If you’re going to read nothing further, perhaps because you think feminism is for angry man-haters so it’s better off dead anyways, or perhaps because you think gender equity is no longer an issue, then this question has a one-word answer:
Feminism is not dead, thankyouverymuch.
The backlash against feminism certainly isn’t dead either. In fact, it seems to be growing. Feminist activism appears to be pushed more and more online or into the shadowy small rooms found in the corners of university and college campuses where a small group comes together to talk about big ideas, ideals, goals, followed by the overwhelming response of ‘but how?’ I attended a meeting similar to this, an event called ‘Feminism101’ held by the Ottawa RebELLEs back in September, which inspired this post.
Perhaps this complexity has evolved because feminism has also grown to become more than simple, identifiable and concrete goals. Feminism is more complex, there are more perspectives to be considered, more language to re-evaluate, more intersections between one issue and the other.
While this makes feminist goals slightly farther away in terms of time, it makes them greater in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. There is more care to ensure feminism and its objectives are for everybody.
The more complex intersectionality of issues within the third wave doesn’t discredit previous feminist work, but shows the stepping-stones needed to be where we are now. The first wave of feminism dealt largely with civil rights, the right to vote being the peak of the wave. There were other issues, like the temperance movement to combat domestic violence, which also came into play. Women got the right to vote, as they should, but patriarchal influence didn’t stop there so neither did feminists.
In the 1960s, the second wave started to form, slowly rising until it broke out of the private sphere of women’s homes and secrecy, and fought for more basic human rights. The rights of racial minorities and the LGBTQ movement gained momentum, women began to demand a presence outside of the home and in the workplace, and reproductive rights (including birth control, access to safe abortions, and access to childcare), were key to helping women gain control of their lives and participate in the public life.
The third wave started in the 1980s, and this is where things have gotten a little more complicated. “Post-feminism backlash” grew as women now had more civil rights, so what were these “femi-nazi’s” still complaining about?
Not only have third wave feminists had to deal with women’s issues, like access to subsidized childcare, access to abortion for women living in Northern Canada, the U.S., or the developing world, and still working towards equal pay (as women still make 75 cents for every man’s dollar), but now they have to work in a world where these facts are denied and refusal to acknowledge we are not yet in a utopia. The Council on the Status of Women was closed in 2006 by Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government, suggesting that the Status of Women is not still a concern for Canadians, implying equality in a very much unequal world.
Third wave feminists must justify their existence while also working to provide services and support for women who continue to face domestic abuse, sexual assault, hypersexualization of women and girls in the media, and harassment in the workplace. With a government that thinks these issues aren’t concerning, third wave feminists often have to operate with little to no funding or allocation of space and time for their work. For example, Carleton University continued to deny the allocation of campus space for a sexual assault support center, even with the ongoing construction of 3 new buildings. There is no reason behind their refusal other than the denial that sexual assault happens, and the notion that this issue isn’t worth rectifying. Or, consider the fact that female offenders do not have access to rehabilitative services, yet male offenders do. Why are women still not worthy?
Some people ask if we are now in a fourth wave, but I disagree. I think we’re in the wave of 3.5 – the issues are the same, but the plan of attack needs to change.
While the movement continues to expand to perhaps be more anti-oppression of all people versus anti-sexism, I don’t think that this discredits the feminist movement. After all, a feminist doesn’t have to be someone who is born with a vagina. If equality is the mantra of feminists, then it is for all and not for some. Embracing many issues may take more work, but if there is care to ensure women’s issues don’t fall through the cracks, the pay-off is greater.