What Does 21st Century Feminism Look Like?

This past weekend I found myself in a conversation about feminism and what that looks like these days. I found myself asking,  “Can I be a feminist and a stay at home mom?” , “Can I be a feminist and make my husband’s dinner every night?”, “Can I be a feminist and still love make up and getting all pretty?”.

I think we ,as a gender, may have forgotten what feminism is and how our rights came to be. The idea of feminism can be traced back to the 12th century! It wasn’t until about 800 years later that the actual word feminism was added to the  English dictionary; and that can largely be attributed to the first wave of real action oriented feminism…the suffragettes.

These are the women who raged against the patriarchy to ensure women established legal rights. The right to education. The right to vote. Marital rights. These women advocated (and in some cases died) to ensure women were treated equally to men. They changed the world, and the work continues to this day.

Sufferagettes...without them where would we be?
Women from the “first wave” of feminism aka Suffragettes
What does feminism look like today?

About 50 years later, women who were encouraged to work during the war were quietly ushered back into their homes and expected to just go back to the way things were. Soon, they found themselves unsatisfied, maybe even outraged. The same government that encouraged them to get out and work for the sake of the country now wanted them to take off their pants and slip back into their girdles? Can you imagine the outrage?

WWII posters
….until the war was over, anyway

Once the 60s hit, women had just about had enough. And so began the second wave of feminism with the sexual revolution in tow.
“The second wave of feminism in North America came as a delayed reaction against the renewed domesticity of women after World War II: the late 1940s post-war boom, which was an era characterized by an unprecedented economic growth, a
baby boom, a move to family-oriented suburbs, and the ideal of compassionate marriages. This life was clearly illustrated by the media of the time; for example television shows such as Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver idealized domesticity.”~Wikipedia

Feminism in the 21st century

Women were now ready to own their bodies, their intellect and their power. N.O.W. was founded, 20 years after being initiated the equal pay act was established (although we all know this battle rages on), Roe-vs-Wade, Ms. (the first feminist magazine) launched, women burned their bras in effigy. Gloria Steinem, Billy Jean King, Betty Friedan, Kate Millet….need I say more?

They fought for our right to choose

This brings me to our current model of feminism. Have we become complacent? Have we forgotten that all of this happened? Or, on the flip side, have we taken such a militant position on our rights that we have confused feminism with being a “bitch”? From the time I was 13 I have heard more women than I can count proudly owning their “bitch” title. While I understand the sentiment (I think) being grounded in strength and pride, I can not get on board the bitch train. This is not to say that I don’t get bitchy…who doesn’t? I just don’t equate my ability to get angry with my level of strength.

Is this feminism now?
image from Cyclone Cindy

And, as my dear friend Pia says, fat is a feminist issue. This, I believe, will be an ongoing theme here at Zaftig this year. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know one of my main goals is to lift women up, especially plus size women. The more and more I invest time doing this, the more I see women blatantly (and usually fairly anonymously) trying to take each other down. Why?!?!? 

image from Modern Day Feminsim

I propose that the ultimate strength we, as women, possess is our innate vulnerability and compassion. Was it not those qualities that enabled women to band together to rage against “the man” in the first place? Women loving and supporting women, there is nothing better. I do not believe feminism can thrive in a world/culture where we harshly judge each other based on looks, money, or even sexual choices. The work is not completed yet. There are still feminist issues for us to tackle. That damn glass ceiling, violence against women, the fucking media that encourages us to hate on each other for sport, etc… How can we possibly do our duty for future generations if we do not drop the judgement, drop the bitch-fests, drop the self hate? So the next time you feel tempted to tear down another women (likely for the sake of briefly feeling superior) take a second to think. How much good could we do if we spent all that energy lifting each other up? How many of our sisters could we help? How much can we change the world if we work together?

Lastly, when thinking about what a modern feminist looks like I think we have to mention lipstick feminism. This is the name that has been given to this, the third wave, of feminism. Yes, it is possible to enjoy beauty products, fashion, even heels and still call ourselves feminists. Truth be told, I really like the term. Let it marinate for a bit and I bet you will, too. Lipstick Feminist…yeah, I like that.

So what do you say we slap on a coat of lipstick, stop attacking each other and continue with the good work so many strong women started before us?


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