The fourth wave of feminism, from Caitlin Moran to Kimberlé Crenshaw, has energised young people, but now it needs to attack our political establishment
“What did you do in the war, Mummy? The great feminist war.” “I stood there on the shore and let the waves crash over me one after another, watching them build, feeling them pull me close. Waiting for the break.”
Actually, I don’t have to imagine any such conversation: as ever, the reality is rather dull. My older daughters used to come home from school all grumpy about having to “do” feminism. For their homework they would want me to tick one of the multiple-choice boxes explaining my exact kind of feminism. Was I, they impatiently asked, a radical or socialist or separatist feminist? “Don’t be daft,” I would say, but homework is homework.
Explaining that it was never like that just annoyed them. And I feel much the same when I read about the waves of feminism. We are on the fourth wave apparently. Grab a bodyboard! For of course, feminism contains multitudes (bickering multitudes, I concede) of thought, ideas and activism. Feminism is always a process, not a finished product: a system of ideas about gender equality that mutate and regenerate.
There are days when we can be optimistic: the discussions around everyday sexism; Caitlin Moran’s wisecracks have turned her into a rock star worshipped by young girls; Laurie Penny, a knowingly troublesome writer, has punched her way through the cybersphere, by turning anxiety into anger. Kimberlé Crenshaw packs out lecture halls as she explains that “intersectionality” is not new, that we need to see race and class as intertwined and throws down the challenge to white feminists: who has the power to end debate, to walk away? That same challenge is there too from trans activists and sex workers and this is how feminism remakes itself. All of this is happening now, a consciousness raising, that seems rude and healthy and almost a movement. Almost.