Feminism's back! Again!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

If feminism has been in "resurgence" mode for nigh on a decade, why is it still treated as some new fad? 

Last weekend, around 500 people travelled to Birmingham for the second Summer School run by UK Feminista, the organisation which brings together people interested in gender equality and equips them for action. I couldn't make it this time - although I attended last year and had a fantastic weekend. This year's delegates spent two days attending workshops and discussions on topics such as running a feminist group, effective campaigning and engaging with the media. I followed the action via Twitter and was pleased to see so many people coming away inspired and equipped.

I was also pleased to see Summer School, for the second year running, getting some positive attention in the press. But why, yet again, the familiar tone of "recent resurgence", of "new groups", of beliefs being "repackaged" thanks to "the new feminists"? 

Wasn't that the case last year, when we saw a pile of fabulous books discussing 21st century feminism published and The Guardian declared that "Feminism is not finished"? Wasn't that the case in 2008, when the first annual Million Women Rise march took place in London? Wasn't it the case in 2007, when the Observer profiled BitchBuzz's Cate Sevilla in a feature entitled "The new feminists"? What about in 2004, when Reclaim the Night London was revived and UK Feminista founder Kat Banyard put on her first feminist conference?

You get the picture. It must have been some time around 2004 when I first started looking into feminist resources on the internet and noticed that there were new conferences, regional groups and networks starting to pop up. Today, there are many, many more - thanks, of course, to this "resurgence". But as Kat Banyard said in an interview before this year's Summer School:

"We've got this massive resurgence in feminism and the question is not now 'Does it exist?' but 'What can it achieve?'".

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions to give the movement publicity and chronicle an exciting time for women, the media is still somewhat stuck on "Does it exist?" The conclusion reached, of course, is always "yes", but it's still hard to find coverage which looks past the idea of "the new feminism" as a some sort of fad and delves deeper than portraying it as "Fresh! Rebranded! Cool again! Look what these girls are getting up to!" and ignoring wider issues while also discounting women who have gone before in the process, sometimes resorting to referring to them only as negative stereotypes: those crusty second-wave bra burners.

I know it's often trying to portray the movement in a positive way and support all that's happening. But it's getting a bit old.

Part of it's down to the media's taste for the titillating. Remember when pretty much every single newspaper and news site obsessed over Slutwalk and the protest against the opening of the new Playboy club in London? But of course! It gave them the opportunity to talk about sex and feature pictures of women wearing skimpy outfits. Where are the tabloid spreads when the "new feminists" are talking about the role of women in the Arab Spring or assessing the impact of government cuts on women? Exactly. Reclaim the Night marches have always aimed to address the same issues as Slutwalk, but very few people mentioned this in all the furore about using the word "slut".

The fact is, it won't be long before "the new feminism" is a decade old. Right now, it's not quite there, but its achievements are many and it's engaged a new generation of women with gender equality issues. It's provided a voice against misogyny and a sense of community for those who want to do something when they hear about funding cuts to women's services or the shameful rape conviction rate or see a lack of options available to their young daughters. True, the media's interest in feminism really has returned in the last two or three years - and this in turn has inspired many young women, but let's not forget all the women, groups and events that have been paving the way for longer than that.

Come on, newspapers, let's move past the fad of  "the resurgence among young women" and towards recognising that gender equality is for everyone, helps everyone and isn't just some trend, something to cover in what is essentially the same article, a two or three times a year. It's really great when you give the movement coverage, but it's time to diversify.

This "rebranding" has been going on for a long time now; I think it's safe to say that we're not just "back" - we never went away. Yes, there's been a resurgence in activism getting mainstream media attention. But stop acting so surprised and consider, as Kat Banyard said, what it can achieve.

This post originally appear at BitchBuzz. Image via sizemore's Flickr.


sianandcrookedrib said...

great post Hannah! that guardian article really annoyed me. It kind of suggested that there was no activism between getting the vote, and, erm 2011! and that even if there was, it probably wasn't much 'fun'. And Slutwalks were not the first time women took to the streets to protest against sexual harassment and violence! i don't know why they didn't get you or me or someone who knew what they were talking about to write it...! i guess we wouldn't have told the 'feminism is BACK' story they were angling for.

Suem said...

Thought this post was excellent. In a sense feminism is always "new" because to be a living movement it has to respond to new trends. I suspect there are many different strands to feminism today and this complexity is one reason why the media proclaims it is either "dead" or that it is "back", it makes for easy and attention grabbing headlines.


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