The many voices of feminism


To end 2013, Joanna Biggs decided to dismiss the year’s new wave of feminists – and their achievements – by proclaiming that the so-called fourth wave lacks an intellectual voice (read the article here).

Here are what I consider to be the best-documented campaigns, projects and voices of the past year:

– Lucy-Anne Holmes tirelessly campaigning for No More Page 3 – working to persuade the Sun to remove topless models from their newspaper.

– The Everyday Sexism Project inviting women and girls to share their experiences of sexism – some explicit and vulgar, some less overt – via Twitter.

Object challenging a culture in which the objectification of women is deemed the norm by targeting strip clubs, media portrayal of women and sexist adverts – and telling everyone why these things are wrong.

The Vagenda publishing anonymous articles written by women and men the world over who have something to say about the bad treatment of women. But in a witty, funny way.

– Comedian Bridget Christie winning the 2013 Edinburgh comedy award for Best Show, touring her hilarious ‘A Bic for Her’ stand-up show and writing feminist pieces for the Guardian (like this quiz).

– Caroline Criado-Perez campaigning to have women’s faces on banknotes. It worked, they listened.

And then there’s Hadley Freeman, Caitlin Moran, Barbara Ellen and various other journos giving women, and feminism, a voice. As well as authors, filmmakers and artists who are creating work with strong female leads. So when Joanna Biggs asks: ‘Where is the fourth wave’s intellectual?’ I feel a bit confused.

Her suggestion is that all these voices should unite and allow for an intellectual (like Simone de Beauvoir, heavily referenced in the article) to rise and speak for them all. Thing is, Biggs, we’ve all got different voices and want to be heard in different ways. Some like to find a comedy angle, some write about horrific incidents like the gang rape and murder of a young woman in India (see Jane Martinson’s recent Guardian blog post) and others take to the streets to shout loudly.

But what forms an underlying allegiance between all these women (and some men) is that they all want equality for women. That means safety for women on the streets of India (and everywhere else), as well as equal pay. It means women not being harassed in the workplace because of their sex, being offered the same opportunities as men and not suffering exploitation and objectification.

The most effective way to fight these battles is by employing as many people and as many methods as possible. Because not everyone pays attention to a march, or magazine articles, or stand-up shows, or academic journals, or changes to legislation. But most people will be open to some of these forms of protest.

In my opinion feminists, internationally, need to continue doing what they’re doing: putting up a fight and getting heard. It’s great to support other projects but when we’re all setting out with exactly the same aim – equality – it’s about just ploughing on, using our individual strengths to propel us further forward.

When the Suffragettes were fighting for the vote, it wasn’t just the women who were chained up and on hunger strikes doing all the work – there’s always a backstage and people campaigning quietly behind closed doors, educating people about the importance of women having an equal role. Similarly, de Beauvoir was a wonderful voice for women in mid-20th century France but she rallied alongside loads of other women who campaigned in their own, individual ways. Some voices are quieter than others, but by no means less important.

Suggesting we need a strong, intellectual voice to speak for all feminists not only belittles the work of the women currently campaigning but also suggests that feminism is elitist and should be reserved for the highly educated. Not everyone would get along with de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex – and they shouldn’t have to be able to read and understand highly academic publications to understand the importance of equality.

Instead, we need lots of different voices, in lots of different places, so that everyone will eventually hear one that resonates with them and encourages them to jump on the feminism bandwagon. If every human began to seek – and offer – equal rights for men and women, the world would be a better place. So instead of denouncing, let’s celebrate the hard work of all those campaigning and invite more to join – in whatever capacity they can.

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