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Intersectional Invisibility: The Distinctive Advantages and Disadvantages of Multiple Subordinate-Group Identities

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The hypothesis that possessing multiple subordinate-group identities renders a person “invisible” relative to those with a single subordinate-group identity is developed. We propose that androcentric, ethnocentric, and heterocentric ideologies will cause people who have multiple subordinate-group identities to be defined as non-prototypical members of their respective identity groups. Because people with multiple subordinate-group identities (e.g., ethnic minority woman) do not fit the prototypes of their respective identity groups (e.g., ethnic minorities, women), they will experience what we have termed “intersectional invisibility.” In this article, our model of intersectional invisibility is developed and evidence from historical narratives, cultural representations, interest-group politics, and anti-discrimination legal frameworks is used to illustrate its utility. Implications for social psychological theory and research are discussed.
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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Intersectional Invisibility: The Distinctive Advantages
and Disadvantages of Multiple Subordinate-Group Identities
Valerie Purdie-Vaughns &Richard P. Eibach
#Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008
Abstract The hypothesis that possessing multiple subordi-
nate-group identities renders a person invisiblerelative to
those with a single subordinate-group identity is developed.
We propose that androcentric, ethnocentric, and heterocentric
ideologies will cause people who have multiple subordinate-
group identities to be defined as non-prototypical members of
their respective identity groups. Because people with multiple
subordinate-group identities (e.g., ethnic minority woman) do
not fit the prototypes of their respective identity groups (e.g.,
ethnic minorities, women), they will experience what we have
termed intersectional invisibility.In this article, our model
of intersectional invisibility is developed and evidence from
historical narratives, cultural representations, interest-group
politics, and anti-discrimination legal frameworks is used to
illustrate its utility. Implications for social psychological
theory and research are discussed.
Keywords Intersectionality .Race .Gender .
Sexual orientation .Multiple identities .
Double jeopardy .Social dominance theory
If the most violent punishments of men consisted of
floggings and mutilations, women were flogged and
mutilated, as well as raped. (Davis 1981,p.7)
Without in any way underplaying the enormous
problems that poor African American women face, I
want to suggest that the burdens of African American
men have always been oppressive, dispiriting, demor-
alizing, and soul-killing, whereas those of women
have always been at least partly generative, empower-
ing, and humanizing. (Patterson 1995 pp. 623)
Introduction
The politics of research on the intersection of social
identities based on race, gender, class, and sexuality can
at times resemble a score-keeping contest between battle-
weary warriors. The warriors display ever deeper and more
gruesome battle scars in a game of one-upmanship, with
each trying to prove that he or she has suffered more than
the other. In intersectionality research the debate has
centered on whether people with multiple subordinate-
group identities (e.g., ethnic minority women, white lesbian
women, black gay men) are worse off, that is, experience
more prejudice and discrimination, than those with single
subordinate-group identities (e.g., ethnic minority hetero-
sexual men, white gay men).
On one side of this debate are scholars who support the
double jeopardy model which claims that disadvantage
accrues with each of a persons subordinate-group identi-
ties. For example, in the quote above, Davis claims that
black women are worse off than black men because they
bear all of the burdens of racial subordination along with
the distinctive burdens of sexual subordination. On the
other side of the controversy are scholars who claim that
people with a single subordinate-group identity are rela-
tively more disadvantaged than people with multiple
Sex Roles
DOI 10.1007/s11199-008-9424-4
V. Purdie-Vaughns (*):R. P. Eibach
Department of Psychology, Yale University,
2 Hillhouse Avenue,
New Haven, CT 06511, USA
e-mail: valerie.purdie@yale.edu
R. P. Eibach
e-mail: richard.eibach@yale.edu
subordinate group identities. Orlando Pattersonsvivid
commentary about the experiences of black men represents
this perspective. The controversy about whether a person
with multiple subordinate-group identities will tend to be
more or less oppressed than a person with a single
subordinate-group identity has raised important questions
and stimulated interesting theory and research on the
intersections of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation.
However, empirical evidence can be marshaled to support
either side of this controversy and the question of who is
more oppressed may be ultimately unanswerable.
The purpose of this article is to develop an alternative
model for research on intersectionality that attempts to move
beyond the question of whose group is worse offto specify
the distinctive forms of oppression experienced by those with
intersecting subordinate identities. Our central argument is
that androcentrismthe tendency to define the standard
person as maleethnocentrismthe tendency to define the
standard person as a member of the dominant ethnic group
(i.e., White Americans in the U.S.)and heterocentrismthe
tendency to define the standard person as heterosexualmay
cause people who have intersecting identities to be perceived
as non-prototypical members of their constituent identity
groups. Because people with multiple subordinate identities
(e.g., African-American woman) do not usually fit the
prototypes of their respective subordinate groups (e.g.,
African-Americans, women), they will experience what we
have termed intersectional invisibility.
This article is divided into four sections. The first section
summarizes the two dominant theoretical frameworks used to
investigate whether people with multiple subordinate-group
identities or those with a single subordinate-group identity
experience greater societal prejudice and discrimination. Its
purpose is to provide an intellectual context for the next
section where we explain the specific problems and challenges
associated with this score-keeping approach. In the third
section, the intersectional invisibility model is developed and
evidence from historical narratives, cultural representations,
interest-group politics, and anti-discrimination legal frame-
works are used to illustrate the utility of the intersectional
invisibility model. In the final section, implications for social
psychological theory and research are discussed.
Which Group Suffers the Most?: Multiple vs. Single
Subordinate Group Identities
Double Jeopardy and the Cumulative Nature
of Disadvantage
The term double jeopardyis traditionally used by scholars
who emphasize the cumulative disadvantage that accrues to
people with multiple subordinate-group identities (Almquist
1975;Cortina2001;King1988;Epstein1973;Reid1984).
As research on racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and
disability has advanced, critics have argued that isolating any
single one of these identities for study overlooks the
experience of individuals with multiple subordinate identities
(Reid and Comas-Diaz 1990; Smith and Stewart 1983). To
correct this oversight, double jeopardy theorists explicitly
focus their studies on people with more than one devalued
identity (Browne and Misra 2003).
Double jeopardywas introduced in the early 1970sto
characterize dual discrimination based on racism and
sexism (Beale 1979). According to the double jeopardy
hypothesis, minority women suffer the effects of both
gender and ethnic prejudice in their society (Beale 1979;
Reid 1984). Later theorizing called for a third jeopardy
based on class and a fourth based on sexual orientation
(King 1988). Scholars who study double or multiple
jeopardies seek to understand and explain how disadvan-
tage accumulates to shape the experience of discrimination
for people with intersecting subordinate-group identities
(see Hancock 2007 for complete review).
Two general models outline how double jeopardy research
is conceptualized: the additive model and the interactive
model. Researchers advocating an additive model argue that
a person with two or more intersecting identities experiences
the distinctive forms of oppression associated with each of
his or her subordinate identities summed together. The more
devalued identities a person has, the more cumulative
discrimination he or she faces (Almquist 1975; Epstein
1973). Alternatively, researchers advocating an interactive
model argue that each of a persons subordinate identities
interact in a synergistic way. People experience these
identities as one, and thus contend with discrimination as a
multiply marginalized other (Crenshaw 1993; Carbado
2000a;ReidandComas-Diaz1990; Smith and Stewart
1983;Settles2006).
Early models highlighting both the additive and interac-
tive nature of multiple identities were grounded in the
experience of African-American women and thus empha-
sized the co-existence of race and gender in American
society (Smith and Stewart 1983). Insights gleaned from
this approach have more recently been applied to the study
of other groups such as Asian-American women (Lien
1994), Asian-American sexual minorities (Chung amd
Katayama 1998), African-American sexual minorities
(Bowleg et al. 2003; Carbado 2000a), Latino immigrant
women (Salgado de Synder et al. 1990), and Native-
American lesbians (Witt 1981). Other models claim that a
persons class status inextricably defines their race and
gender and thus must be included in double jeopardy
scholarship (Jeffries and Ransford 1980; Ransford and
Miller 1983; see also Carbado 2002; McLeod and Owens
2004 for intersectionality and class).
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Despite their differences in modeling the nature of
intersectional oppression, both the additive and interactive
models of double jeopardy predict that people with multiple
subordinate identities will be subjected to more prejudice
and discrimination than those with a single subordinate
identity. The double jeopardy thesis is typically supported
by findings demonstrating that on many economic and
social indicators such as wages, job authority, and occupa-
tional status, people with intersecting subordinate identities
(e.g., Black women, Latinas, and some groups of Asian-
American women) are at the bottom, falling below White
women and ethnic minority men (Almquist 1975; Epstein
1973;King1988; Landrine et al. 1995). For example, in the
domain of domestic work, ethnicity, gender, class, and
citizenship are compounded so that poor immigrant ethnic
minority women encounter greater degrees of disadvantage
(King 1988). More recently, Berdahl and Moore (2006)
found that women experienced more sexual harassment than
men, minorities (African-American and Latino) experienced
more ethnic harassment than whites, and minority women
experienced more frequent and severe harassment overall
than white males, minority males, and white females.
Research studying the experience of discrimination from
the subjects own perspective has also uncovered evidence of
cumulative disadvantage for intersectional subordinates. For
instance, black women report that employers expect them to
be paid less in comparison to black married males and white
females (Settles 2006). Moreover, black lesbians who were
interviewed about stressors associated with their triple
subordinate identity status claimed that racism, sexism and
heterosexism were each significant sources of stress in their
lives (Bowleg et al. 2003). Finally, using a stereotype threat
paradigm, Gonzales and colleagues (Gonzales et al. 2002)
provided support for the notion that the compound effect of
stereotypes about Latino intelligence and stereotypes about
womens intelligence lowered Latinas test performance
relative to white females, Latino males, and white males
when these stereotypes were simultaneously activated.
Social Dominance Theory and the Subordinate Male Target
Hypothesis
The other side of the whose group is most oppressed
debate is occupied by scholars who claim that group
members with a single devalued identity often bear the brunt
of discrimination targeting their group. The most powerful
and theoretically rich statement of this position is rooted in
social dominance theory (Sidanius and Pratto 1999; Sidanius
and Veniegas 2000). Specifically, social dominance theorys
subordinate male target hypothesis (SMTH) provocatively
claims that subordinate men are the focus of oppression
primarily implemented by dominant men. Consequently,
oppression directed at subordinate groups will cause
subordinate men to experience more direct prejudice and
discrimination than subordinate women.
Social dominance theory claims that societies are struc-
tured as group-based hierarchies out of which group conflict
and oppression (e.g., racism, sexism, nationalism) arise
(Sidanius and Pratto 1999). Within these hierarchical
systems, dominant groups have a disproportionate share of
economic resources and social and cultural capital, while
subordinate groups suffer stigma, prejudice, and discrimina-
tion. Social dominance theory emphasizes three qualitatively
different types of social hierarchy: age-based, gender-based,
and arbitrary-set hierarchies (Sidanius and Pratto 1999). In
age-based hierarchies adults are dominant over children, in
gender-based hierarchies men are dominant over women,
and in arbitrary-set hierarchies locally defined dominant
groups, such as certain ethnic or religious groups, have
privileged access to resources over locally defined subordi-
nate groups.
One assumption specifically relevant to the SMTH is the
notion that arbitrary-set hierarchies are the product of
competition among men over access to material and
symbolic resources (Sidanius and Pratto 1999). Because
resource-competition is largely an intra-male phenomenon,
men from dominant groups oppress men from subordinate
groups to maintain their own social power and resource
control. For these reasons the oppression directed at ethnic
minorities should have more severe effects on minority
males than minority females. Of course by including
patriarchy in its analysis social dominance theory recog-
nizes that ethnic minority women are the targets of both
gender and ethnic oppression. However, the theory empha-
sizes that ethnic prejudice against minority males is
typically more extreme than that which is directed at
minority women. The SMTH agitates the Whose group
suffers most?debate relevant to intersectionality research.
People with a single devalued identity, in particular ethnic
minority men, are posited to experience more prejudice and
discrimination than people with multiple devalued identi-
ties, in particular ethnic minority women.
Social dominance researchers have amassed impressive
empirical evidence across a number of different domains
and cultures to support their claim that men bear the brunt
of discrimination targeted at subordinate arbitrary-set
groups, such as ethnic minorities (for complete review
see Sidanius and Pratto 1999).Forexample,inastudyof
incarceration rates in the English criminal justice system,
researchers found that even after controlling for differ-
ences in legally relevant variables black men were still
incarcerated at higher rates than white men, while the
differences between black and white women were elimi-
nated (Simmons et al. 1991). A meta-analysis of employ-
ment discrimination auditing studies conducted in several
different countries revealed that the bias favoring domi-
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nant over subordinate men was greater than the bias
favoring dominant over subordinate women (Sidanius and
Pratto 1999).
Not only should ethnic minority men bear the brunt of
ethnic discrimination, the SMTH also suggests that ethnic
minority men should often be worse off overall than ethnic
minority women, despite the fact that ethnic minority
women also suffer from oppression based on gender. Self-
report studies support this claim. For instance, in Sweden,
male immigrants report more experiences of discrimination
in the workplace than female immigrants (Sidanius and
Pratto 1999). Similarly, in the United States, black men are
more likely than black women to report experiencing
workplace discrimination within the past 30 days (Sidanius
and Pratto 1999). Finally, an audit study of car sales
revealed that while black women are forced to pay
approximately $446 more than white men for a new
vehicle, black men are forced to pay $1,133 more than
white men (Ayres and Siegelman 1995). Cumulatively,
these results offer strong support for social dominance
theorys prediction that prejudice against arbitrary-set
subordinate groups is largely targeted at the men within
those groups, which often causes minority men to be worse
off overall than minority women, contrary to both conven-
tional wisdom and the double jeopardy hypothesis.
Limitations of the Score Keeping Approach
Given that evidence can be cited to support both the double
jeopardy hypothesis (Berdahl and Moore 2006; Gonzales et
al. 2002) and the SMTH (Sidanius and Pratto 1999), the
debate about whether members of multiple subordinate
groups (e.g., African-American women, lesbians) are
ultimately worse off or better off than members of a single
subordinate group (e.g., African-American heterosexual
men, gay white men) is likely to continue with each side
attempting to keep score of the relative disadvantages for
those with single versus multiple subordinate identities.
However, due to fundamental problems with this approach,
we believe that this score-keeping will prove increasingly
futile.
As Sidanius and Pratto (1999) point out, the first
problem with score-keeping is that it neglects to take into
account the many complex ways that people with intersect-
ing identities are interdependent with those who share one
or more of their disadvantaged identities. For example,
ethnic minority women are emotionally, socially, and
economically interdependent with the ethnic minority men
who are their husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers. Thus, if
ethnic minority men are the targets of prejudicial attitudes
and exclusionary practices, then the effects of this oppres-
sion will reverberate in the lives of ethnic minority women
who both care for and depend upon these men.
A more fundamental problem with the score-keeping
approach is that the various types of oppression that people
experience are incommensurable. It is not possible to
translate qualitatively distinct forms of oppression into a
single measure. How does one quantify suffering in a way
that would permit comparisons among rape, unjustified
incarceration, chronic poverty, racial profiling, hate-crime
victimization and social exclusion? Given that there is no
consensual, summary metric of oppression, the question
Whose group suffers most?is one that science ultimately
cannot answer.
We propose that the study of disadvantage might benefit
from reframing key questions using an intersectionality
perspective. Rather than asking who is more disadvantaged,
we should instead ask how the forms of oppression that
people with intersecting disadvantaged identities experience
differ from the forms of oppression that people with a
single disadvantaged identity experience. By recognizing
that people with intersectional identities experience distinc-
tive forms of oppression, we can shift the focus away from
score-keeping to a richer analysis of the complex field of
oppressive forces in which people with intersectional
identities are situated. To illustrate this approach in the
next section we develop a general model of intersectional
invisibility that attempts to specify the distinctive forms of
oppression experienced by those with intersecting subordi-
nate-group identities.
Towards a Model of Intersectional Invisibility
Our model of intersectional invisibility draws on the
concepts of androcentrism, ethnocentrism, and heterocen-
trism to explain why people with intersecting identities will
tend to be defined as non-prototypical members of their
constituent identity groups. The proposed model draws on
social psychological work on ideologies and identity
prototypicality to develop this argument. We then explain
how being a non-prototypical member of a social group
results in an experience of social invisibility that is linked to
a distinctive mixture of advantages and disadvantages that
people with intersecting identities should be more likely to
experience compared to the more prototypical members of
their social groups.
Ideological Bases of Perceived Prototypicality
Androcentrism, ethnocentrism, and heterocentrism are three
ideologies in which a dominant groups perspective and
experience achieves hegemony, becoming defined as the
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societal standard. Androcentrism is the tendency to define
men as the prototypical exemplars of a given group and
women as non-prototypical exemplars of that group (Bem
1994). As Bem (1994) clearly states it,
[A]ndrocentrism is the privileging of male experience
and the otherizingof female experience; that is,
males and male experience are treated as the neutral
standard or norm for the culture or the species as a
whole, and females and female experience are treated
as a sex-specific deviation from that allegedly univer-
sal standard (p. 41).
Androcentrism is prominent in Judeo-Christian theology,
Greek philosophy, Freudian psychoanalytic theory, and
American law (Bem 1994). Androcentrism is also impli-
cated in the tendency for peoples explanations of gender
gaps to focus on the distinctive attributes of women rather
than the distinctive attributes of men (Miller et al. 1991)
and the tendency of people to apply group stereotypes more
strongly to male than to female exemplars of a given group
(Eagly and Kite 1987).
Ethnocentrism emphasizes the tendency to define the
norms of ones own social group as the universal, human
standard, and the norms of outgroups as a deviation from this
standard (Sumner 1906). In a pluralistic society, the socially
dominant group will often have the power to define its
ingroup norms as the standard for society as a whole. Since
white people have been the socially dominant ethnic group
in the modern Western context, whiteness tends to define
the societal norm in most Western nations (Bonilla-Silva
2000; Sue 1999). In the U.S., the ethnocentric definition of
white people as prototypical citizens and non-white people
as non-prototypical citizens is revealed in the tendency to
automatically associate symbols of American identity more
strongly with white Americans and symbols of foreignness
more strongly with black Americans and Asian-Americans
(Devos and Banaji 2005).
Finally, heterocentrism refers to the definition of hetero-
sexuality as the normative standard of human sexuality, with
homosexuality and bisexuality defined as deviant sexual-
ities. The assumption that heterosexuality is biologically
natural while homosexuality and bisexuality are unnatural
lifestyle choicesis perhaps the clearest expression of
heterocentrism. Heterocentrism is more subtly expressed in
the tendency to explain differences between heterosexuals
and homosexuals by focusing on the unique characteristics
of homosexuals rather than the unique characteristics of
heterosexuals (Hegarty and Pratto 2004), and the tendency
to explain a straight persons discomfort in a gay bar by
focusing on the characteristics of the setting rather than the
person, while explaining a gay persons discomfort in a
straight bar by focusing on the characteristics of the person
rather than the setting (Hegarty et al. 2004).
Working together, we suggest that these ideologies of
androcentrism, ethnocentrism, and heterocentrism will
cause people who have intersecting subordinate-group
identities on these dimensions to be defined as non-
prototypical members of their constituent identity groups.
This model is illustrated in Fig. 1. The influence of
androcentrism (i.e., men as prototypical) and heterocen-
trism (i.e., heterosexuality as prototypical) will cause the
prototypical member of a subordinate ethnic or racial group
to be defined as a heterosexual man. The influence of
heterocentrism (i.e., heterosexuality as prototypical) and
ethnocentrism (i.e., white as prototypical) will cause the
prototypical woman to be defined as straight and white.
Finally, the influence of ethnocentrism (i.e., white as
prototypical) and androcentrism (i.e., men as prototypical)
will cause the prototypical gay person to be defined as a
white man.
To simplify the exposition of our model we focus on the
intersection of ethnic, gender, and sexual identities because
there is a deeper existing literature to draw on when
analyzing these forms of intersectionality. However, the
model of intersectional invisibility should apply to other
intersecting subordinate identities that we do not explore in
the present paper. For example, the prototypical disabled
person is a white, male, heterosexual and thus the
experiences of nonwhite, female, or gay/lesbian disabled
persons should tend to be relatively marginalized in cultural
representations of disability.
Non-Prototypicality and the Experience of Invisibility
We argue that because people with two or more subordinate
identities do not fit the prototypes of their constituent
subordinate groups, they will experience intersectional
invisibility. By intersectional invisibility we mean the
general failure to fully recognize people with intersecting
identities as members of their constituent groups. Intersec-
tional invisibility also refers to the distortion of the
intersectional personscharacteristics in order to fit them
into frameworks defined by prototypes of constituent
identity groups. According to our model, ethnic minority
gay men, ethnic minority women, and white lesbian women
are examples of people with intersecting subordinate
identities. Such individuals tend to be marginal members
within marginalized groups. This status relegates them to a
position of acute social invisibility.
The social invisibility that people with intersecting
identities experience by virtue of their non-prototypicality
gives them a mix of advantages and disadvantages
compared to prototypical members of their groups. By
emphasizing that intersectionality is associated with a mix
of advantages and disadvantages our model looks past the
traditional focus on whether people with intersectional
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identities are ultimately better off or worse off than those
with a single subordinate identity and refocuses on a
detailed examination of the different forms of oppression
that people with multiple versus single subordinate-group
identities face. We explore the hypothetical advantages and
disadvantages of intersectional invisibility in the following
two sections.
Advantages of Intersectional Invisibility: Eluding Active
Forms of Oppression
The benefits of social invisibility are illustrated in the TV
series Six Feet Under in an episode in which two female
characters in their fifties go on a shoplifting expedition at
the jewelry counter of an expensive department store. To
calm her accomplices anxieties about being arrested, the
bolder of the two remarks, Fortunately women of our age
are invisible, so we can get away with murder.Just as
social invisibility allowed these characters to elude
detection of their crime, the social invisibility of people
with intersectional disadvantaged identities may allow
them to more easily escape many of the actively
discriminatory practices that target their groups compared
to members who more closely fit the prototypes of these
groups. Active forms of prejudice and discrimination
should be primarily directed at the groupsmoreproto-
typical members, allowing non-prototypical members to
be relatively less directly affected by these more active
forms of oppression.
Our claim that prototypical group members are more
direct targets of prejudice and discrimination than less
prototypical members is supported by research demonstrat-
ing that anti-black prejudice and racial stereotypes are more
likely to be applied to targets with more stereotypically
black features (Blair et al. 2002; Eberhardt et al. 2004;
Maddox 2004). The gravest example of this bias is the
finding that black defendants in capital murder cases are
more likely to receive a death sentence to the extent that
their appearance is more stereotypically black (Eberhardt
et al. 2006).
Our hypothesis that people who are more prototypical
subordinate-group members will be more direct targets of
oppression compared to people who are less prototypical
subordinate-group members suggests revisiting the subordi-
nate male target hypothesis (SMTH). Findings demonstrating
that the greater oppression of subordinate males compared to
subordinate females, which has been cited to support the
SMTH, can be reinterpreted as an outcome of the non-
prototypicality of subordinate females. For instance, ethnic
minority women and white lesbian women, by virtue of their
non-prototypicality, may escape the more active forms of
discrimination ethnic minority men and gay men face.
As we explained above, androcentrism will tend to cause
the male members of subordinate social groups to be
Fig. 1 Ideological sources of prototypicality.
Sex Roles
defined as prototypical group members. Thus, from the
perspective of intersectional invisibility, subordinate men
will more often be the victims of active forms of oppression
directed at their groups because of their greater prototypi-
cality compared to subordinate women. For example, this
notion that their relative invisibility shields people with
intersectional identities from the brunt of oppression
directed at their groups can explain the well-documented
finding that attitudes toward male homosexuality are more
negative than attitudes toward lesbianism (Kite and Whitley
1996). This interpretation is clearly expressed by Bem
(1994) who writes, This abhorrence of homosexuality
implicates males even more than females. Female sexuality
in an androcentric society is so defined from a male
perspective that the lesbian herself is all but rendered
invisible(p.166). Interestingly, a great deal of empirical
data marshaled to support the SMTH focuses on active
forms of oppression.
The difference between our interpretation of evidence
demonstrating greater disadvantages for subordinate men
and the interpretation put forward by social dominance
theorists lies in the nature of our conceptualization of
androcentrism. The SMTH in a sense naturalizes androcen-
trism. The oppression of subordinate group men is the
product of psychological dispositions that evolved as males
competed for resources in the human ancestral environment
(Sidanius and Kurzban 2003). By contrast, our model views
the oppression of subordinate group men as a reflection of
the general tendency in an androcentric society to view all
menboth those of dominant groups and those of
subordinate groupsas more important than women (see
also Bem 1994). It is this marginalization of women in an
androcentric society that causes subordinate women to be
relatively ignored as direct targets of oppression compared
to subordinate men.
Disadvantages of Intersectional Invisibility: The Systematic
Distortion of Intersectional Experience
The struggle to be recognized or represented is the most
distinctive form of oppression for people with intersectional
subordinate-group identities. They face a continuous strug-
gle to have their voices heard and, when heard, understood.
For instance, social identity research finds that non-
prototypical group members are less likely to achieve
leadership status within their groups and they are less
likely to exert social influence on other members of their
group compared to those who are more prototypical (Hogg
2001). The link between prototypicality, leadership, and
social influence should contribute to the relative margin-
alization of those with intersecting subordinate-group
identities. Accordingly, people with intersectional subordi-
nate-group identities should be underrepresented as leaders
of their ingroups and less influential over other ingroup
members compared to more prototypical subordinate-group
members. From this perspective it is for instance not so
surprising that black womens contributions to both civil
rights and feminist activism have been so marginalized.
According to our model of intersectional invisibility, the
challenges associated with misrepresentation, marginaliza-
tion, and disempowerment will tend to be prominent
features of the experience of people with intersectional
subordinate-group identities. In the following section we
illustrate how historical narratives, cultural understandings,
interest group politics, and legal frameworks render the
intersectionally subordinate person socially invisible.
Rendering the Intersectionally Subordinate-Group Member
as Invisible: Illustrative Cases
Historical Invisibility
Historical invisibility concerns the marginalization of
intersectional experiences in historical narratives (Crenshaw
1991,1992). The intersectional invisibility model predicts
that the experiences and historical narratives of people with
intersectional identities will tend to be deemphasized or
misrepresented in the mainstream historical record. To the
extent they are discussed, their intersectional identity in
particular should be deemphasized. Such historical invisi-
bility should occur for both representations of groups and
individual historical figures.
The problem of historical representation is illustrated by
a scenario that we call the librarians dilemma.Imagine a
librarian who receives a single copy of a book about black
womens history. The librarian must decide whether the
book should be shelved in the Womens Studies section or
the African-American Studies section. If she chooses to
shelve the book in the Womens Studies section it is un-
likely that casual browsers interested in African-American
Studies will come across the book. Alternatively, if she
shelves the book in the African-American Studies section
the casual browsers of Womens Studies are going to miss
the book. Either way, the story of African-American
womens experiences will be missed by a whole group of
potential readers.
In an alternative universe where women define the
human standard and men are represented as deviations
from this standard, the librarians dilemma would still exist
but the books that raise this dilemma would be different. In
this alternative universe, African-American history would
be seen as primarily a black womans story and black mens
experiences would be seen as a specialized story within the
African-American narrative. If black women were seen as
the chief protagonists and black men were seen as the bit
players of African-American history then our hypothetical
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librarian would face a dilemma in deciding whether books
about black mens experiences should be shelved in the
African-American studies section or the Mens Studies
section.
Intersectional invisibility in the historical record is demon-
strated by evidence of the relative neglect of the narratives and
experiences of African-American women in both mainstream
African-American history and womens history (Collins 1999;
Crenshaw 1992;Davis1981; King 1988; Sims-Wood 1988;
Smith and Stewart 1983). Commenting on this neglect, black
feminist author bell Hooks (1989)asserts,
No other group in America has so had their identity
socialized out of existence as have black women. We
are rarely recognized as a group separate and distinct
from black men, or a present part of the larger group
womenin this culture... (p. 7).
Black feminist theorists have long argued that scholars,
policy makers and lay people implicitly associate race with
African-American males and gender with white females
(Crenshaw 1991). Thus, African-American history tacitly
implies African-American male history, rendering African-
American women historically invisible. Indeed, relative to
African-American men, African-American womens prom-
inence in Civil Rights activism, contributions to African-
American historical scholarship, and role as abolitionists is
less articulated in historical documents and texts (Crenshaw
1991,1995; Davis 1981; King 1975).
While the intersection of race and gender marginalizes
black womens historical contributions, the intersection of
race and sexuality marginalizes the historical contributions
of black gay men. The story of Bayard Rustin (19101987),
a black gay man who was one of the key strategists of the
Civil Rights movement but whose contributions have, until
recently (Carbado and Weise 2004;DEmilio 2004), been
dramatically underrepresented in the historical record,
illustrates the invisibility of an individual historical figure
because of his intersectionality. Long before Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. involved himself in the struggle for civil
rights, Rustin founded the Congress on Racial Equality
(CORE), a group deeply influenced by theories on how to
use nonviolent resistance to achieve social change. Rustin
became one of Dr. Kings main political advisors and was
instrumental in deepening Kings conceptualization of non-
violence. Rustin and King, together, formed the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, and Rustin was the chief
architect of the historic 1963 March on Washington.
Carbado and Weise (2004) summarize Rustinsmany
contributions to modern Civil Rights history, writing, Few
African-Americans engaged in as broad a protest agenda as
did Rustin; even fewer enjoyed his breadth of influence in
virtually every political sector of American life(pp. 1134
1135). Yet, Rustins homosexuality has, for many years,
caused him to be represented as a historical footnote rather
than a key protagonist in the Civil Rights movement. The
few historical texts that describe Rustins role in the Civil
Rights movement often fail to mention his sexual orientation.
Interestingly, black gay men are invisible not only in
the popular history of African-American civil rights
advocacy but also in the history of gay civil rights ad-
vocacy. For instance, Perry Watkins, an African-American
army sergeant who was the first openly gay serviceman to
successfully challenge the United States militarys exclu-
sion of gay people from military service was not mentioned
by gay activists who later challenged the Dont Ask
Dont Tellpolicy, despite the obvious relevance of his
historic case to that cause (Bérubé 2001; Carbado 2000a).
The marginalization of Bayard Rustin in African-American
history and Perry Watkins in gay history reinforces the
point that in our culture to be African-American is to
be heterosexual, and to be homosexual is to be white,
thus rendering African-American gay men invisible
through the influence of heterocentrism and ethnocentrism,
respectively.
Cultural Invisibility
Cultural invisibility refers to the failure of cultural represen-
tations to capture the distinctive experiences of intersection-
ally subordinate groups. Cultural schemas and narrative
tropes are interpretive tools that we use to make sense of
other people and ourselves and explain human behavior and
experiences. To the extent that these schemas and tropes are
organized around androcentric, ethnocentric, and heterocen-
tric prototypes, they will do a particularly poor job
representing people who have intersectionally subordinate
identities. As a consequence, such people will often be
mischaracterized and misunderstood.
To illustrate what we mean by cultural invisibility, consider
how dominant cultural models of sexual orientation misrep-
resent womens experiences of non-heterosexuality. Lisa
Diamonds influential research to the study of sexual
orientation demonstrates how androcentric models of sexual-
ity have been a poor fit to womens experiences (Diamond
2003a,b). Androcentric models of human sexuality have
emphasized relatively fixed, stable patterns of attraction that
can be labeled exclusively heterosexual, exclusively homo-
sexual, or bisexual. Diamonds longitudinal research docu-
ments a surprisingly high amount of temporal flux in
womens sexual attractions. This suggests that the presump-
tion that sexual orientation is a relatively fixed attribute of
the person fits the experience of men much better than it fits
the experience of women (Diamond 2003a). Consequently,
womens experiences of non-heterosexuality are likely to be
misunderstood by the culturally dominant models of sexual
orientation.
Sex Roles
Diamonds recent theoretical work argues that women
experience a pattern of sexuality that has been completely
ignored by the culturally dominant models of sexual
orientation (Diamond 2003b). Specifically, Diamond argues
that women can develop a sexual attraction to a specific
individual that grows out of a romantic infatuation with that
person even though that person is not a member of the
gender category to whom the woman is otherwise exclu-
sively attracted. For example, an otherwise heterosexual
woman can develop a romantic crush on her female
roommate and that crush can eventually become sexualized,
but this sexual attraction will be exclusive to her roommate
and will not generalize to other women. There are no
available models of sexual orientation in our popular
culture that capture the relationship-specific forms of sexual
attraction that Diamond describes. Thus, a woman who has
a sexual experience of this kind is likely to be misunder-
stood both by others and by herself. She may be labeled a
bisexual or a lesbian who has come out of the closet,but
neither of these labels accurately captures the relationship-
specific nature of her sexual attraction to another woman.
Another example of cultural distortion is the failure of the
mainstream gay communityscoming outnarrative to
represent the distinctive experiences of economically mar-
ginal black gay men. The normative model of coming out
has become an identity imperative within the mainstream
gay community, and closetedgay people who do not
follow this model are seen as a political problem. From this
perspective, gay people who do not accepttheir homosex-
uality and do not live an openly gaylifestyle are
pathologized in various ways, such as being diagnosed as
suffering from internalized homophobia.We suggest that
this normative coming outmodel may do a fair job
representing the experiences of relatively affluent, white gay
men and lesbians, but the model encounters serious problems
when applied to the lives of economically marginal black
gay men. In particular, this normative model of coming out
pathologizes black men who claim a down lowidentity.
Down lowwas a term traditionally used to describe
men who live virtually heterosexual lives but engage in
secret sexual relationships with men (Denizet-Lewis 2003).
But recently African-American gay males have begun to
redefine down low(abbreviated as DL) as a meaningful
label that includes sexual relationships with men but also an
assertion of masculinity, an affirmation of racial identity,
and a distancing from prototypical white gay culture
(Denizet-Lewis 2003). Interestingly, the process of coming
out for men who claim the DL identity is markedly different
from the normative coming out experience. No public claim
to sexual identity is necessary, neither is a declaration to
friends, families and co-workers. In short, sexual identity
remains a private affair as there is nothing or no one to
whom one can come out.
When viewed through the perspective of the mainstream
gay communityscoming outmodel, DL-identified men
are seen as problematic closet caseswhose internalized
homophobia prevents them from accepting and publicly
affirming their gay identity. However, this characterization
of the DL phenomenon fails to take into account the
situation of many black gay men. For one thing, such men
may be more likely to be dependent on economic support
from heterosexual family members to make ends meet, and
thus they may not be able to risk alienating their relatives
by publicly proclaiming an identity that might elicit
disapproval from those relatives. Glenn Ligon, a gay black
visual artist, makes this point effectively, saying, The
reason that so many young black men arent so cavalier
about announcing their sexual orientation is because we
need our familiesWe need our families because of
economic reasons, because of racism, because of a million
reasons(quoted in Denizet-Lewis 2003).
The imperative to maintain racial solidarity with other
non-gay black people is another important reason that many
black gay men may adopt the DL identity. As one DL-
identified man put it,
If you are white, you can come out as an openly gay
skier or actor or whatever. It might hurt you some, but
its not like if youre black and gay, because then its
like youve let down the whole black community, black
women, black pride (quoted in Denizet-Lewis 2003).
The failure of the mainstream gay community to
understand these and many other reasons that black gay
men have for rejecting the dominant coming out
imperative may lead them to unfairly pathologize DL-
identified men.
Political Invisibility
Political invisibility refers to the neglect by allegedly
inclusive advocacy groups of the issues that predominantly
affect people with intersecting subordinate identities. The
leaders of groups advocating for the rights and welfare of
politically marginalized communities including ethnic or
sexual minorities, women, and the poor, often claim to
represent the needs and concerns of all their constituents,
including those with intersecting subordinate identities
(Strolovitch 2007). However, despite these good intentions,
advocacy groups often wind up devoting proportionately
less attention and resources to constituents with multiple
subordinate identities than they do to their more prototyp-
ical constituents who have only a single subordinate
identity (Strolovitch 2007). Issues that primarily affect the
lives of these singular subordinate members are more easily
framed as issues that affect the group as a whole than are
issues that primarily affect members with two or more
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intersecting subordinate identities (Cohen 1999; Strolovitch
2007). Illustrating this phenomenon in the context of issues
affecting the black community, Cohen (1999) writes,
In actuality, both inside and outside of black commu-
nities, certain segments of the population are privileged
with regard to the definition of political agendas. For
example, issues affecting men are often presented as
representative of the condition of an entire community
and thus worthy of a group response. Recently in black
communities the troubling and desperate condition of
young black men, who in increasing numbers face
homicide, incarceration, and constant unemployment as
their only lifeoptions, has been represented as a
marker by which we can evaluate the condition of the
whole group. The similarly disturbing and life-threat-
ening condition of young black women, who confront
teenage pregnancy, state backlash, and (increasingly)
incarceration, however, is not portrayed as an equally
effective and encompassing symbol of the circum-
stances of black communities. (p. 11)
The fact that advocacy groups can more easily frame
issues that affect subgroups with a single subordinate
identity as being important for the group as a whole has
concrete consequences for the allocation of attention and
resources. For instance, in a survey of the officers of
advocacy groups, Strolovitch (2007) found that these
organizations are relatively inactive when it came to issues
affecting intersectionally subordinate subgroups compared
to issues that affect members with a single subordinate
identity. To justify this unbalanced allocation of resources,
officers of advocacy organizations often claim that benefits
targeted at constituents with a single subordinate identity
ultimately trickle downto help intersectionally subordi-
nate constituents (Strolovitch 2007). Advocacy groups also
often assume that issues that primarily affect intersection-
ally subordinate constituents will be attended to by other
organizations (Strolovitch 2007). For example, gay advo-
cacy groups may assume that issues specifically affecting
lesbians will be taken up by womens groups while
womens groups in turn may assume that these issues will
be taken up by gay advocacy groups and thus the issues of
lesbians are neglected by both of the groups that claim to
represent them.
One could argue that the solution to this problem is to
create groups that specifically represent people with
intersecting subordinate identities (e.g., lesbian advocacy
groups, black womens advocacy groups, Asian gay and
lesbian groups). However, the important point is that
existing advocacy groups claim to represent everyone with
a given subordinate identity but in fact primarily represent
the needs of constituents who have a single subordinate
identity. Thus, for example, a group can claim to be a
broadly inclusive gay advocacy group when it actually
functions as an advocacy group for white gay men. People
with intersecting subordinate identities (e.g., white or
nonwhite lesbians, nonwhite gay men) face the burden of
forming groups that are explicitly concerned with their
particular needs while those with a single subordinate
identity already have their particular needs represented by
allegedly inclusive advocacy groups. This illusory inclu-
sivity of advocacy groups that primarily focus on the issues
of constituents with a single subordinate identity likely
gives them many advantages in the competition for
resources and attention compared to advocacy groups that
represent the seemingly more narrow interests of intersect-
ing subordinate identities.
Legal Invisibility
Legal invisibility is a special type of cultural invisibility that
centers on the mismatch between intersectional subordinate-
group identities and dominant legal anti-discrimination
frameworks. In the United States, legal anti-discrimination
frameworks tend to privilege people with a single disadvan-
taged identity and it remains unclear whether people with
more than one disadvantaged identity can successfully claim
what is termed compound discrimination(Carbado
2000b). The intersectional invisibility model predicts that
the distinctive experiences of prejudice and discrimination
that people with intersectional subordinate identities face
should be a relatively poor fit to existing anti-discrimination
law. A person with multiple subordinate-group identities
becomes legally invisible when the court cannot provide the
same legal protections as it provides for people with a
single subordinate-group identity.
Title VII is a federal statute prohibiting private and
public discrimination on the basis of an employeesrace,
color, religion, sex, or national origin(Carbado 2000b).
Yet courts have historically viewed claims alleging race and
sex discrimination as independent claims. For instance, in
Degraffenreid vs. General Motors Assembly Division
(1976), a group of African-American female employees
alleged that General Motorsseniority system dispropor-
tionately undermined an African-American womans chan-
ces of promotion. In response, the U.S. District Court for
the Eastern District of Missouri held that plaintiffs may
argue race discrimination or sex discrimination separately,
but cannot argue for discrimination based on race and sex.
Although more recent court decisions have accepted limited
compound discrimination arguments (Carbado 2000b) the
most well-defined legal frameworks continue to privilege
people with a single disadvantaged identity.
While one side of legal invisibility focuses on the laws
ability to protect intersectional victims of discrimination,
the other side of legal invisibility emphasizes who is
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perceived to be a credible and convincing victim. The fact
that intersectionally invisible accusers will be less credible
because they fail to fit existing legal frameworks is particu-
larly well-illustrated in Crenshawsastuteanalysisofthe
ideological processes that turned public opinion against Anita
Hill, an African-American law professor, when, in 1991, she
accused US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of
repeatedly sexually harassing her when she worked for him at
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Crenshaw
1992). Emphasizing Anita Hills intersectional invisibility as
a black woman, Crenshaw writes,
[I]t was no Twilight Zonethat America discovered
when Anita Hill came forward. America simply stum-
bled into the place where African-American women live,
a political vacuum of erasure and contradiction main-
tained by the almost routine polarization of blacks and
womeninto separate and competing camps. Existing
within the overlapping margins of race and gender
discourse and in the empty spaces between, it is a
location whose very nature resists telling. This location
contributes to black womens ideological disempower-
ment in a way that tipped the scales against Anita Hill
from the very start. (p. 403).
Crenshaw argues that Anita Hill was misunderstood and
thus disbelieved by the American public because the only
cultural frameworks available to comprehend her claims of
sexual harassment were frameworks that were organized
around the prototypical white female victim, and, as a black
woman, Anita Hills experience was a poor match to this
prototype. For instance, one of the most unconvincing
aspects of Hills story from the perspective of the Senate
Judiciary committee and much of the general public was the
fact that she waited so many years before making any
charges against Thomas. Crenshaw argues that Hills
hesitation was hard to understand from the perspective of
a prototypical white victim of harassment but her delay is
more easily understood when you consider norms within
the black community which impose a code of silenceon
black women, forbidding them from taking actions that
would sully the reputation of a successful black man.
Indeed, Crenshaw points out that this code of silence was
evident in black media coverage of Anita Hill, much of
which criticized her for violating this taboo. The disbelief
of Hills story may thus represent a failure to appreciate that
this extra burden of coming forward that black women face
may have delayed Hills decision to bring accusations.
It is important to note that people underestimate the
situational pressures that would inhibit any woman from
reporting a sexual harasser (Woodzicka and LaFrance
2001). However, Crenshaws analysis suggests that the
public was even less equipped to understand the unique
situational pressures that inhibit black victims of sexual
harassment because existing frameworks for understanding
the sexual harassment situation have been mostly defined
from the perspective of the typical white victim. If cultural
frameworks for understanding harassment were organized
around a black womans experience rather than a white
womans experience, then the taboos that silence black
female victims would have been more readily recognized as
a factor that may have delayed Hills coming forward.
Implications for Social Psychological Theory
and Research on Intersectionality
We have argued that people who possess intersecting
subordinate-group identities tend to be defined and perceived
as non-prototypical members of their constituent identity
groups. Because people with two or more subordinate
identities do not fit the prototypes of their identity groups
they will experience what we have termed intersectional
invisibility.Our model is grounded in the social psycholog-
ical literatures on identity prototypicality and group-based
ideologies and emphasizes the processes that determine
when intersectional subordinate identities will offer advan-
tages and disadvantages compared to a single subordinate
identity.
We believe that our intersectional invisibility model
provides important contributions to the social identity, and
prejudice and discrimination literatures in social psycholo-
gy. By specifying the ideological sources of prototypicality,
our model contributes to social identity theory. Past
research in the social identity tradition has explored group
processes that influence prototypicality primarily in lab
groups (Hogg 2001; Mummendey and Wenzel 1999).
Intersectional invisibility provides a framework for study-
ing the ideological sources of prototypicality within real-
world groups and the affects of non-prototypicality in the
lives of people with intersecting subordinate identities. To
accomplish this goal, we draw on previous social psycho-
logical research on androcentric, ethnocentric, and hetero-
centric ideologies to explain which members of subordinate
groups will tend to be seen as non-prototypical. Situating
prototypicality in this real-world ideological context pro-
vides a basis for examining how and why intersecting
subordinate-group identities affect peoples lives, an anal-
ysis that has been understudied in social identity research.
In addition, our intersectional invisibility model high-
lights the importance of broadening prejudice and discrim-
ination research beyond the more overt practices of
oppression that target subordinate groups. As the title of
the model implies, intersectional invisibility includes more
extensive investigations of the often subtle practices that
marginalize subordinate group members by excluding their
experiences and perspectives from prevailing social repre-
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sentations and discourses (cf Cuddy et al. 2007). While the
literatures on androcentrism, ethnocentrism, and heterocen-
trism have begun to illuminate how the experiences and
perspectives of those with singular subordinate identities
are marginalized in society, there have been few systematic
psychological studies of the ways that these centrisms
combine to situate people with intersectional subordinate-
group identities in an especially marginal position within
the discursive fields of their culture. For researchers
investigating prejudice and discrimination, answering the
question of Which group is ignored?may be as critical to
understanding the nature of prejudice and discrimination as
answering the question Which group is the target?
Testing Intersectional Invisibility
We believe that social psychologists have largely neglected
the topic of intersectionality because it seems to require a
highly particularistic research agenda to study the specific
experiences of narrowly defined groups (for exceptions see
Levin et al. 2002). For instance, in the past, a social
psychologist interested in intersectionality might first study
the specific intersectional experiences of black women and
then attempt to generalize to all intersectional subordinate
groups. Unfortunately, this particularistic research strategy
often prevents the kind of generalizations that social
psychologists view as contributions to theory-development
(McCall 2005). In contrast, our intersectional invisibility
model provides a starting point for testing generalizable
hypotheses and predictions about intersectional groups.
While we appreciate the insights that can be gained from
in-depth, ethnographic studies of the experiences of partic-
ular intersectional groups, it is possible to study general
social psychological processes that apply to most intersec-
tional groups. By emphasizing the potential generalizations
that can be made about intersectional groups we hope to
convince social psychologists that the topic of intersection-
ality is worthy of serious and sustained attention.
The field of social cognition offers a variety of tools that
can be adapted to test the critical prediction that people with
intersecting subordinate identities tend to be seen as non-
prototypical members of subordinate groups. For instance,
the who gets explainedmethod (Hegarty and Pratto 2004;
Miller et al. 1991) can be used to test whether intersectional
subordinates tend to be seen as non-normative members of
each of the subordinate groups to which they belong. As an
example, black women should tend to be the primary focus
of explanations both when people try to explain differences
between black men and women and when they try to
explain differences between black and white women.
Similarly, lesbian women should tend to be the primary
focus of explanations both when people try to explain
differences between gay men and lesbians and when they
try to explain differences between lesbians and heterosexual
women. This method determines who is seen as a less
prototypical member of a group by asking participants to
explain differences between two members of a group and
then measuring which of the parties is foregrounded in the
explanation. If people with intersecting subordinates iden-
tities are widely seen as non-prototypical members of their
subordinate groups, then they will be the person who stands
out in any comparison within a subordinate group.
Other methods from the fields of social cognition and
judgment and decision-making could be adapted to test
whether intersectional subordinates experience the forms of
social invisibility summarized in previous sections. For
instance, it should be possible to test predictions derived
from the experience of political invisibility. When study
participants are asked to prioritize political issues facing
both members of subordinate groups and members of
subordinate groups with intersectional identities, problems
that primarily affect intersectional subordinates should be
relatively trivialized and ignored. Take for example, the
measurement of peoples judgments about change in the
well-being of a particular subordinate group (e.g., Eibach
and Ehrlinger 2006; Eibach and Keegan 2006). The model
of intersectional invisibility predicts that when people judge
such change over a specified period of time, their judg-
ments should be more strongly influenced by information
about how conditions have changed for prototypical
members of the group and less influenced by information
about how conditions have changed for members with
intersecting subordinate identities. Thus, when people judge
the overall magnitude of change in the economic well-being
of black Americans, information about change in black
mens wages should be weighted more heavily than
information about change in black womenswages.
Furthermore, information about change in white womens
wages should be weighted more heavily than information
about change in black womens wages when people judge
the overall magnitude of change in the economic well-being
of American women. Thus, information about black
womens welfare should be relatively neglected when
people formulate judgments about conditions for both
women and black people.
Limitations and Issues for Future Research
It is worth noting two limitations in the present theory. First,
our model of intersectional invisibility relies heavily on the
assumption that ideologies of androcentrism, ethnocentrism,
and heterocentrism determine who will be defined as the
prototypical person in most everyday life domains. However,
it is important to recognize that prototypicality is a mutable
quality of social categories that varies depending on the
immediate context (Haslam et al. 1995; Turner 1985). For
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example, the influence of androcentrism may ensure that
men define the prototypical person in most domains of
public life (Bem 1994). Nevertheless, the prototypical person
is a woman in stereotypically feminine domains. Indeed,
people generally consider men to be prototypical voters and
college professors, but they consider women to be prototyp-
ical grade school teachers (Miller et al. 1991), perhaps
because looking after young children is a stereotypically
feminine task. Accordingly, intersectional invisibility should
only occur in contexts in which subordinate identities are
viewed as non-prototypical.
Another important limitation of the current formulation
of the intersectional invisibility model is its narrow focus
on the intersection of ethnic, gender, and sexual identities.
The experience of intersectional invisibility should apply to
many other intersecting subordinate identities that were not
explicitly examined in this paper (e.g., religious minorities,
immigrants, undocumented workers, oppressed social clas-
ses, the elderly, disabled people). However, we are cautious
in generalizing the model to the intersection of other
subordinate identities because there is less existing social
psychological research on which to draw. As research on
these identities accumulates, it should be possible to test the
implications of the intersectional invisibility model for
these other groups. Ultimately the success of this model
will depend on how well it generalizes to explain the
experiences of the many diverse types of intersectional
groups.
Conclusion
Intersectionality challenges us to contemplate what it means
to have a marginalized status within a marginalized group.
The model of intersectional invisibility outlined in this paper
attempts to understand the doubly marginalized experience
of people with intersectional subordinate-group identities by
drawing insights from social psychological research on
ideologies and identity prototypicality to predict who will
be socially defined as an intersectional subordinate and with
what consequences. Ultimately, the development of more
general models of intersectional experience has the potential
to at least demarginalize the study of intersectionality within
the field of social psychology.
Acknowledgment We extend thanks to Jack Dovidio, Steven Mock,
Ruth Ditlmann, and Anna Christina Lopez for their valuable com-
ments on drafts of this article.
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