The feminist movement has historically been divided into “waves” to distinguish between the biggest or most visible goals and ideals of each successive ebb and flow of the movement. Some say we’re currently still in the third wave of feminism, while others believe we’ve entered into a new, fourth wave distinct from the Riot Grrls of the ‘90s. No matter what wave you believe we’re in, one thing’s for sure: feminism is much different now than it used to be.
Intersectionality. This established academic term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw has more or less made its way into the mainstream (though increasing acceptance does not automatically translate to action and implementation). Intersectionality dictates that different identities (i.e., race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, etc.) cannot be examined separately because they are inherently interconnected. Intersectionality started out to explain the experiences of black women and how they differ from those of white women. It was and is a focus on how our different identities cannot be examined separately, and we must discuss how all these identities affect experiences with oppression.
Modern feminist thought uses this concept to inform dissection of statistics and norms, and see it as vital to the movement. When feminism isn’t intersectional, it ignores the privileges that women who hold certain identities experience, and it can leave behind women who aren’t white, cisgender, middle- to upper-class, abled, and straight.
Intersectionality is crucial for a successful feminist movement. Past waves of feminism were largely exclusive of women of color (see: Ain’t I a Woman? by Sojourner Truth), and the movement is still struggling to fix this inherited problem and to incorporate other marginalized identities.
Inclusion. Along the same lines of intersectionality, there are certain identities of which feminism has recently strived to be more inclusive. Inclusivity means intentionally creating safe spaces for people of marginalized identities. It means actively listening to people from groups to which you do not belong so you can educate yourself on how to best be an ally. Recognizing that intersecting identities exist doesn’t always lead to making your feminism inclusive of all identities, so we must make sure to make an active, conscious effort to be more inclusive of those who have been historically excluded from feminism.
Much of modern feminist thought is trans-inclusive and sex-worker-inclusive. Being trans-inclusive means recognizing the full identity and humanity of transgender people, using people-centered language (such as “people with vaginas” or “people who identify as women” since not all women have vaginas). Being sex-worker-inclusive means listening to the experiences of those involved in sex work and respecting their agency and autonomy to make money the way they see best – not assuming they cannot consent or that they are automatically being trafficked or abused.
Body-positivity and self-care. Feminism has begun increasing its focus on self-love and body- and fat-positivity. This emphasis on loving oneself is radical and subversive in a society that pressures women to look a certain way and hate themselves or their bodies if they don’t fit into that narrow societal expectation. Fat-positivity is about the realization that being fat doesn’t equal being unhealthy. In fact, studies find that the fat positivity movement empowers people to focus on health rather than weight loss. Fat-shaming and the faux-”healthy” pressure to be thin leads to feelings of worthlessness and shame and, in turn, more dangerous activities such as eating disorders, binge eating, and starvation.
Self-care is a very common term in modern feminist thought meaning to take time for oneself, one’s mental and physical health. Self-care is extremely important for good mental health and can be very helpful for survivors of assault or abuse, though it is a great tool for pretty much everyone.
Social media activism. Many (especially younger) feminists find an online community on Twitter and Tumblr. Here, love, support and education can be found. Social media has been integral in the Black Lives Matter movement; it has been useful not only in organizing activists, but it also bypasses mainstream media to share experiences of police brutality, violence, and discrimination. It’s the same for other movements and issues–the internet allows activists to find community and understanding, as well as exchange stories and ideas.
Social media’s importance in modern feminism cannot be discounted. When a hashtag trends, it makes national news (see: #YesAllWomen and #SayHerName). Social media activism embodies the popular feminist phrase, “The personal is political.”
Language. Modern feminist thought focuses strongly on the words we use to describe our lives and the lives of others. The words we use to talk about issues has a huge effect on how people think about those issues.
Many feminists strive to use people-first language when referring to people with disabilities, because they are first and foremost people, and a disability does not define their person. In addition, using a transgender or gender nonconforming person’s correct name and pronouns is extremely important in the fight for transgender justice. Using incorrect pronouns immediately invalidates a transgender person’s identity from the outset, and thus perpetuates the violence all too commonly enacted against them.
However, some things never change.
Of course, the feminism of today bears many similarities to the “waves” of the past, and we have to appreciate the activists who came before us and the work they did.
Modern feminist thought still focuses on the destruction of societally expected gender norms and behaviors. It still strives for equality and justice of all people in the eyes of the law, though the strategies and subcategories may vary. It still fights for sexual liberation, ending intimate partner and sexual violence, and achieving reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy.
How do we keep moving forward?
To me personally, feminism is striving for an intersectional and inclusive justice. We do not live in a post-feminist society, that is for damn sure. And we must continue to change with the times while learning from the past–that’s what this is all about. As we learn more, see more, experience more, we change to improve our feminism to be more intersectional, more inclusive. And it is not enough to simply say that we are doing so–it must show up in our writing essays actions.
8 responses to “Hey Feminism, what’s new?”
Grateful for Yong feminists, but without the term, 2nd wavers had a lot of intersection Alita abd focus a lot on caring for bodies. The main thing we weren’t aware of was the Transgender population. We began as very grass roots and esp. in the south were very involved with racial and clay inclusion. Also in violence (we began the shelters) . Sorry for the Autocorrect problem.
Thank you for this post, Allison! It’s very informative and I love how you stress the importance of inclusion in social justice movements. Unfortunately, the comments made before mine are extremely rude, misinformed and bigoted. It’s time for some 2nd-wavers to get off their high horse and realize that the world is changing. Do they realize that they sound just as crazy as the generation before them that told them it was wrong for them to fight for women in the workforce? Millennials are coming into power and these generations before us need to get over it. We will not accept their intolerance. I’m happy that NOW is keeping up with the times and making changes for the better. Keep up with the good work, Allison!
The vitriol that some feminists like to throw at trans people baffles me. Trans folks are not your oppressor. Trans folks aren’t even considered in patriarchal power structures, let alone architects of them. Trans folks are more likely to be homeless, to commit suicide, to be attacked and murdered than any other population. Instead of helping this extremely vulnerable population, we waste time telling them they’re not who they say they are? How incredibly selfish and cruel.
Good article on the new terms being used. But what is this about waves of feminism? I am not sure where I fit anymore. I have considered myself a feminist since 1973, and have been active since then until my age and health have chosen a different tact for me. We should all be involved in inclusivity regardless in a chain of activity and or events that focus on our goals of gender equality or abortion rights or trans or racial equality. The problem I see and I include myself as guilty of it as the next person is not doing enough educating and bringing along our sisters and or our children so we would not need was established but have a continual thread.
Harlene, is most assuredly correct, when coining the phrase ‘a continual thread’ and our goal of achieving it.
Feminism, The Movement, and it’s ability to “relax, and stand at ease”, will not occur until we stand side by side and equal to men, in power…which manifests in all imperative ways. PERIOD. So, my lovely and strong 26yr old Feminist daughter, will not “stand at ease” any more than her Mother alongside her, until EQUALITY is achieved.
Standing Example Of The Work To Be Done Yet: Loud voices like Alex Jones of Infowars online fame, are certainly useful in the war against the globalists, but the guy is far-and-away tooooo testosterone fueled, and sectarian religion brainwashed, to be anything but poisonous in assisting women to achieve equality. He is instead, a filthy enemy.
Has anyone read his articles online/on his site, regarding the topic of FEMINISTS/FEMINISM???
Finally, I’d read enough and wrote a nice (I don’t suppose he/and his staff thought this the correct descriptor;) long letter to him/and his on his site…
In closing, I enlightened him to the reality that he would not last/nor his site, without the greater sector of the human population, which (because of lovely war) has always been WOMEN, supporting him. Our numbers/our army is too strong in the year 2015′, for his trash talk- aimed at us.
Suffice to say, guess how long my article remained up on Infowars? All of approximately 5min…The length of time it took one of his narrators to read it, and delete it.
Yes indeedie;) Alex Jones, suppressor of women…the slimy b*****d ;(
Thus, the ‘need for a continual thread’…is still very much in need.
Where are women in the new culture of survival of the fittest? As common courtesy and gentleman ideals fade in favor of the new man child culture. A young man sat in his car blasting his subwoofer bass music keeping me awake. I approached his car finally having had enough asking if he needed help…wondering what is this stranger doing and could I get hurt challenging the situation. His answer to me was go fuck yourself it isn’t illegal I can do what I want…what are you gonna do? This behaviour is rampart and my answer frankly my dears is…not a whole lot but be bullied and the law isn’t on my side. Police do not enforce such ordinances in favor of folks aka men folk sorting it out…because in a different scenario man to man he would have most likely thought twice about asking what are you gonna do…and also probably not said quote fuck off cunt. So question …what am I supposed to do in this new culture…where is justice and the right to decency and happiness going now? Yes I am in a lower income community…I do own a home that I have worked very hard for repairing with my hands…the police here apparently allow grown men to bully and act like children with no intervention …and in fact on the occassions I have called when one almost ran over a woman with a baby carriage…I get eye rolls and lots of patronizing tone of voice.
Add to that yes as a woman I live in a world where I have to be fearful of parking garages, strange men parked out front of my bedroom, walking my dog late at night, and approaching men to ask them to please have decent adult behavior …and a call to police is full of fear too …fear of being seen as a hysterical overly frightened woman…in a place full of gangs and crime. Where police mam and little lady me to death because apparently we don’t want to be seen as policing behavior even if this behavior actually does violate ordinances and make woman feel infringed upon and unsafe. So if the police can’t keep behavior in check in this new culture of the adult but child brained male…who can? I felt brave that night but after his reaction the fear kicked in my adrenaline was pumping and I realized just how powerless I actually am. How powerless woman are becoming…unless of course you have money and can live in a more affluent place…then safety and peace become possible.
Sorry one more thing as a woman …my body does not hold the same power of challenge or intimidation as a man…having a confrontation with a bullying man as a woman I am coming to the gun fight without a gun …and he is already packing so to speak…do I have to get a man to do it for me? Our culture has changed there used to be boundaries courtesy and decency…now it is literally every man for himself and women quote can I guess go fuck themselves? …? Very disheartening.