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Why we're feminists: An intergenerational conversation on women's rights

Feminism has changed dramatically since the suffragettes won the right to vote in 1920. Since then, feminism has evolved along with the challenges of the current generation. I interviewed women of different generations about why they identify as a feminist. 

Betty and Joanne were part of second wave feminism from the 1960s to 1990s. Second wave feminism focused on integrating women in the workplace and dismantling misogynistic stereotypes. Second wave feminism also fought to give women more options outside of being housewives and mothers and fought for contraceptive and reproductive freedom. Because of the strength of second wave feminists, the Equal Rights Amendment was added to the Constitution—which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex.  

Betty, 76: I strongly believe that women are completely equal to men and should have equal access to power, jobs, leadership and most importantly equal pay. The job of child rearing should be shared equally as much as possible. Especially in these times, women need to be able to work as much as men.

Joanne, 71: I grew up as a young woman in a confusing time. It was the age of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, birth control and abortions. I didn’t get to this point [being a feminist] easily, as my whole upbringing was quite the opposite. However, these women and so many more were inspirational not just to me but to an entire generation of young women. 

Rebecca, Jaime and Diana grew up as third wave feminists. The third wave of feminism gained popularity in the 1990s and centered around reclaiming a feminine identity and addressing the flaws of first and second wave feminism. Those waves were somewhat exclusionary in nature, dubbing women who chose to wear makeup and heels or stay home with their children as anti-feminists and ignoring the struggles of non-white, LGBT or disabled women. Third wave feminists also opened up the conversation about sexual assault that would grow into hashtags (#MeToo) during the 2010s. 

Rebecca, 43: I believe that all religion, media, advertising, politics and laws were and are designed to keep women and all POC or anyone who is not a white cis male subjugated and feeling unsafe, insecure and "other". For women, all those institutions are also a way to keep us under and profit from our insecurities.

Jaime, 40: Being a feminist means believing women are equal to, and as deserving as, men. Since historically that has not been the case in Western culture, you can’t just say, “duh, we’re equal,” you need to actively work to make it so. But it’s not about bringing men down, it’s about raising women up.

Diana, 37: I believe that women and those who identify as women deserve equal rights and that we live in a world where that equality is far from the norm. I understand that the feminist movement in the United States has a history of elitism and discrimination and so I also believe in creating a wide and inclusive movement that fights for the rights of women across social, economic and political boundaries.

Edie, Maddie and Naomi are teenagers—and today's fourth wave feminists. Fourth wave feminism is the most nuanced and inclusive form of feminism yet, as its main goal is to dismantle systemic barriers that hold all womxn back. (Womxn is a term that includes non-cisgendered females.) Fourth wave feminism strives to be inclusive by protecting and supporting womxn of all races, classes, sexualities, gender identities and abilities. Fourth wave feminism is intersectional, academic and aimed at sexist policies and institutions that disenfranchise *all* womxn. 

Edie, 17: To be honest, I've had a bit of a struggle with my identity as a feminist. I believe in feminist beliefs, but I haven't yet voiced my opinions. For a long time I haven't been able to allow myself to identify as a feminist because I don't think I've taken enough action, but moving forward, I honestly think it's a matter of discovering that side of me for myself.

Maddie, 16: I believe in the need and importance of empowering and uplifting women of all backgrounds. Feminism is a way to put women in the spotlight and truly LISTEN to what they have to say! Of course feminism MUST include trans women, and we must specifically shift the focus and center of feminism towards trans women of color.

Naomi, 16: I’m a feminist because of the unity that comes with it. I was raised by a group of [amazing] feminists who taught me that this is a community of strong women and those who support us. I love to see women supporting women and all these people fighting for equality.

Think about your own identity. Are you a feminist? What about your friends and family? Ask people in different generations about what feminism looks like for them. 

Feminists support and celebrate each other. We empower, educate and strive to make our world just. It is important to remember that feminism is deeply personal and everyone expresses it in a different way. All that matters is that we fight to create a better society for all womxn. 


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by Molly Greenwold | 8/10/2020