It may not be that evident, but feminism is still a largely misunderstood movement and ideology. On today’s podcast, Meaghan Lamm explores the idea that this may be due to women being hesitant or afraid to be openly feminist. As Meaghan dives deeper into this topic, she gives a brief history of feminism, explores how the movement has changed modern culture, and discusses what we can do to live proudly as unapologetic feminists.
In this episode:
- Sharing a brief history of feminism
- How the modern feminist movement is different
- How to live as a proud feminist
Listen to the podcast here:
Being Openly Feminist In A Patriarchal Society
Because I live this work every day, I often forget that feminism is still a largely misunderstood movement and ideology, so when someone asked me if I would explore the idea that women are afraid to be openly feminist, I knew I wanted to dive deeper into this topic—and open it up to a larger discussion.
Today I’m going to give a brief history of feminism, explore how the movement has changed modern culture, and discuss what we can do to live proudly as unapologetic feminists. Ready? Let’s get started.
The question “Are you a feminist?” might seem like it has a binary, yes or no answer. I’ve been told that it does. But to me, there’s always been a lot of nuance around this conversation, both for me and—I’ve found, for my peers as well.
There are some people like me, who are very firm “yes”es. We identify with the current iteration—modern version of feminism. I find myself explaining how I define feminism, when I say yes, that I am a feminist. I get some answers when I ask this question of some people who are like, “Yes, but,” or, “Yes, if,” and that’s where I fall into a lot of the times where it’s like, “Yes, if we are both defining feminism the same way—here’s how I define it.”
Some people are “no”s. Some people are “maybes”. Some people are, “I’m not sure.” Those people always spark some interesting conversation for me. I want to point out that all of these answers are valid—if they are true for you. Feminism endures the test of time with a very consistent basic meaning, but the overall purpose of the movement has changed over the centuries.
I promise that I’m going to bring you a deeper dive into the history of feminism in the future, and I’m going to gloss over the high points here for reference.— swear those episodes are coming; I know I keep saying that, but I promise.
Modern society: this day and age, as they say—and until I started digging more into this both for this episode, some previous episodes and for those history episodes I swear are coming, I would have included myself in this group that fought that—they tend to think that feminism started in the ‘60s with the bra-burning hippies, the civil rights movement, and the anti-Vietnam war protests. But, if you think about it, and you look back objectively at history, the fight for women’s equality started way back when—at the very least—when women were fighting for the right to vote.
When you look at it like that, it’s like duh. The ‘60s probably gave us that word feminism, but we’ve been fighting for equality for a long time. We could probably track it back even further from that—to ancient Greece. There are several examples that we could reference from ancient Greece: women fighting for equality. But we’re going to stick with the suffrage movement, which began in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and we’re going to call that the first wave of feminism.
Then we move into the second wave of feminism, which is what gave us the word “feminism” in the ‘60s. Up until about the early to mid-‘90s, this is the wave of feminism that propelled women into a man’s world in a very tangible way. Obviously voting is a tangible thing, but this was like, “You can go out and you’re allowed to do ‘men’s work,’ men’s jobs and take up traditionally male positions,” etc.
This is the period when women are allowed to do crazy, radical things like be hired for something besides domestic or secretarial work. Laws are passed during this period that finally allow us to have our own credit cards or bank accounts independent from our husbands (thank God!). Laws also are passed that give us slightly more autonomy over our own bodies. We still do not enjoy as much autonomy as men, but for the time I suppose that’s progress. That’s the second wave.
Third wave feminism picks up in the early to mid-‘90s and brings us forward into the 21st century. I think this wave of feminism is what disillusioned a lot of people with the word “feminism” in the first place, or at least this version coupled with the very strong, “You can be anything a man can be,” message from second wave feminism. Because in my opinion, this wave was very wealthy, white woman-focused, and driven by a desire to distance themselves from second wave feminism—from that more radicalized we should all strive to act and be like men version of second wave feminism.
I‘ve linked to a really great article with more information here.
Then we get into the fourth wave feminism. In a lot of ways, at least in my opinion, looking back on all the different waves and how they contributed to society and to history, this modern-day movement is a total redefinition of feminism.[bctt tweet=”It’s not always easy to identify as a feminist in our society; you open yourself up to everyone else’s opinions.” via=”no”]
There’s the basic tenet—that underlying definition—that women deserve to be equal to men. That’s still true, but it has also become openly more inclusive and more intersectional, because while feminism has had Black and brown champions throughout history, all the way back to women’s suffrage with Sojourner Truth, the larger feminist movements have excluded Black and brown voices and struggles.
They have all been very whitewashed, very racist, very white women-focused for sure—because the idea that women need permission to be able to work outside the home is a very white, middle- and upper-class sentiment—because black women have been working “outside the home,” using that phrase very loosely, taking care of rich white women, for centuries.
The movements themselves inside of culture are very white women-focused, because white women of middle- and upper-class status are the ones who were expected to stay home and take care of the kids. Black women, poor white women—they’re already out working, because they have to. Intersectional feminism alone isn’t a new term; thank you, Black activists—they’ve been using it for decades. I do think that it is a term that’s being embraced by more feminists, because it’s the idea that “equality for all” means “for all:” Everyone. Black and brown people, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, people who struggle with their mental health, class disparities, everybody.
There’s a larger sense that we’re not just redefining this word and this movement, but also that we’re reclaiming this work from the definitions it’s carried in the past. Whether that is a self-defined definition, given to it by the creators or the believers of the movement—or male-centered, conservative-centered propaganda against feminism. Because in the past, feminists equaled “man-hater.” People thought only women could be feminists. I have a great episode on why I don’t think that’s true. It was before we understood that gender is a social construct and a fluid spectrum. It was before 2020 woke up a lot of white people to the very real and continued oppression and racism in the world of Black and brown bodies.
A lot of us are emerging from a period—twenty years or so—where you didn’t really announce you are a feminist, because you didn’t want to be compared to your mom’s version of feminism. I know from experience—and it’s not always easy to identify as a feminist in our society—you open yourself up to everyone else’s opinions. You’re already a woman, and then you come out as a feminist! You’re up against a lot of misinformation, coupled with patriarchy, which doesn’t think feminism should be a thing anyway, because feminism threatens patriarchy just by existing. Then you throw in a dash of good old toxic masculinity for good measure. and you’re not up against easy standards.
Any scroll through the comment section on an article or post about feminism gives you a solid glimpse into how people feel about feminism—or how keyboard warriors feel about feminism. And it isn’t just men! That’s something that always really surprises me. I would say in my experience, men make up the majority of dissenters when it comes to feminism, but there are always women in the comment section saying that they’re not feminists, or they think we’ve “come far enough” and that we don’t even need feminism anymore. “We have arrived, so everything’s fine.” There’s a general thought process that because we’ve come so far, “We made it, we’re good, we don’t need to keep going, everything’s fine, we can stop.”
This is where we’re benefited by the inclusion of intersectionality in feminism where equality for everyone is the goal. Not just between women and men—and we still haven’t achieved that. We are nowhere near achieving equality for everyone. Women are far from equal. If you focus even on minority groups of women, then that equity drops even more severely—because we can’t be equal until we’re all equal. You can’t claim that equality exists if there are still people being shot in the street by police; discriminated against in the law. You can’t be equal if those people are not equal, period, full stop. It’s just not possible.
I’m sharing all of this to say that yes, there’s misinformation out there, and I hope that this episode, and really this entire podcast, can serve as a resource for you to at the very least start asking questions.
If you’re afraid to identify as a feminist, or if you aren’t sure, or you want to learn more about it, I hope that this podcast is a resource for you to begin asking those hard questions, Googling those things, and reaching out to people you might know who do consider themselves feminists and are open about it; to have these conversations, to learn more and to decide where you fit into this movement of intersectionality and equality for everyone.
I’m always game for people to ask questions, or search out information on their own in an effort to learn more, because when you stop asking questions, that’s when you get into the dangerous territory of becoming stuck—either in your own ideas, or in the ideas of the people you surround yourself with, and you’re not opening yourself up to a lot of critical thought.
I also thought that this topic was important, and I wanted to cover this topic, because I want to say I don’t think people need to wear their feminism on their sleeve in order to make a difference. If you’re only talking about it in an effort to be performative, and you’re not doing anything to back up what you say you believe in, then what’s the point? Who are you helping? Nobody.
You don’t have to stand up in front of a crowded room or in my case, the whole internet and say, “I’m a proud feminist.” Is there anything wrong with doing that? No, I do that once a week on this show and several times a day on my social media feeds, so there’s nothing wrong with doing that. Of course there isn’t. But you can do just as much good and create just as much change when you live your life every single day guided by your feminist ideals whether you shout it from the rooftops or not.[bctt tweet=”You can do as much good when you live your life every day guided by your feminist ideals, whether you shout it from the rooftops or not. ” via=”no”]
So I want to say that if you’re reading this and you’re afraid to be openly feminist for whatever reason—whether you are afraid for your safety, I feel sad that I even have to say that, but I know that it’s a consideration for people. Whether you are afraid because of your family, or where you live, or maybe you live in a deeply conservative area and you don’t feel comfortable or safe doing that.
I want to say first that there’s an entire community of humans out there who hold the same beliefs as you. I know many of them. We want to solve the same problems as you. We believe in the same solutions that you believe in. We also want to make this world a better place for everybody to live in. You can always find friendship, solidarity and solace in those communities even if that isn’t necessarily where you physically live. Maybe you don’t walk up to your neighbor and tell them you’re a feminist, but you can find these communities online. I don’t want you to feel afraid in being who you are and believing what you believe.
I want to say that there is no “right way” to do feminism. As long as you’re not being performative—which there’s certainly a wrong way to do feminism, and performative feminism is one of those things. But as long as you are striving for equality among all human beings whether they are cis, trans, straight, gay, Black, brown, white, abled, disabled, neurotypical or neurodiverse—every single day, then you are doing the work of feminism.
This movement doesn’t require you to show up for that in any certain way, as long as you show up, and I hope that you will continue to show up in a way that moves the needle forward in whatever small, meaningful way that you can.
We have such a long way to go before we get to where we’re going. Every step, every act, every voice counts. That’s it for me today. Bye, y’all.
Pacific University of Oregon – Four Waves of Feminism
Send me a message if you’d love to chat more about what partnering together would look like!