August 31, 2012 / Opportunity

Dear Fifth Wave Feminists, We Need You!


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

Feminist pin buttons The Women's Museum, Dalla...

In Caitlin Moran’s outrageous, funny and heartbreakingly honest feminist manifesto How to Be a Woman, she calls for a fifth wave (by her count) of feminism to rise up.  Pointing at the statistics that say only 29% of American women and 42% of British women call themselves Feminists, she rails at the anti-feminism sentiment and the quasi-feminist hand-wring:

“What do you think feminism, IS, ladies?  What part of “liberation for women” is not for you?  Is it freedom to vote?  The right not to be owned by the man you marry?  The campaign for equal pay?… Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES?  Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”

I’ll confess, I’ve been guilty of the charge.  The label of “feminist” seemed an uncomfortable fit.  I’ve always clung rather tightly to the cherished ideals of freedom and equality for women that the founding fathers spelled out for white men at the forming of this country.  I believed and defended passionately that we too have the inalienable right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. But, well, I didn’t and don’t hate men. And that seemed to be the sticking point.

As a freshmen in college, I was all but drummed out of my Women in History course and later called a “Stupid Bi*** by another woman for not toeing their feminist party line that all men are bad.  So I took a step back from all that feminist anger and I never fully stepped back in — until 2008.  (Read Anita Finlay’s book Dirty Words On Clean Skin if you managed to miss the misogyny in the 2008 election).

Sure, over the years, I’d seen, heard and experienced plenty of sexism and misogyny up close and personal.  Sometimes, on a daily basis.  What woman hasn’t?  But I just kept my head down and quietly chip away at it on my own.  My anger and frustration equally divided between the sexist patriarchal types who were then verbally and mentally assaulting me and the “all men are bad” feminists who had earlier rejected me.  And always, I reminded myself that it could be much worse.

Yes.  There are places in the world where horrific and unspeakable acts against women bring international outrage and rightly so.  American women have truly made major strides over the last 238 years. We are no longer the legal property of our husband or father.  We can now own property, live independently, vote, earn a paycheck, get a loan, control our own reproduction… Yet we’ve reach 2012 without a woman (or two or three) as president or vice-president.  We now have an election underway for the highest office without a single women representing the 51% of the population that is female.

But the lack of representation is only an outward face of an ugly underbelly.  Somewhere, somehow the tone of the patriarchy has shifted.  The provocative sexist bravado that seemed a male response to the female sexual revolution of the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s has deepened into a nasty, aggressive misogyny that has become codified as a social norm by media and advertising.  (For just a taste watch the Miss Representation movie trailer.)

This is where I draw the line.  It is also why I joined The New Agenda.  The misogyny needs to stop.

And I agree with Ms. Moran that we should take “a Zero Tolerance policy on the Patriarchal Broken Windows Bullshit” issues in our lives and that it needs to be “tackled, rugby-style, face down in the mud, with lots of shouting.”  I also agree those little every day patriarchal cuts do damage and over time they wear us down to the point where we end up hating ourselves and empowering the cutters.

But here is the part I found most provocative and empowering in Ms. Moran’s book, it is her strategy for changing the dynamics of this wave of feminism through:

A demand for politeness among all 6 billion regardless of team –

“…you can argue–argue until you cry–about what modern, codified misogyny is; but straight-up ungentlemanliness, of the kind his mother would clatter the back of his head for, is unarguable.”

A re-centering the struggle on power vs. equality –

“… I don’t think that ‘men’/maleness/male sexuality is the problem here.  I don’t think sexism is a ‘man vs. woman’ thing.  The man is not The Man simply because he is a man.  Sometimes, The Man is a woman… Men don’t do this shit to women just because of their ‘femaleness.’  AND I DON’T THINK IT’S ABOUT SEX… What I see, instead, is winner vs. loser. Most sexism is down to men being accustomed to us being losers.”

And responding with humor –

“…if there is to be a fifth wave of feminism, I would hope that the main thing that distinguishes it from all that came before is that women counter the awkwardness, disconnect, and bullshit of being a modern woman not by shouting at it, internalizing it, or squabbling about it — but by simply pointing at it and going ‘HA!’ instead”

Whether we call ourselves Feminists or not, whether we are of the fourth, fifth or sixth wave, and whether we respond with humor or not, we each need to take our turn in the trenches fighting the good fight for women’s equality while giving birth to our own feminist ideals. After all, it’s not like we don’t all have a stake in our success.  We’ve come too far to go back now.

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