In the twenty first century, what, and where, is Feminism™? There are close to 4 billion women in the world now, and the personal is ever political; that’s a buttload of politics. Are we still solid, guys? Would addressing you as ‘girls’ instead be patronizing, or more feminist? (I have many more questions, the masses. Please do not flame me yet. [P.S. How many readers constitute a ‘mass’?])
Aren’t we due another wave? There’s only been a few, and feminism’s totally internet-famous now. Today, internet culture has revolutionized life for everyone, not least those engaged in the gender equality movement which is at once exciting, thriving, and relentlessly, miserably co-opted. Just this week, the #nomakeupselfie campaign, for example, while raising money for a good cause, has simultaneously unleashed the ‘bravery’ of women who briefly don’t wear make-up as a defiant act in the name of freedom and peace and charity or something.* (The date is 21st March 2014. #Progress! [Have you looked at any rape statistics recently? Maybe 2014 could be the year we engage with that via hashtag!] )
Where can we possibly go from here? Is the concept of ‘post-feminism’ still a joke? Do I ignore or denounce Bill Maher’s pseudo-liberal sexism? How feminist is spending all day on social media sharing videos about advancing equality, of which none encourage spending vast chunks of my short life on the internet sharing videos?
As a distraction from the nervous determination for answers and clarity, and the accompanied sweating, I shall conduct some research. This shall be a defiant, strident act in the name of my own autonomy, and of using the internet productively. And of imaginary feminine freshness.**
The To-Do List (?)
In The Factuary’s “What Do Feminists Have Left?”, comedian Guy Braunum concurs that women of America (and of the rest of the world, FYI) have come a long way, baby. This video has a lot to tell us about the mainstream approach to feminism. Not only because of the US-centric, humour-imbued, internet-hosted habitus of contemporary feminism, but also because of its specification, categorization, and foregrounding of particular issues over others. And of white media personalities dropping sardonic lines.
(Typed to the accusatory reflection in my computer screen…)
[‘Media Personality’? Please. – Ed.]
Acknowledgment of equal pay, rape culture, reproductive health, micro-aggressions and media representation is right on. It’s good to have a challenge or five, but really? Five fronts on which ‘feminism’ has to continue to fight? Were we to eliminate these struggles tomorrow, would that be gender inequality checked off the list of Worldsuck? Can any one entity express a finite list or end point for feminism? How many more questions do I need to ask before I get to the point?
To boil it down to one question (oppressive kitchen-centric terminology – Ed.): with ‘internet feminism’ clearly alive and kicking, which ‘wave’ are we in now, and is there an end goal (or five) to that wave – how and who is feminism, what or where should it be, and be doing? *Sweats*
PSYCH! I hid, like, 3 whole questions in there! (So… so many…)
Waves (aka The Officially Recognised Stages of Western Feminism)
First-wave feminism tackled (certain) inequalities in law: we know these baby – wave-makers, broadly speaking, as the suffragettes. They achieved representation, statues outside Parliament, and songs in Mary Poppins; all of which they bloody deserved. They were willing to trade eating, breathing and not being trampled to death for the sake of being recognised as actual human beings with totally normal brains, capable of putting a cross in a box because of some reasons. It was easy to define an end point at which they’d succeed, because what they wanted to change was already written down, listed and numbered: the First-wave feminism to-do list already existed in the laws of Parliament; Pankhurst, Davidson et al would just put their thing down, flip it and reverse it. But this extended, at first at least, only to women over thirty and of a certain economic status. #successfail
Second-wave feminism, in which women rejected de facto inequalities that remained, spanned the 60s and 70s. Between first- and second-wave, everyone was too distracted by some pretty serious international breakdowns in relations to pay attention to the intra-relations of the nation (save for Vera Lynn, who released her much-ignored feminist reggae album Intra-Relations of the Nation in 1943.) The grudge held after women got some legally-mandated equality lasted ages, until… like, right now. Simone de Beauvoir, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan & later bell hooks, amongst others, were the anti-Smurfette Principled Justice League of battling non-legal structural issues, such as unequal family and workplace frameworks, designated and prescribed sexual behaviours, and ensuring women’s reproductive freedom. All they wanted was a holistic recognition of woman’s human being-ness in attitude and belief rather than just mandated lip-service. But society (some ladies included) was all like “…Ew.” #onelovefail
Third-wave feminism (c.1992-?)… is harder to define. One, because it’s not necessarily ‘over’, and therefore lacks a hermetic historiographical place from which to examine it; and two, because its basis is in opening the understanding of feminism to its own far-more-diverse-than-allowed-to-be-acknowledged history and culture, and the nature of gender itself. But is this broadening of discourse and increasing intersectionality succeeding on the ground? And what constitutes success?
The myriad voices and definitions that have created, and continue to form, third-wave, are a testament to its recognition that previously the experience of women of relatively affluent white culture was made paramount, and the infrastructure of binary gender identity had been taken as-seen, ignoring and excluding the continuing struggles of women of colour, transgendered people and those of the working- and under-classes. #seeingpastowneyelidsfail
Fighting and factioning
Prejudice from within and without feminism persists (often irretrievably embedded in the unconscious); the disparity between those foregrounded and those marginalized rages on in feminism as it does in society. ‘Feminism’ is not necessarily a monolith of progressive energy that women are either in or out of, for or against (and depending on your utopia, if you have one, may or may not need to be); feminism is its own Venn diagram within society’s. We disagree on as much as we agree on – our definition of what makes women’s lives better will never be able to be singular once we specify outside of simply: ‘respect’.
The womanist movement, beginning in the 1960s, throws into relief the long-standing failures of mainstream feminism to fully represent the needs and rights of all women, in a context not simply of gender but of class- and race-based oppression. Womanism is an umbrella under which ‘feminism’ is simply one element, alongside spirituality, and restructuring all relationship dynamics; a clear demonstration of intersectionality and social activism. Womanists delineated this expansion of understanding decades before any activists or bloggers would band together in its name under the label of feminism.
While social movements such as these can be understood as linear processes, insomuch as they exist within linear experience of time, ‘feminism’ is not necessarily a series of ever-successful stages with beginnings and ends. There have been recognized waves of activity, but these constructions aren’t exhaustive and completely omit particular people, struggles and groups. To this day, we still fight for what the suffragettes originally fought for: a recognition of all people as intrinsically equal beings, rejection of oppressive hierarchy and confines, and ensuring our ability to collectively remove the godawful from power. And at no point did those fighting for gender equality stop for decades at a time for rest, or victory laps around Donald Trump and all his acquisitions.
Are we succeeding at our new, supposedly diverse and inclusive feminisms en masse? Generally, female-centered culture is still viciously twisted and shoved through the funnel of mainstream culture, which has willfully ignored undercurrents of progression in favour of trivializing debate and flogging globally-waning self-worth.
But, the internet! YES! And, unfortunately, sometimes, still no.
The internet is a two-sided, defaced coin in feminism’s utility belt. It’s afforded women huge gains in their ability to communicate, connect and organize. It has provided everyone with self-publishing and distribution platforms, broadcasting previously ignored and suppressed voices and experiences. It is the Room of Everyone’s Own. And thus, the room is also used by the defensive, the ignorant and the sexist; the asshats of the world still have dented egos when logged on and they’re looking to use them. They are packing Angry. It’s the same perilous tundra as the real world, with equally ambiguous intimacy.
Feminism, womanism, gender equality et al cannot but be foregrounded in, and driven by, intersectionality. It won’t work unless it acknowledges and understands the personal, political and partitioned world that we inherit, and undermines the oppressive structures of individualism, economics and education (cultural as well as academic). Otherwise, we’re gonna have to Van Gogh it. Once dissected and posthumously appreciated, we can move on with the best bits. All collective, anti-oppressive movements by definition need to transcend ego, and require hard graft, structurally and personally. And pithy names, like Intersectionalists Against Kyriarchy or All of Us Hating Ignorance & Violence Together Forever. (HighFiveFreezeFrame!)
Having the cyber-tools to share and debate productively at the touch of a button relies on us actively and consciously doing so. Mainstream culture funnels us to certain places; it operates smoothly on decades of carefully formatted infrastructure and the (morally bankrupt) economic freedom to do so. Solidarity is paramount. Anti-feminist haters, while painful, can be easily debunked, but feminists fighting over feminism is some shit, and particularly tiresome shit to wade through. Fair in-criticism must be embraced and accepted, however difficult; and there’s a fine line between criticism and fighting. I don’t remember the last time someone was called out (calmly) and they just acknowledged it and apologized. Heaven forbid we might learn something from one another.
Can we balance consumption with production? Slacktivism with activism? Challenging with acceptance? All extended hands and discussion, incorporating each others’ needs. (Extend a hand to an MRA sometime, you might surprise him.)
This is how we avoid being defeated by violence, and having to resort to violence ourselves.
* I have no beef with anyone who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. Some of my best friends are people who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. I jest to make a point about perspectives and trends in mainstream culture.
**(On your behalf, Dove approves this message, the whole article, and all of Feminism.)
Feministing – a feminist blog with a diverse staff who write on intersectional feminism, and provide us with the busy-life-friendly Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet.
KrissyChula – the funniest woman on YouTube.
Hartbeat – the other funniest woman on YouTube.
LaciGreen – the sexiest and most positive sex-positive person I’ve ever had the pleasure of sensing.
Paris Lees – journalist, presenter & trans activist and all round sweet and considerate person (it seems like.)
Writers of Colour – tireless online organisation promoting work by people of colour; very active on Twitter.
Jay Smooth – video blogger & Hip-Hop radio guru who vlogs on politics, race & culture.
New Statesman – British mainstream leftist magazine. Politics, pop culture & several feminist columnists & editors.
Jackson Katz – educator in gender, specifically the construction of masculinity. The first man in the US to have taken Women’s Studies. Check out his amazing TED talk.
ADDENDUM: On posting this article online, one reader pointed out that while she agreed with a lot of the points, the article still read as ‘white-washed’, containing little alternative history to that which I was critiquing. She suggested this reading; ‘Whose Feminism, Whose History?’ by Sherna Berger Gluck, Maylei Blackwell, Sharon Cotrel & Karen S. Harper (which you can read here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_HfOnXTgYJoWENoTnpITlM1Ymc/edit?pli=1)
It provides an engaging, complex and well-woven history of some of the womens movements in LA over a number of decades. My article scratches the surface of the problem of mainstream history, whereas this provides a deeper account of many women’s marginalised, intersectional struggles.