Today’s feminist movement has grown to include more participants than ever before. This makes it especially necessary to focus on inclusivity and examine who is silenced and why.
In the past few years, and especially in the last few months, the Women’s Movement has gained incredible momentum. Time’s Up and #MeToo have garnered worldwide attention, and the public downfall of powerful men (starting with Harvey Weinstein last October) has ignited a national conversation about sexual assault. More and more people are vocally opposing President Donald Trump’s mistreatment of women by taking to the streets to protest in the Women’s March, which continues, with each passing year, to be the largest single-day public demonstration in history. Although it is unfortunate that there continues to be something to protest about, the numerical upshoot of participants signifies just how much the movement has grown.
Critical Gender Studies Professor Esin Duzel believes that the feminism of today holds “uniqueness in its expansion and in its scope.” Although the stereotype of feminists as man-haters often persists, feminism is now met with more support than ever before; in general, people today are more likely to consider themselves feminists than people who witnessed earlier waves of the movement did.
However, many argue that this current popular acceptance of feminism has made the movement so mainstream that true radicality has been pushed out of the movement. Instead of opting for radical political activism, the argument goes, the movement embraces easier forms of resistance such as t-shirts and hashtags that often gloss over deeper issues. Duzel, however, disagrees with this criticism, and sees incredible value in the movement broadening this way.
“I think the symbolic ways of doing politics are helpful because they’re motivating,” she said, referencing feminist T-shirts and political apparel. “They’re energizing, they’re inspiring — this is kind of the cultural work movements do. I don’t want to belittle them, to discard their importance, because as an anthropologist, I also see that the culture of a movement is important. We need to emotionally connect with a movement.”
While this growing popularity is unlike anything the movement has ever seen, today’s feminism is also revolutionary because the movement has unfortunately never recognized that not all women suffer equally until now.
“Being intersectional is very important,” Duzel said, explaining how women’s identities interconnectedly affect the ways they’re treated. “And I think it’s crucial for the feminism of today to not only understand how our gender identities construct us and situate us, but also about how our racial identities affect us, how our sexual identities affect us, how our citizenships, how our class, status — all these kind of different parts of our lives affect us as women.”
“They’re energizing, they’re inspiring — this is kind of the cultural work movements do. I don’t want to belittle them, to discard their importance, because as an anthropologist, I also see that the culture of a movement is important. We need to emotionally connect with a movement.”
Intersectional feminism is based upon the principle that feminism is for all women, especially LGBTQ women and women of color who have been systematically ignored by a movement that has historically prioritized wealthy, white, heterosexual, and cisgender women. Intersectionality means championing inclusivity and understanding that other social movements such as Black Lives Matter play a direct role in the feminist movement because social issues, such as race and gender, among others, overlap. In other words: If it isn’t intersectional, it isn’t feminism.
While Duzel believes that intersectional feminism is absolutely crucial to the success of the feminist movement, she also observes that feminism in the United States only considers intersectionality within the context of its own borders.
“I find U.S. feminism in general lacking transnational perspective in terms of thinking how our lives here are intimately connected with women outside of the country,” Duzel, who is from Turkey, said. “This is not to say that we need to get involved in other feminist movements in other countries, but that we need to be thinking about connections, about establishing critical frameworks to question things like patriotism, nationalism, and sexism.”
Although it’s easy to view American feminism as its own movement, feminism has transnational significance because women’s issues across the globe are intertwined. For example, our government doesn’t bother to challenge the unequal relationships between countries and it ignores the implications of institutional nationalism and patriotism on sexism. Hot-button issues such as immigration and military warfare are also gendered processes — immigration due to resources often being unevenly distributed according to gender, and military warfare because women are usually taken most seriously once they’ve molded themselves to fit the male guerrilla ideal. As a result, women often end up supporting, or not vocally opposing, the leaders and institutions responsible for systematically oppressing them.
In terms of feminism at UC San Diego, Duzel encourages students to look beyond the campus bubble. It is necessary remain critically engaged and always question how sexism is deeply entrenched into our lives, especially when it comes to our attendance at university, the institutional embodiment of privilege.
“I encourage people to engage with feminism, starting with their own lives,” she said, explaining the necessity to examine which voices are silenced and why. “Starting with the campus, looking at their courses, starting with the gender structure of their courses, and questioning their surroundings, their environments, but on the other hand going beyond the campus. The campus is a comfort zone. … We can think about that in our practices of intersectional feminism, about how our societies have been structured in ways that the society reproduces inequalities based on these identities. So in order to challenge that we need to understand how privilege is constructed.”
Junior Anushka Rastogi engages with feminism on campus as vice president of UCSD’s chapter of the club GirlUp. GirlUp spreads awareness about global gender issues and is currently fundraising to provide bicycles for girls in Malawi who would otherwise not be able to get to school. Advocating for education is GirlUp’s main focus, but it also encourages thoughtful conversations about other women’s issues.
“I encourage people to engage with feminism, starting with their own lives.”
“It’s important to remember that whatever issue you to choose to focus on,” she said, “[you have to] make sure to be inclusive of all women, which includes women of color and trans women as well. At UCSD, I think it is just important for people to support and to listen to the women on campus. There is no progress if everyone keeps talking and no one listens. The Women’s Center is also a great resource and a safe space that I recommend people check out. In general, I hope that UCSD students use their education and privilege to advocate for those who cannot.”
Even though UCSD seems isolated from many of the world’s issues, Rastogi’s club does an excellent job involving students in the movement here and also in making a difference abroad. UCSD students are fortunate to live in a diverse environment and have access to incredible resources, but many take that for granted. Rastogi advocates constant self-education because the more students know, the more likely they are to use their privilege to actually change the world.
Eleanor Roosevelt College freshman and feminist advocate Eliana Kontokanis similarly believes that UCSD students have access to a wealth of opportunity. However, few actually realize it.
“I think that it’s a really great strength in that we have all of this diversity and if you focus on intersectionality and you really want to enhance your understanding of women’s experiences you have that opportunity,” Kontokanis said. “But I also think with the setup of the college system, as well as just the fact that it’s a college campus and we live in a bubble, it’s very easy to disregard that diversity because it’s not right in front of you.”
To amplify the female voices across campus, she decided to personally launch the International Women’s Week Literary Magazine, which was published both in print and online, to give female students the opportunity for creative expression and healing.
“Every woman I know who has gone through something and has needed to heal,” Kontokanis said, “And then has healed herself in her own way, and then moved on and put that healing and that positivity into the world — that’s what I’m celebrating [for International Women’s Day]. If we’re celebrating all those aspects of women, I think it’s really important to celebrate the things that aren’t usually celebrated. You know, with the information that has arisen with the #MeToo movement and how that was originally started by a black woman, and no one knows or really gives her credit. That’s such a present problem in feminism, and that’s why intersectionality is so important. I hope future International Women’s Days, as it grows and gets that power and that platform, will pay attention to the oppression of women by women. Because the only way to better feminism is to face what’s wrong with it and to fix it. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting our problems.”
Kontokanis, who is a linguistics major, encourages the progressive spelling of “womxn” with an “x” for inclusivity. Not only does the traditional word “women” include the “-men” suffix and define women as a subgroup of men, but it also excludes trans women.
“That ‘x’ puts in variability,” she explained, “not only for the identification of a womxn, but for womxn themselves deciding ‘Hey, I’m a womxn, but not how she’s a womxn or how they’re a womxn! How I’m a womxn!’”
To further implement “womxn” into our daily lexicons, Kontokanis advises simply choosing to use it. Real change is easier than we think because it really just starts with our own conversations.
“I always make fun of it,” she said. “But [UCSD’s slogan is] “break things better.” What better thing to break than the barrier of what a womxn should be? Womxn have been told their whole lives, for the history of the world, what we should be. So why don’t we tell ourselves what we should be?”