Cochrane, K. (2013) ‘The fourth wave of feminism: meet the rebel women’ The Guardian [online] 10 December. Available from <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/fourth-wave-feminism-rebel-women> [17 February 2014]
"The majority of activists I speak to define themselves as intersectional feminists – or say they try to live up to this decription – and when I mention this to Kimberlé Crenshaw, the US law professor who coined the term intersectionality in 1989, she’s genuinely surprised. The theory concerns the way multiple oppressions intersect, and although, as Crenshaw says, it can be interpreted in a wild variety of ways, today’s feminists generally seem to see it as an attempt to elevate and make space for the voices and issues of those who are marginalised, and a framework for recognising how class, race, age, ability, sexuality, gender and other issues combine to affect women’s experience of discrimination. Younis considers intersectionality the overriding principle for today’s feminists, and Ali says she constantly tries to check her privilege, to recognise how hierarchies of power are constructed.
There are women and men of all ages involved in this movement – at aLose the Lads’ mags protest in York, for instance, I met an activist who had been at the women’s liberation conference in 1978. But many of those at the forefront are in their teens and 20s, and had their outlook formed during decades in which attitudes to women were particularly confusing.
They grew up being told the world was post-feminist, that sexism and misogyny were over, and feminists should pack up their placards. At the same time, women in the public eye were often either sidelined or sexualised, represented in exactly the same way as they had been in the 70s, albeit beneath a thin veil of irony. Finn Mackay says when she started the London Feminist Network in 2004, the two main issues motivating those who joined were the massive growth of the beauty industry, and “pornification” – the infiltration of pornographic imagery into the mainstream via Playboy-branded pencil cases, for instance, and the trend for pubic waxes. Those concerns have continued, and help explain the focus of many current feminist campaigns, which address the wallpaper of women’s lives, the everyday sexism – lads’ mags, Page 3, rape pages on Facebook, cosmetic surgery advertising – and calls for positive representation on bank notes and in broadcasting.
But the feminist consciousness of the fourth wave has also been forged through the years of the financial crash and the coalition government, and many activists have been politicised and influenced by other movements, particularly the student campaign against fees, but also the wider campaign against cuts and the Occupy movement. The quick, reactive nature of many of the feminist campaigns cropping up today reflects the work of activists more generally in a biting world of unemployment and under-employment, workfare, zero-hours contracts, bedroom taxes, damaging rhetoric against immigrants, the disabled and those who need support from the state.
Caroline Criado-Perez leads a protest outside the Bank of England to see a woman back on our bank notes. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian
With so many pressing issues, feminists are fighting on several fronts, and the campaigns of the past few years have often been started by individuals or small groups, who have responded to issues they feel strongly about, and can usefully address. Holmes and Necati both grew up with the Sun at home, which has shaped their opposition to Page 3. Criado-Perez was outraged by all-male discussions of teenage pregnancy and breast cancer treatment on the Today programme, so set up a database of female experts, The Women’s Room, with Catherine Smith in 2012. In the first three days of that year, seven women were killed by men, and Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of the charity Nia, started counting the toll of misogynist murders. Her Counting Dead Women project puts names and stories to the statistics we often hear, and is asking the government to take an integrated approach to understanding violence against women.
There are, of course, differences of opinion when it comes to which subjects feminism should be addressing. How could there not be, in a movement that represents half the population, and aims for liberation for all? But what’s exciting about these individual campaigns is the way they’re building a movement capable of taking on structural, systemic problems. As the philosopher Nina Power notes, there are teenage girls today, growing up with Twitter and Tumblr, who have a perfect grasp of feminist language and concepts, who are active on a huge range of issues – some of those I talk to are starting to work on economic analyses of women’s predicament, the ways in which neo-liberal policies such as the rolling back of the state and low taxes for the rich, have shaped modern inequalities.
The movement’s concerns are forever shifting, and will likely do so powerfully when some of today’s young activists encounter the pay gap, childcare costs and pregnancy discrimination in their own lives. “What is it going to be like,” says Power, “to have this generation of people who are totally attuned to all these terms and categories and thinking through all these issues from a very young age?” Brought up to know they are equal to men, fourth-wave feminists are pissed off when they’re not treated as such, but have more than enough confidence to shout back. Misogynists, watch out.
All the Rebel Women: The rise of the fourth wave of feminism by Kira Cochrane is out now as a Guardian Shorts Originals ebook (£1.99). Visit guardianshorts.com to find out more.”
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