What does it even mean to be a feminist today? After all, women can vote, direct companies, divorce their husbands and have abortions – what else is there to fight for? What is the state of feminism in 2010: who are its leaders and what are they doing?


What does it even mean to be a feminist today? After all, women can vote, direct companies, divorce their husbands and have abortions – what else is there to fight for? What is the state of feminism in 2010: who are its leaders and what are they doing?

In the 19th century it was a different story. If Beyonce had called out to “all the women who independent” in 1850, very few women would have thrown their hands up. Victorian women had sweet FA in the way of rights, and putting a ring on it only made things worse. Among other things, married women weren’t allowed to own property, open bank accounts, refuse sex with their husbands or have a say in how many children they had.

Naturally, not all women were enthralled by this. Some decided to try and do something about it, and so began the first ‘wave’ of feminism. Emerging in the UK and US around 1850 and led by middle-class white women, it focused primarily on getting women the right to vote – this was eventually achieved, with New Zealand paving the way in 1893. Early feminists were also concerned with introducing new marriage laws and improving access to education and employment.

The 1960s marked the birth of second wave feminism. This, too, was concerned primarily with the plight of middle-class white women. Notable writers of this movement included Betty Friedan, whose book The Feminine Mystique criticised the media-driven stereotype of the happy suburban housewife, and Germaine Greer, who boldly declared that “all men hate women” in her 1970 bestseller The Female Eunuch. Feminists of this era fought for the end of discrimination against women, often by employing hardcore activist tactics (for the record: apparently no bras were ever actually burned).

Third wave feminism spans from the early 90s to the present day. Because I’ve been alive for all of that period, I reasoned that I’d be able to remember some of its victories, and name a few of its leaders. I struggled. Were the Spice Girls feminists? Probably not. They coined the phrase ‘girl power’, sure, but as feminist writer Jennifer L. Pozner’s points out, “It’s probably a fair assumption to say that “zigazig-ha” is not Spice shorthand for ‘subvert the dominant paradigm”.

I found it hard to come up with any definitive modern feminists, which is probably because there is no stereotypical mould to fill. Third-wave feminism embraces diversity, and marks a shift away from the previous waves of feminism by rejecting the idea of a universal female identity. This means that a modern-day feminist could take any shape or form. Third-wave feminism encourages women to express their femininity in whichever way they choose - be it by playing rugby, baking cupcakes, or starring in films like Lord of the G-Strings or Forrest Hump.

One of third-wave feminism’s goals has been to reclaim derogatory words like bitch, whore, spinster and cunt. I’m sceptical as to whether this has been achieved given that I had to wash my hands after typing that last one, but apparently it’s more empowering to use these words than to censor them. Thanks to this initiative, we now have books like Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscia on our shelves.

Often hailed as a symbol of third-wave feminism is early-90s underground punk movement ‘riot grrrl’. At the time, I wasn’t aware of riot grrrl, or any of the bands who formed the movement, but that isn’t surprising given that I was five and they were singing about rape, domestic violence and lesbian sex. Riot grrrls achieved little mainstream recognition, but they did succeed in scaring a few people - most notably, the crowd at the 1992 Reading music festival. It was here that riot grrrl Donita Sparks removed her used tampon and threw it into the crowd, yelling “Eat my used tampons, fuckers!” before some poor fan copped it. It probably didn’t do much for feminism’s image, but it did go down as one of the most unsanitary moments in music history.

Feminism today seems less organised and less politicised than it used to be. It’s also far more inclusive. In her blog Angry Young Woman, an angry young woman explains that unlike previous movements, modern day feminism gives women of colour, disabled women, lesbians and transgendered women a feminist platform to speak from, while at the same time allowing them to focus on their own agendas.

A few years ago, t-shirts with the slogan ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ emblazoned across the front emerged, celebrating the diversity of modern-day feminist. A range of celebrities were seen wearing these shirts on the This is What a Feminist Looks Like video, including, shock horror, men.

So if Bill Bailey is a feminist, does that mean I could be too? I decided to answer this question the only way I knew how – by taking a dodgy internet quiz. Yes, I think abortion should be legal, Yes, I think women and men should receive equal pay, and No, I don’t think the word woman should be spelled ‘womyn’. That’s myntal.

According to okcupid.com, I am a feminist. A “pro-choice, sexually liberated, and generally leftist” one at that. I’m relieved. I may not litter my sentences with the C-word or pick outfits with empowerment in mind, but I do believe that women and men should be treated as equals. Yes I decide, I’m in the F-club and proud.

Then I come across a quote from The Female Eunuch, and suddenly wonder if I’m not quite there yet. "If you think you are emancipated, then you might consider tasting your menstrual blood,” advises Greer. “If it makes you sick, you've got a long way to go, baby."
— Alice Galletly
Photography by Chelsea Jade Metcalf


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