By Kate Harveston
Feminism needs to look inward and make changes if it wants to achieve the goals of today and tomorrow.
What is feminism? Is there one definition that encompasses every ideal and right the feminist movement is fighting for? Depending on who you ask, these questions have different answers — from responses that are full of hope and excitement to ones of anger and resentment. Feminism nowadays means different things to different groups, and it seems the movement is lacking direction.
Why Is Feminism Lacking Direction?
You won’t find an easy answer to this question. Many factors are influencing the goals of feminism today. The largest issue the cause is facing now, and part of the reason it appears to have no direction is that everyone wants something different.
During the early waves of feminism, the movement had specific goals:
- Wave one: In the late 19th century, white women fought for their right to vote through the suffrage movement. This battle lasted for 50 years in the U.S. until women won the right to vote in 1920 with the 19th
- Wave two: The second wave took place from the 1960s to the 1980s, with the focus being on women entering the workplace, as well as their reproductive rights, family rights and sexuality. It was also when the monumental decision in Roe v. Wade took place.
- Wave three: And the third wave, this is now. Though, some cite third-wave feminism having ended in 2008 after the beginning of fourth-wave feminism. In either wave, you still have the problem of a lack of direction among the movement.
Third-wave feminism was supposed to incorporate the voices and experiences of marginalized women. However, it failed (and is still failing) to do so.
Many catch phrases have been thrown around in recent years in attempts to explain what the movement wants now.
Today’s large-scale feminist movement fails to address the added disadvantages and challenges that women of certain races, ethnicities and classes encounter when fighting for their rights.
This is creating a division in the feminist movement. And no, I do not mean that women of color and non-cis women complaining should stop complaining so that we can unite. Quite the opposite, actually. Straight, white women (myself included) would do well to recognize their privilege, and work to provide a larger platform that includes these voices and experiences.
The Women’s March in January was a prime example of how white feminism fails the feminist movement. It was an important event given the current political turmoil, but its execution had glaring errors where intersectionality is involved.
How the Nation’s Become Divided
In today’s political climate, it’s difficult for most women not to feel afraid, threatened and isolated.
White, largely male groups that once remained on the fringes of society have pushed themselves into the mainstream, and their messages are filled with hate. With little fear of repercussion, they now target groups with a history of being oppressed and are attempting to keep them silent through fear.
Race, religion, sexual identity, gender and more are at the center of these demonstrations of animosity.
While these rallies have brought people together, they’ve also torn them apart. Groups defending the rights of those being targeted now realize how many changes are needed to protect people’s rights. As a result, it’s hard for leaders to decide which challenge to approach first and whether they can win the battle.
And that’s assuming anyone feels safe enough to voice their opinions.
Times like these are when people, more than ever, need to come together. It’s important for these discriminatory groups to know that the rest of society doesn’t share their thoughts, ideas or beliefs. They need reminding that their opinions are archaic and represent a minority group. However, this is difficult when those in power support and allow these hateful ideologies and acts.
It’s also difficult when the opposing forces of activism, such as the feminist movement, can’t unite their cause.
Where Does Feminism Go From Here?
Feminism is stalled in the U.S. because of a lack of direction, community and power. Every feminist faction has a different idea of what they want to accomplish, and while those ideas are powerful and important, the movement is stronger when it’s marching together for a unified cause.
One huge way for the third wave of feminism to gain ground is to recognize the dominance of white feminism and embrace intersectionality.
The idea of intersectional feminism is to realize that oppression and discrimination don’t affect only one aspect of people’s lives. It doesn’t just occur because of gender, but also happen because of race, sexual identity, age, religion or ethnicity, or all these factors combined.
Earlier waves of feminism saw a focus on women’s rights in the workplace, at home, in legal situations, etc. However, with the emergence of better opportunities across the board for the average economically-advantaged women, it’s very possible that we will see feminism’s focus shifting toward the real-life struggles of low-income and underrepresented women, as opposed to counting how many females we can get into executive positions in offices.
While the latter is great, and we do still have a pay gap to work on, the bigger issues right now have less to do with our individual day-to-day experiences and more to do with how we can better incorporate different demographics into the fight. Integrating class, racial and geographic disadvantages into the equation more will help us unify. All voices need to be heard in order for the movement to gain traction again.
Adopting the ideals of intersectional feminism gives women from all classes, races and religions a voice, and the opportunity to work together. If all these groups partner with one another and develop a plan that will benefit everyone, it’s possible that feminism will once again become an unstoppable force for change.