Intersectionality as "Catch 22": Why Identity Performance Demands are Neither Harmless Nor Reasonable
"I argue that when seemingly innocent identity performance demands conflict for some groups, that conflict may evidence discrimination lurking beneath a facially “reasonable” demand, and furthermore may restrict and mold the choices and identity performances of protected classes of persons more tangibly than other classes, amounting to unequal conditions of employment. The model for this conflict is the “catch 22” experienced by the prevailing plaintiff in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, who was denied partnership at an accounting firm after failing to act feminine. The Supreme Court characterized this demand to be feminine as coming into conflict with the demand to be aggressive and masculine in order to succeed in the corporate environment, creating a catch 22. I argue that intersectionals are especially likely to experience these conflicts because they experience multiple identity performance demands simultaneously, thereby increasing the chance for such demands, if not truly evenhanded, to conflict with each other and restrict their choices in a more visible and tangible manner. In Part II, I describe the sorts of identity performance and assimilationist demands that other authors have recently described as improperly distinguished from traditional forms of discrimination, such as exclusion. These authors have argued that because identity is at least partially performative, some identity performance demands must be condemned as similar to exclusion, or “discrimination by proxy. Part II lays out arguments against condemning these demands, in order to demonstrate why this Article’s argument regarding intersectionals is crucial. First, a slippery slope argument, and second, an argument that characterizing identity performance demands as discrimination or subordination amounts to essentialism. In Part III, I examine the catch 22 described in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, so that it can serve as a model for the catch 22 argument I will make. I suggest that intersectionals are especially likely to be subject to the sorts of catch 22’s identified in Price Waterhouse. Part IV presents evidence of intersectionals being subject to catch 22’s by pointing to writings by intersectionals describing their experiences. These writings are authored by a diverse group of persons, including African American women, African American gay men, and South Asian women. In Part V, I use the case of intersectionals to present hypothetical situations in which intersectionals might be subject to catch 22’s in order to demonstrate how these catch 22’s can clarify the discriminatory nature and impact on choice of certain identity performance demands. Part VI discusses and responds to some objections that could be raised to the paper. Part VII concludes."