Feminism’s a bit of a buzz word at the moment. Emma Watson’s claimed it. So has Beyonce. Other celebrities eschew it, saying things like it’s about women being over men (Shailene Woodley), or giving up your desire to be a wife and mother (Gwyneth Paltrow). Taylor Swift initially said feminism was about ‘guys versus girls’, but on becoming gal pals with Lena Dunham, changed her mind, saying she had only spoken against it because she had misunderstood the movement.
So, what is feminism? This is the first in a series of three articles, looking at feminism from a Christian perspective.
Feminism is notoriously difficult to define, in part because it has never had a leader (like, say, Christianity - following Christ Jesus), and because it has evolved significantly over time.
There are four discernible ‘waves’ of feminism, described as waves because they overlap and roll over into one another, but are nonetheless distinct. You’re probably familiar with at least the first two waves, but we’re actually living in the fourth. The first wave was the Suffragettes, around the turn of the 20th century. “Votes for Women” was their catch cry: they wanted representation in government so that when decisions were being made that affected women (i.e. most decisions!) they had some say in how it turned out.
The second wave of feminism is sometimes known as the women’s liberation movement, and its rallying cries were ‘Equal rights with men’, or ‘Equal pay for equal work’, and ‘A woman’s right to choose’. The popular perception of feminism still harks back to this era, along with it stereotypes of hairy legs and bra burning, but there have been two more waves since then, as feminism continues to evolve.
The daughters of the second wave rebelled against their mothers in the 90s with the retort, ‘My choice’. This is the third wave, where if you felt it was empowering, you could do what you liked, from getting botox to being a stay-at- home-mum to watching porn.
The fourth wave considers this individual approach to be inadequate: what is empowering for one woman may disadvantage another, so we need to be aware of how we affect one another, and stand together to combat the disadvantages women face in society. There’s a frustration in the fourth wave built on women’s everyday experiences. We’ve had a female Prime Minister in Australia, but she was horrendously treated, and in a way all too familiar to many women.
Social media has meant women are able to share their stories and organise like never before.
What do these four waves have in common? In the words of French philosopher Michele Le Doeff, “A feminist is someone who feels that there is still something not right between a woman and everyone else.”
It’s not about women gaining supremacy; it’s about putting right something that is wrong.
Like when ‘like a girl’ is used as an insult e.g. “You throw like a girl.”
Like how women’s clothing is more expensive than men’s.
Like how women’s sport is considered to be less elite or entertaining than men’s sport.
Like when society accepts that the streets are unsafe for women at night, and so counsels them to stay inside rather than working on making them safe.
Like how women who work also still do the lion’s share of domestic duties and childcare.
Like how single women are thought to be incomplete without a man, and objects of
Like when it takes 60 women’s testimonies of having being sexually abused by one man for society to begin to wonder whether may he’s the one that’s lying.
Like how a man who is assertive shows leadership qualities but a woman who is assertive is bossy.
Do any of those things sit ill with you?
Fourth wave feminism names these things, and says they are not right.
Feminism is therefore a movement of social justice, seeking to identify the ways that women have been demeaned, oppressed and devalued in our society, and put them right.
It’s not about women’s supremacy: it’s about their dignity.
Tamie comes from Adelaide and lives in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with her husband and two sons. In partnership with CMS Australia, they work with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES). She and her husband blog here