As an impressionable and young woman, a wave of feminist ideology and transformation of what it means to identify as feminist has moved in and out of my periphery, in which there is a large amount of gray area. In 19th century America, the perception of patriarchal societal values created disparity in gender equality, prompting women’s suffrage to seek monumental advocacy for political, social and economic equality. This female loyalist sweep unified women to no longer suffer alone under the patriarchal foundations of our nation. Yet, the stigmatized evolution of feminism has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the more recent cohort of U.S. women; the man eating, bra burning, communist radical feminists of the 60’s and 70’s are no longer what young women strive to be (Peltola, et al, 2004). Within this “second wave” of feminism, sex and gender identities have been separated, reflecting acceptance of gender as socially constructed and a product of culture and biological sex and, therefore, an indicator of one’s privilege.
During this feminist sweep, women of multiple races transformed the dialogue to what we now understand as hierarchies of oppression; different societal components such as race, socio-economic class, ethnicity, and sexuality could also influence the politics of identity (Rampton, 2014; Mclean, 2014). Acknowledgment of this intersectionality is where the feminist movements stand today. Intersectionality studies how all forms of one’s social and cultural identity contribute to systems of discrimination and inequality. (Side note: if the subject of intersectionality interests you, come to the CGC’s Critical Intersections conference April 2nd and 3rd).
So, what does it mean to be a feminist today? Progressivism, empowerment, and egalitarianism are a few adjectives. A force of extremists no longer lead today’s feminist movements but instead the campaigners for equal opportunity also includes men. Emma Watson, the face of the HeforShe campaign, (and the more recent Impact 10x10x10 campaign) has explained this change beautifully: “it’s time we see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideas.” Watson acknowledges that men too have been historically oppressed under gender identity issues. Today, a greater amount of men are supporting the issues of female equality, and there is also recognition that men too are bound within the shackles of masculinity and trite definitions of what it means to “be a man.”
Despite all of this headway, a reluctance to “join the bandwagon” lingers among my generation. Have the radicals scared off their own counterparts? Keeping in mind Watson’s promotion of solidarity in gender equality, it seems no longer the sole responsibility of women to chase these aspirations toward gender equality. Both fortunately and unfortunately, there is strange comfort in knowing that not one but two sexes carry the burdens of gender oppression. (Not to forget the gender identity and equality issues that the LGBTQ communities face in today’s society). With everyone objects under the microscope, we must recognize that we are separate genders surrounding one discussion - now we must talk.
Lisa McLean, Deans Fellow, Center for the Study of Gender and Conflict Resolution, January, 2014. Interview.
Peltola, P., Melissa, A., Presser Milkie and Stanley. Gender and Society. Vol. 18, No. 1 (Feb., 2004), pp. 122-144
Rampton, M. "The Three Waves of Feminism." Pacific University Oregon, 23 Oct. 2014. Web.