During my thirties, I embraced the bold identity of Radical Feminist. Feminism, as I understood it and lived it was serious struggle for liberation. The women I organized with were an uncompromising bunch. We were hell-bent on changing the power imbalance in our society that economically disadvantaged women as a class, severely limited our civic participation, commodified our sexuality and made us targets of violence. You may remember us. We were the oft maligned Second Wave.
By the end of the end of the twentieth century, feminism succumbed to apathy and declared dead as we entered a new year in a new century. Across the nation young women, proudly rejected a feminist identity of any kind. To some, the war against women had been won. Others questioned if there had ever even been a war. Wasn’t it all just a propaganda campaign spread by “Feminazis“ designed to recruit battalions of women into our man-hating lesbian brigades as the liberal Left proclaimed?
Those were dark days for those of us who worked so hard for the little bit of ground we gained. Gains we knew would be quickly lost without a unified feminist front. And lose we have over the last decade. Spectacularly. Women’s health was the first to fall. While no one was watching, reproductive rights have been quietly eroded state by state. Poor women bore the brunt of this loss.
Violence against women was next. Rape continued unabated despite desperate social and legal campaigns ranging from “No Means No” to “Yes Means Yes” as if all women had to do is be clear about their consent – or lack there of – and rapists would say “Oh! Never mind,” and walk away. The arming of America orchestrated by the NRA increased the number of fatal domestic assaults. Between 2001 and 2012 more women were shot to death by an intimate partner than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. Women’s lives took a back seat to Second Amendment Rights. That shouldn’t have been a big surprise. First Amendment Rights had already taken precedence over the harm done to women used in pornography.
As for income equality, the rising tide of people living in poverty are women. The majority dependent on the pittance our government has the audacity to call “food support” are single mothers with children. They just cant pay the rent and put food on the table working a minimum wage job. And it doesn’t get better as women age. Without a well-paying job history, older women remain trapped in poverty. Living on a small social security check month to month, they are often forced to choose between groceries and much-needed medication. A few swallow their pride and make a monthly trip to the food shelf . You may see a few more greeting you at Wal-Mart earning the same low wages that got them trapped in a lifetime of poverty in the first place.
Recently there has been a feminist revival of sorts. It bears little resemblance to the national movement that I was a part a part of in the seventies and eighties. The new feminism is quintessentially American. It has been commercialized and packaged to meet the individualized needs of women and men so we can all don this new trendy “feminist” label. When we have a young, white, privileged actress representing the Feminist Movement at the United Nations and the crux of her speech is not the new feminist agenda but promoting a Madison Avenue Campaign whose main premise is that sexism hurts us all and we need male “feminists” (whatever that means) to help us win the fight for women’s equality – the movement is in trouble. When we hold up Beyoncé as a feminist role model as she twerks on the stage near naked and hasn’t demonstrated any significant efforts to advance women’s equality – the movement is in trouble. When feminist activism is reduced to tweeting and posting on Facebook and blogging and signing online petitions – the movement is in trouble. Without a cohesive national feminist platform that names women’s second class status and develops strategies to win full equality, and an end poverty, violence and the buying and selling of women’s bodies for sex – the movement is in trouble.
In my view, our best hope for women’s liberation is to regroup, to create a national collaboration of existing feminist and social justice groups that are working in isolation and build a membership that is diverse, respectful, and promotes the leadership of women across race, class and gender identification lines. Together we can develop and implement a truly inclusive feminist agenda for change.