By Anika T. Rich
After waves of initiatives, the feminist movement is no longer as cohesive and prominent as it once was in the 1960s and 1970s. As the originators of the movement have aged and moved on, younger people are claiming the label of “feminist”. Feminist has become a loaded title, with many people across genders, races, classes, and other identities staunchly for or against the use of the term and what they think it represents.
In Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks writes about “Visionary Feminism” and how despite the best intentions of women who were part of the original feminist movement, the people who saw the greatest benefit from feminist efforts were white women, particularly white women with few if any, intersectional identities. This is part of the reason for the negative connotation of feminism amongst people of marginalized identities. bell hooks also states that out of the original feminist movement, there are no schools or institutions that can maintain a cohesive platform and movement. The definition and purpose of feminism have been chopped and screwed time and time again so that now people come up with their own definitions and ideas of what it is based on what they’ve seen or heard and believe that to be the full truth of the movement.
In addition to all of these ideas about feminism buzzing around American people and politics, the last parts of the feminist movement put a bad taste in the mouths of many when it attempted to create solidarity with women all over the world, but instead infantilized non-Western women by portraying them as more oppressed than American women and in need of rescue by the West. Of course, this was based on ethnocentric assumptions founded on American ideals of what is right and wrong. All of this to say, feminism has unintentionally made many enemies. Continuing in this way, the movement itself will only have historic relevance in the way that it affected society at large but having no modern-day machine to carry on its mission. So what is next for feminism? Does it go down the tube in favor of other modern movements? Is there a place for feminism in the future? If so, what needs to change about the movement and its message in order to be of use to people today?
The first step is cohesion. People all over are trying to bring all the far-flung pieces of feminist history, documentation, and ideas into one thriving body of knowledge. Of course, this needs to be an act that is inclusive and made mainstream in order to create one authority on feminism, what it means, what it’s goals are, how it plans to achieve those goals, and how people can be involved. The next step is being intentional in its inclusivity. The people who are attempting to create cohesion in the movement must reach out to women of all identities who have done prominent work feminist work in the field in order to include their histories and their perspectives into the fold of feminism. Following that step should be the effort for connection. Ideas of feminism have made many people turn away from it, but if the new leaders of this movement expect to gain any traction, they must make an effort to connect with all people of all identities. This includes meeting those people where they are, addressing their needs and concerns, and being inclusive of men, transgender people, and anyone else who is affected by sexism and oppression by the patriarchal society they live. As bell hooks says, feminism is for everybody, and it has the potential to be a grand movement again to affect change in today’s society, but it is going to take some major work, or else feminism runs the risk of being reduced to a page summary in a history textbook and a memory of what was.