In today’s society, most are aware of the activist cultures that roam the earth searching for a chance to create change. From Black Lives Matter to LGBTQ+, these groups are making themselves and their cause known and heard. Feminists are yet another community that has made themselves a force to be reckoned with. With the help of the media, this group has helped shape the way society views feminism. Although its increasing social media presence has allowed the movement to grow and evolve into new waves as well as bring support to women around the world, it has simultaneously become a base for stereotypes, extremism, and online trashing, calling for a new definition of what it means to be apart of the feminist culture.
Feminism is defined as a belief in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. This term appeared in the English language in the 1890s, however, women’s struggles date far before that. The first wave of feminism was the original movement that promoted equality for women, occurring in the latter half of the nineteenth century to the twentieth century. This consisted of women strongly advocating for their political rights like voting. This wave later ended when the 19th Amendment, which allowed women to vote, was passed (Schuler). The next evolution that followed was named the Second Wave, which was thought to be inspired by the book The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. The Second Wave took place in the 1950s to 1960s and can be referred to as the women’s liberation movement. Critiquing the typical social roles women were forced into, as well as advocating for equal pay, sexual liberation, and breaking free from gender roles was the main goal of this second stage of feminism ('Second-Wave Feminism.'). Next came the third wave which developed starting at the end of the twentieth century. This wave primarily consisted of the involvement of younger women, such as the Gen X generation, and concerned with the issue of achieving equal rights, which has been helped by the increased energy of the portrayal of women in the media (Policarpo). Some may argue that the third wave is still currently in the works, whereas others believe there is a fourth wave that has begun with no exact start date. This wave is said to have emerged when people saw that the third wave had seemed to become overly optimistic. The fourth wave is believed to focus on problems such as sexual abuse, rape, violence against women, unequal pay, slut-shaming, and more (Rampton). Some examples of this wave at work are the hashtags: #MeToo, #YesAllWomen, and #GirlGaze. As each wave evolves new issues are pursued allowing for society's problems surrounding the equality and portrayal of women to be resolved. This results in more women around the world engaging in an ever-growing community that supports other women being oppressed by the weight of society.
Throughout the years feminists have made a voice for themselves and have achieved many of their objectives written on a flowing list of goals. With assistance from the media, this group continues to grow and educate not only women but all members of society on the issues encompassing gender inequality. In 1966 a woman named Roberta Gibb ran the Boston Marathon but did not receive credit at that time for her run since women were not allowed to race, finally by 1972 she was recognized for her accomplishment (“Chronology”). Feminism has allowed for many improvements to be made in how society treats women just like Roberta. Feminism has opened professional doors by taking a stance and providing jobs for women. In 2012 there was a record number of women elected to Congress and a year later the US military opened up combat roles to women for the first time. Feminism has also helped pave the way for mandating new protection for some of the most vulnerable members of society. In 2013, 39 states passed laws to combat sex and labor trafficking as well as assist survivors which were 94% female. Raising awareness and accountability by passing new laws regarding sexual access to each other's bodies has also been a way that feminists have intervened in everyday life. In 2014, the White House established a task force to protect students from sexual assault, which is yet another win for feminist activism. Along with helping women, feminism has helped redefine what is acceptable for men by exemplifying how everyone should receive equal opportunity. For example, in 2014 a CNN reporter named Josh Levs won an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case regarding paternity leave, causing a parental policy change including a paid leave of 6 weeks to not just new mothers but all new parents. Over time feminism has helped to create laws regarding “crimes” that did not occur during the suffrage or second wavers’ time. Even though the gender pay gap is not fully fixed across the globe, it is decreasing and is helping women receive equal pay (Conger). As the media has aided the movement, feminism has been able to reach out to more and more individuals each year. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have become popular sites for spreading awareness on the issues of women’s rights. Young feminists are now able to discuss women’s rights in an open forum allowing for smaller, more hidden problems to be discussed. In the past three years, conversations about feminism have increased by 300 percent according to Twitter product manager Mollie Vandor (Hinckley). With the aid of the media, feminism has been able to make great strides toward a more equal world. Nevertheless, with every positive advancement these activists generate, negative experiences and stereotypes follow.
Despite the positive effects of the feminist culture, it has incurred detrimental stereotypes over time. These stereotypes have managed to exist for almost as long as feminism has. In 1992 there was a famous fundraising letter written by a man named Pat Robertson who described feminism as a movement that “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians” (Traister). As the feminist movement ages, more and more of these types of stereotypes are being created, resulting in major setbacks. Among these is that women are refraining from labeling themselves as feminists because of how they may be viewed. This is exemplified by an interview with Michelle Gellar, the woman who played the girl-power icon Buffy Summers. She once told a reporter that she hated the word “feminist” because it “br[ought] up such horrible connotations and ma[de] you think of women who don’t shave their legs” (Traister). This demonstrates that there is an image problem affecting the movement, which will thus evolve to become a structural problem making women weary of calling themselves feminists (Warshaw). Since feminism is known for its negative reputation and unadmirable connotation the structure of the movement falters and allows for extreme feminism to advance.
The feminist culture is known to be divided into two different subcultures: normal feminism and radical, or rather, extreme feminism. Even with this division, some see the feminist movement as its more radical side. Normal feminism deals with the matter of equality between men and women and strives to make the world a place where equal opportunities are provided to both genders. Whereas radical feminism focuses on the idea of men hating. Radical feminism is a philosophy that emphasizes the patriarchal roots of inequality between men and women. More specifically, it is seen as the social domination of women by men. Radical feminists tend to be more militant in their approach and are said to only oppose patriarchy, not men. However, Robin Morgan an American poet, political theorist activist, and journalist (“Robin Morgan”) said that since women were oppressed by men, man-hating is justified (Lewis). This is only one example of the extremes of radical feminism. In 1976 a radical feminist named Valerie Solanas published “The SCUM Manifesto” or the Society for Cutting Up Men which called for women to gather and fight to weed out the male sex. Then, two years later, the publisher attempted to murder Andy Warhol, and although the shooting was not related to the radical feminist movement, it brought negative attention to it (Miller). From these events, the term “feminazi” was concocted. The appellation feminazi is used to describe women who are extreme feminists, as well as give negative values to certain groups of women. Feminazis are “imaginary feminist[s] who [are] outraged by imaginary men opening imaginary doors for [them]” (Smith). The Feminazis act in a multitude of exasperated ways that many see as extreme. This causes women to fear identifying themselves as a feminist. The results of this are that both men and women are afraid to speak out for fear of receiving extreme backlash from radical feminists.
The backlash towards any that have an opposing position has instilled fear into those who think about speaking out. Social media users understand that the platforms serve as a base for debates but also online trashing. With that being known, feminism has started to become a topic shrouded in controversy. Many of the most avid digital feminists would say that the online feminist community has become toxic since some attack a person rather than their ideas. Kathrine Cross a Puerto Rican transgender woman wrote about how she hesitates to publish anything online because she “ fear[s] being cast suddenly as one of the bad guys for being insufficiently radical, too nuanced or too forgiving, or for simply writing something whose offensive dimensions would be unknown to [her] at the time of publication” (Golberg). She feels this way because she was being targeted by other activists, which left her “feeling threatened in the sense that [she was] getting turned out of [her] own home…. The one place that [she was] able to look to for safety, where [she was] valued… [She] know[s] a lot of friends that live in fear of that” (Golberg). This is the case for many women and men who think about speaking in the name of feminism. Cross also mentioned that her work life seemed to cause the threat of backlash because she would “suddenly be tarred by the very people that [shes] supposed to be able to work with, [her] allies, as being a sellout or being infatuated with power or being an apologist for this, that and the other privilege—if that kind of reputation gets around, its extremely damaging” (Golberg). Many are dealing with the same concerns as Kathrine Cross, stalling the movement. This hesitation to become involved can lead to stability issues within the movement, causing people to be skeptical about joining the feminist culture. Online trashing has been one of the reasons that have allowed for the feminist movement to receive a bad reputation. Along with all of the other misdemeanors, people do not understand what it means to be a feminist, therefore calling for some sort of change.
Over time feminism has had many assumptions made about it, such as who is involved and what the true definition of feminism is. Currently, there is a program called Feminism 5.0 that has been launched in an attempt to try to begin the fifth wave, because the program believes that “Feminism is moving into a new, fifth wave, as hard-won freedoms are under attack across the globe, and the prospect of a gender-equal future looks more fragile than ever before.” (“We Launch the Fifth Wave”). This new wave is going to provide “the tools [women] need to push forward, contesting elections, winning seats and changing attitudes.” (“We Launch the Fifth Wave”). Not only would a new stage benefit this culture but so would a new definition of it. The author of Why I’m Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto explains how “It works for [women] to be pretty and sexy, it gets [them] money and male attention, and there’s an idea that it improves [their lives] and makes it feminist somehow, but that’s not true because we don’t understand what feminism is anymore. We think of it as a self-improvement project.” (“Redefining the F-word”). In addition, there are so many different types of feminists: white feminism, intersectional feminism, corporate feminism, trans-exclusionary feminism, and pro-life feminism (“Here’s Why Our Definition of Feminism Needs to Change”), that it makes it hard to know what it truly means to be a feminist. Therefore it is imperative for a new definition of feminism to be initiated. Just like most movements, feminism is evolving consistently and creating new understandings of what it means to be a part of the feminist culture as a whole.
Throughout history, feminism has been subjected to endless backlash, stereotyping, and extremism from the media which has raised some concern regarding whether or not a new wave or definition is needed for feminism. Some of the younger generation of feminists believe that a fifth wave should be started whereas others believe that the fifth wave has already begun. As this movement continues to evolve new issues are going to be addressed and assumptions are going to be made. As of now, the feminist culture continues to stay strong in its belief and make a difference in the lives of women every day.