Small Strokes

Cover of "Manifesta: Young Women, Feminis...

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I love it when research about feminist activism and feminism points you to a quote that explains exactly what you’re trying to do with your own activism. This is from ManifestA: young women, feminism, and the future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, and I feel it describes exactly how I feel about feminist activism:

Though activism can be grand or all-consuming, it is also as common and short-term as saying “That’s not funny” to a racist joke, “No” to the boss who asks only the “girls” in the office to make coffee, or calling your senator to protest… (282)

Also important to remember:

The first myth is that activism will bring an immediate and decisive victory.  In reality, the journey to justice is usually [darn] long.  So while the click of consciousness brings immediate gratification in itself, social change, even on a small scale, is slow and arduous work. (283)

The second myth about activism is that it has to be huge… (285)

The third myth is the importance of the superleader… It is a myth that effective activism is the result of one person, or even a few. (285)

Although we may not yet have a critical mass of Third Wave activists, we need to dispel the fourth and final myth: that our generation is politically, um, impotent.  Our purported lack of activism is usually chalked up to vague notions of apathy.  We were reared by the boob tube, and made cynical by the cold-war politics and consumerism of the Reagan-Bush era.  For a while, ad executives and media pundits conjectured that Generation X was simply lazy and irresponsible – fulfilling the slacker persona of the early nineties.  The apathy rap has some truth when it comes to feminism.  Some people do believe that everything is fine now, and that there is no need for feminism, either because they have low expectations or because they haven’t been in the outside world long enough to experience the limitations brought on by sexism… But history tells us that for each big leap, for each crystal-clear moment in which people refused to give up their seats on the bus or at the lunch counter, there is a time collecting energy and stating new visions – a time of pre-emergence.  Understanding that change takes time will lead us to a redefinition of our generation politically. (286-7)

How do you feel about feminist activism right now?  How do you define it?  How do you participate in it?  I’d be interested to read your comments!

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4 thoughts on “Small Strokes

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    • Ashley on

      Oh you totally have to! I found it much simpler to digest than bell hooks was, but also incredibly informative. For the purposes of my research, I only read the chapter titled “What is Activism?” (cited here) and “What is Feminism?” but I can’t wait until I have time to read the rest!

  2. John O'Dwyer on

    I was fortunate that riot grrrl music introduced me to feminism at a young age and changed how I saw the world. Men need to understand that their embarrassment at calling out their friends when they make sexist jokes or comments is minor compared to the positive effect it would have on society. They also need to boycott products targeted at them that use sexist or homophobic advertising and to spread the word. They should support feminist causes and groups without trying to be in charge. Every man that identifies as a feminist ally makes it easier for the next and with time the culture will change.
    One of the discussions on twitter that interested me recently was about ‘prescriptive feminism’ and whether some choices that women make were inherently anti-feminist. How much responsibility does have a woman have when her choices may indirectly affect other women negatively and what role do feminists have in defining feminist choices? When feminism becomes too ‘prescriptive’ without regard to context, it’s in danger of becoming oppressive for some women, but if any choice is a feminist choice, in spite of the effect on society, does feminism lose all meaning? Clearly winning suffrage was important, regardless of whether a woman chooses to vote and irrespective of which candidate she chooses but is it also feminism’s role to decide and promote what feminists view as better choices for women, choices that will help women as a whole? Clearly, a vital part of modern feminist activism as a whole must be issues of class,disability,race, and LGBTQI rights, with the voices of marginalised groups centred.

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