Feminism is a loaded term at best, holding a myriad of interpretations ranging from associations with overrated social justice warriors to even the outdated and exclusive women’s movements of the past century. I myself tend to stray away from exclusively labeling myself as a “feminist,” especially for the latter reason, however I believe it is necessary to address many issues of modern-day feminism.
While it is obvious that first-wave feminism in the Western world is no longer active, the status quo holds a strange blend of second-wave, third-wave, and fourth-wave feminists, with older/more respected leaders from the former, millenials mainly leading the third-wave, and youth with the fourth-wave. What exactly does it mean to be feminist, according to these three waves?
Generally, second wave feminists aimed to destroy the institutional barriers and de-facto inequalities that divided genders. This included issues with sexuality, birth control, domestic violence, education, the workplace, etc. These are some of the sub-categories that emerged from the second wave:
- Radical feminism
- Antiporn feminism
- Cultural Feminism
On the other hand, third wave feminism embraces individuality, the identity as a womxn, femininity, and sex. It is mostly more inclusive to different races, genders, and classes. Additionally, many third-wave feminists re-constructed derogatory terms and instead adopted them, especially the word bitch. It is often noted that third wave feminism did not necessarily have one goal, but was rather a reaction to the second wave or perhaps an extension.
We live in the rise of the fourth wave. Defined by technology and social media, this wave focuses on harassment/sexual assault, body image, intersectionality, workplace discrimination, and more. A few prominent sub-“movements” would be the #MeToo movement and the womxn’s marches that have spread across the country after Trump’s inauguration. Nevertheless, the fourth wave still perpetuates many of the same issues that it strives to defeat.
- Classism – a common criticism of the past few feminist movements is that they were only available to the upper and middle classes (mostly to the middle, because upper class womxn perhaps faced even more sexism and confined from the public sphere). With technology, this gap has only continued–how many people can actually afford the latest iPhone or have the leisure to spend 2 hours on Twitter over the weekend? Not a great portion of the lower class, that’s for sure. Yet, the most marginalized womxn are generally lower class individuals.
- Race & Culture – despite the aim to be more inclusive (intersectional), the prominent leaders of fourth wave feminism are wealthy/middle class white womxn. Take Emma Watson–I love her, but she is the epitome of a privileged, straight white womxn who recognizes her white privilege but mostly still operates within the wealthy (white) sphere.
Additionally, a criticism of the modern-day movement is the underlying idea of Western culture being superior. For example, many activists encourage womxn to stop conforming to dress codes and instead embrace their bodies, which in itself is not bad, but there are cases in which these womxn have criticized Muslim womxn for wearing hijabs, which is inherently a cultural/religious norm that should not be attacked by the idea that naked = empowerment.
- Sexuality & Gender – the subtle homophobia and transphobia is still prevalent among supports of gender equality. While some fourth-wave feminists are spreading the more progressive notions that gender is a social construct and the power of womxn is of choice, others still only associate the concept of womxn with vaginas. I believe that in Western society, we should instead fight against heteropatriarchy, and gender constructs altogether, whether it be masculinity, femininity, or anywhere in between. A good first step is to always ask for pronouns before assuming.
- Third-World Feminism – even less well-know is how feminism manifests in third-world countries. I had the opportunity to learn, read, and write about feminism in revolutionary Latin America in my english class, which truly opened my eyes to how diverse womxn’s social movements can be. One strong difference between Western feminism and feminism in Latin America was/is the way they treat gender roles. While the West usually tries to deconstruct stereotypes and make institutions gender neutral, womxn in revolutionary L.A. (Latin America) instead embraced their position as mothers, daughters, sisters, etc in the domestic sphere and used their inherently more peaceful nature (similar to cultural feminism) to their advantage. The political, cultural, and economic conditions of other nations mean that there is not necessarily one “way” or superior approach to empower womxn, and Western-centric folks must accept this.
We should not only advocate for the equality of both men and womxn, but rather equality for all genders, sexualities, identifications, cultures, races/ethnicities, etc. This is no longer a “boy vs girl” debate, but rather about being a decent human being.