A Call for New Kind of Feminism
I am a feminist. I think I always have been – I can’t remember a time when I didn’t wear the label as a badge of honor. In middle school, my feminism was ignited by the outrage I felt at the contractor who refused to do business with my mom, insisting that he speak to my father instead. In high school, it was debating my English teacher who argued that women ought to be more “careful” if they don’t want to be assaulted. In college, my feminism arises from my compassion for and commitment to women, those I know and those don’t know, who have felt the sting of inequality and the painful ripples of generations of systematic inferiority. Feminism touches seemingly every piece of who I am, my relationships and my studies.
I feel grateful to have grown up in the information age, witnessing the NewWave of feminism that has embraced powerful ideologies that build upon the fundamentals of equality. Embracing this form of feminism, though, has not blinded me to its failures. In many ways, it falls short of my hopes for the women’s movement of the 21st Century.
Coining terms like “mansplaining” and “rape culture,” and hashtags like #MeToo and #FreeTheNipple, today’s feminism seeks to empower women on a more personal, freedom-oriented basis. In large part, it has shifted away from the original political nature of the movement. As a recent Georgetown graduate stated, “We’re negotiating the political landscape in different ways, because previous generations already achieved so much. Our battles are against more subtle forms of discrimination.”
This approach, while it has personally impacted my life in innumerable positive ways, has shifted so significantly from the original political implications of the Women’s Movement, that it has abandoned the struggles of so many women across the globe that have yet to achieve the basics of equality that are essential to participating in this NewWave.
My goal is not to trivialize the importance of New Wave feminism or to imply that perpetual issues such as the gender pay gap, glass ceiling, and the attempts to limit a woman’s control over her own body do not pose significant threats to our society and our equality. Rather, I seek to integrate this modern understanding of powerful womanhood into the larger web of the wide array of real experiences of women across the globe today. The modern age and availability of social media as a unifying tool not only offers a unique opportunity to educate people on the distant realities faced by women, but also creates an implicit imperative to carry the struggles of others with us in our push for equality.
As we sift through the dozens of names recently implicated in the wave of sexual harassment accusations, the blatant mistreatment of women, even those who we deem powerful, reveals itself. True progress would turn these truths into meaningful actions to hold men to the same standards of decency that women are expected to achieve. Still, as our society is reminded that sexism still prevails, let this not cloud our actions regarding the global implications of our policies.
We’re becoming so absorbed in our own circumstances that we fail to acknowledge the most blatant breaches of gender equality. It was only in September that women in Saudi Arabia were granted the right to drive! What’s more, in 2013 India passed a law that confirmed the legality of marital rape. While we often focus on some Islamic countries for their mistreatment of women, India also faces some of the most pressing instances of abuse of women and girls. Female infanticide has sustained itself well into the 21st Century, with an estimated 2,000 girls killed each day.
Unsurprisingly, India also struggles with shockingly high instances of domestic violence and rape. In a poll, over 50% of Indian women responded that domestic violence could be justified under certain circumstances. Our rights to self-expression, exploration, and identification should not cloud the significance of the right to simply exist, which is threatened by the realities that many women face living under the circumstances different than our own.
With the availability of social media to unify and provide a platform for New Wave Feminists, we need to use these tools to draw attention to egregious abuses around the world. Ultimately, the people that share articles and lead discussions against pay inequality and rape culture on college campuses should also highlight the atrocities committed against girls and women in Afghanistan, China, India, Northern Africa, etc. Celebrities and agenda-setters with powerful voices need to use them to the benefit of women everywhere, and ordinary feminists like myself ought to use our agency to bring attention to these issues.
As we make great strides and experience rather large pitfalls in our search for a more perfect union and a society that includes and respects women in all facets, we can’t leave out the rest of the world. Feminism needs to be inclusive, incorporating the intersectionality of women’s identities, and addressing the wide array of needs that different populations face globally. If we can show the same commitment to the voiceless women living under unacceptable conditions, maybe we can achieve the enlightened and global society that we seek.