days on campus and many meetings, I began to see that words like “justice” and “oppression” were being used to bunch causes together into a jumble that a friend once called “the liberal checklist.”

My fellow Obies and I were expected by our peers to join them in denouncing a plethora of social evils, including capitalism, racism, fracking, transphobia — and Israel.

As it’s often applied today, intersectionality is a convenient shortcut that tells its adherents what to think, and relieves them of the burden of learning about and thinking through issues for themselves. Such a shortcut may be attractive to those who lack the time, will or intellectual curiosity to make informed decisions. Once you know you support women’s rights, or are against racism, or believe in rights for LGBTQ people, you need not bother delving through centuries of history of Muslim-Jewish relations, or the history of the land that was named Palestine by a colonial power, or even two decades of negotiations since Oslo. You can ignore the fact that it is Jews that are indigenous to the region, and that for over a millennium, Jews and Christians who lived in Muslim-majority lands lived as second class citizens in a kind of Middle Eastern Jim Crow. While Crenshaw originally pushed people to think harder about issues, to dig deeper and learn more, when it comes to Israel, today’s intersectionalists push people to think and learn less.

Which brings us back to Teen Vogue. Its outgoing Editor-In-Chief Elaine Welteroth’s background is as a fashion and beauty editor. (She is leaving, apparently, to pursue a career in acting.) Emma Sarran Webster, the author of the February article that purported to be a summary of “What You Need to Know” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also, as CAMERA wrote previously, billed herself as an expert on health and beauty with a “deep love for social media and cat videos.” Isis Briones, the writer who interviewed Khatahtbeh, and who wrote about the model Amena Khan, mainly covers celebrity gossip.

Yet, despite employing writers with no expertise in the area, the magazine has determinedly pursued an anti-Israel agenda. Teen Vogue is not interested in presenting a balanced view of the issues, in which the point of view of both Israeli and Palestinian women and girls are taken into account, so that its young readers may come to their own conclusions. Teen Vogue, apparently, doesn’t trust that its readers will come to what it has already decided is the correct position.

In 2014 Crenshaw told The New Statesman that she coined the term intersectionality to address “invisibilities” in feminism. As CAMERA demonstrates daily, it is the suffering of Israelis – Jewish and non-Jewish, women and men – that is invisible in today’s media landscape, including in the pages of Teen Vogue.

If Teen Vogue wants to be taken seriously as a publication that goes beyond fashion and celebrity gossip, its next editor will need to better educate herself or himself so that the magazine can present a balanced point of view and inform, rather than indoctrinate, its readers.

*The author is a graduate of Oberlin College.

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