Culture and global society are shifting faster than ever as the growing coronavirus crisis quickly becomes the only news story on the agenda, bringing with it an overwhelming feeling of global fatigue and anxiety about the future.
As we approach the end of International Women’s History Month, our insights specialist & intersectional activist, Laiqa Miriam, jumped into her time machine to explore the history of feminism and the role the new generation could play in this rapidly changing new world.
Where did you come from? Where did you go?
It’s been around 100 years, (102 to be exact) since some women won the right to vote in the UK, and since then women and their allies have made huge strides in securing equality. However, there is still much to do...
To loosely quote Maya Angelou, in order to know where you are going, you need to know where you come from, so here's a quick round-up of how western feminism has evolved over the last 100 years (in around 100 words), which will give us some clues about the shape feminism may take over next 10 years.
What exactly is a wave?
It seems like a simple question, but waves don’t just exist in the ocean. Feminism is in fact split into ‘waves’, or time periods, each with slightly different aims and principles, which are defined by the female activists who were thinking, breathing and protesting at that time. So a wave is really the product of its environment, with no rights or wrongs, just reflections that capture the focus of the time.
It’s widely agreed that there have been four main ‘waves’ in western feminism, including the following:
1910+ : Lost Gen / First-wave feminism is best known for the suffragettes - the women who bravely fought for voting rights by setting fire to abandoned buildings, tying themselves to railings and protesting against police around the time of WWI. In retrospect, they were criticised for purposely excluding women of colour and those from lower socio-economic classes in their fight for voting rights.
1960+ : Baby Boomer / Second-wave feminism has become synonymous with ‘bra-burning’, but though these feminists of the 60s to 80s were considered ‘radical’ hippies, their work also ran concurrent with the anti-war and civil rights movements. They led the charge to outlaw marital rape, legalise abortions, and raise awareness about domestic violence.
1990+ : Gen X / Third-wave feminism’s buzzword was ‘intersectionality’ (my favourite word) introduced in ‘89 by my personal icon, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Learning from the gap left by the suffragettes, this was all about understanding and championing the most marginalised women, who faced two or more forms of oppression like racism, homophobia, classism and ableism.
2010+ : Millennial / Fourth-wave feminism has harnessed the internet as a tool since 2012. ‘Fempowerment,’ body-positivity, and cancel-culture have taken the world by storm, with the ‘MeToo movement’ and ‘TimesUp’ being defining moments in global and women’s history.
As Gen Zs start to make their way into adulthood, the Malala’s and Greta’s of the world are already making monumental waves to change society and culture. It won’t be long before their grassroots actions will begin to drastically change and shape what we know as the feminism of today. A society where ethics are prioritised will become less and less fairytale-like, as governments and brands take learnings from changemaking women and marginalised people to help build the roadmap for the future.
What does the future hold for us?
Being the resident astrologer and spokesperson for Gen Zs at The Unmistakables, I’ve consulted my tarot cards and network of empowered women to make predictions on where feminism is heading and how we can all play a part in bringing about positive change for all. So, let’s begin at the start of the alphabet, with 3 As for the new decade.
Slack. Zoom. Google Drive. All these online platforms have allowed workplaces to shift, ‘relatively’ seamlessly, onto a virtual world. In an effort to ‘flatten the curve’ of the coronavirus outbreak, many organisations willingly opted to promote social distancing for the greater good, and they should be rightfully applauded for that. The precious childhood years Millennials and Gen Zs wasted on Club Penguin and MSN have finally come into good use to prepare for living the foreseeable future predominantly online.
At the same time, this digital revolution has also put the experiences of disabled people, those immunocompromised like myself, and even carers and parents into sharp focus. The world’s response to the coronavirus has shone a light on many things, particularly the shortcomings that have been systematically working against marginalised people all over the globe. Creating a society and workplace that is truly accessible will be a necessary step to rebuilding a thriving economy post-corona. In the meantime, check up on people you know who are vulnerable right now, a pack of toilet roll delivered to the outside porch is the 2020 version of bringing over a casserole or lasagna - especially when the gluten-free pasta supply is low.
Cancel-culture: everyone has heard of it and has an opinion, either you love or hate it like Marmite. Nonetheless, my crystal ball predicts that it’s going to slowly and surely die out. Just like duck face selfies, the internet will become fatigued with constantly seeing it. Instead, hopefully, accountability and real change will come from post-scandal apologies.
We have already seen this happen this year on a monumental scale; real action was taken to hold Weinstein accountable for his actions. His relatively long sentencing felt like that lump in the throat, women had been carrying for decades, had finally begun to hurt a little bit less. Cancel-culture was born out of generations of marginalised people fighting to be heard and taking retribution into their own hands. So, the more that the justice system starts to fairly prosecute people, and people start to take ownership of their actions, the more we are going to see cancel - culture fading away.
You may be asking what does this mean for the everyday person? Well, put your hands up if you say or do something wrong, and apologise with meaning and compassion, take action to genuinely say sorry - (not to gain more TikTok subscribers.) On the other side, instead of shaming someone for getting it wrong, the best lesson I’ve learnt is to treat them with empathy, as not everyone has had the privilege of sharing the same education or lived experiences as you - something I have to check myself on regularly, too.
This word and all that it means, is going to be more important than ever, even more so now, than B.C. (Before Corona).
Allyship will be key in helping to shift the burden off marginalised folk, and in the 2020s it’s going to have to be ‘actionable’… What that means is more than just a retweet or reshare, allyship will require people of privilege to sacrifice their comfort to make real change.
Allyship is multilayered because society is multilayered. Remember that term, ‘intersectionality’; we will have to acknowledge it’s up to all of us to help take the burden off those who don’t have the same privileges as us. This can be non-Black People of Colour, (NBPoC) tackling the anti-blackness in their community and family, or cisgender people advocating for gender-neutral passports, restrooms and policies for non-binary folk. It is definitely complex, but taking ownership, being open to learning and willing to challenge your own biases is key.
How can you be a good ally, I hear you ask? Being a proactive ally means not hoarding toilet paper, diapers and food, as people who are living paycheck to paycheck cannot afford to stockpile every month. Voting and campaigning for candidates who champion rights for all, even if that means your taxes may increase marginally to secure public services for everyone. Or just stepping in to support your friends, students or colleagues of colour, to have a safe space for them to vent from the emotional tax of the everyday.
TL;DR (too long; didn’t read)
If you manage to get to the end of this article, props to you, if not, we have a cheeky TL;DR for our predictions for the future of feminism:
Life is short, and the speed at which it is flying by will be getting faster, there is no better time than self-isolating, to reflect on the fact societal change will be a necessity. Could the new generation of activism and feminism help catalyse the changes we need to secure our collective emotional and environmental wellbeing for tomorrow?
To keep up with the pace of the next 10 years of feminism or even just the next number of weeks in lockdown, we will all need to channel our inner Mother Teresa. This means thinking about the consequences of our actions on others, apologising when wrong and being empathetic to everyone’s different needs, abilities and capacities - and most of all, don’t hog the toilet paper!