It's International Women's Day; are our foremothers rolling over in their graves?

It’s hard not to heave a big ol’ feminist sigh on International Women’s Day. But, in many ways, I think that’s just fine. International Women’s Day isn’t intended to be a celebration, from my perspective. Rather, it is a reminder. A reminder that we still need an International Women’s Day.

Across the world women are fighting for their rights. They are fighting for equality, for workers’ rights, for reproductive rights, they are protesting poverty and raising awareness about violence against women. Strangely, many Westerners like to imagine that we inhabit an egalitarian society. I’m not sure where they’re looking, but from where I’m standing, we still have a lot of work to do.

On Friday, Jarrah Hodge covered the Vancouver and District Labour Councils annual International Women’s Day Dinner. Hodge quoted activist, feminist and founder of rabble.ca, Judy Rebick,writing:

“We achieved a lot, but we still have a way to go,” Rebick added, singling out particularly the struggle to end trafficking of women and to end a “rape culture” that blames victims for their assaults.

While there are, of course, many who do treat International Women’s Day as a holiday and a celebration, which is wonderful, because we certainly should celebrate women and women’s achievements, coupled with that positivity is a sense that, not only do we sometimes forget the continued need for the feminist movement, but that we, as third wave feminists, lack respect for the incredibly hard work women from previous generations did on our behalf.

The third wave, which is the wave I’ve found myself in (I was born in 1979 so I had little choice in the matter), seems decidedly marked by what could almost be viewed as a backlash against first and second wavers. Certainly it isn’t fair to paint the entire third wave as ungrateful, burlesque-loving, Slutwalking, post-modernists, as there has certainly been valuable theory and critiques to come out of this generation of feminism, but when I imagine us looking back at this particular wave, I am sometimes overcome by a sinking feeling that very much resembles embarrassment.

While radical feminists, bra-burners, and hairy, man-hating, lesbians (which, for the record, are super awesome caricatures, in my opinion) seem representative of second wave feminism, what we’ve been stuck with, in the third wave, are half-naked, stiletto’d, women and girls, stripping on-stage and calling it empowerment, or marching through the streets calling themselves sluts under the guise of “sexual freedom.”

Amid a culture that hypersexualizes women and girls, so much so that we seem to have lost  any understanding of the word “objectification,” are blessed with the ability to ignore the ever-increasing violence of the porn industry in favour of conversations of the “grey areas,” and seem overly committed towards engaging in desperate attempts to derail every conversation into one about the supposed existence of “feminist porn,” it can feel as though the third wavers are a somewhat confused bunch.

In the face of very serious threats to both individual women and the rights and freedoms of women as a whole, white, privileged, Western women are….Slutwalking? And framing stripping as empowerment? Really?

As Laurie Penny wrote so articulately in a piece published earlier today:

Women, like everyone else, have been duped. We have been persuaded over the past 50 years to settle for a bland, neoliberal vision of what liberation should mean. Life may have become a little easier in that time for white women who can afford to hire a nanny, but the rest of us have settled for a cheap, knock-off version of gender revolution. Instead of equality at work and in the home, we settled for “choice”, “flexibility” and an exciting array of badly paid part-time work to fit around childcare and chores.

Sadly, she is so very right. Talk about oppression, exploitation, and objectification and, without a doubt, someone will throw the word “choice” at you as though it’s a weapon. Watch out, critics of burlesque! Some women feel individually empowered by taking off their clothes on stage! Criticize the sex industry or men who buy sex? Well, clearly it’s because you hate sex. Which is a bad thing, by the way. Sex-positivity preaches that women must like all things “sexy” in order to be empowered. The blanket of sex-positivity means that, suddenly, exploitative and sexist industries equal sexual freedom for women! How about that.

Don’t we have anything real to fight for? It sure feels like we do…Are we so unimaginative that the only thing we can come up with, in terms of fighting for women’s rights, is to take off our clothes? It just makes me want to cry.

We need to do better than this. We don’t need to fuck our way to freedom (but hey, feel free to fuck all you want on your way there if you’re into that) and if we think the only way to accomplish anything is by wearing lingerie and calling it feminism, I’ve got to say, I’m really ready for another wave, women.

International Women’s Day exists because women are not yet free. Because women are raped and murdered and abused by men around the world. It exists because sex sells, which means that people are making money off the backs of women. Like, at our expense, not to our benefit. If you think men and the media are going to get on board with Slutwalks and the strip-clubs-as-empowering-spaces-for-women messages and with hot, naked, lady protestors, a la Femen, well, you’re right. They will. Because none of those things challenge male power or privilege. This is the stuff privilege is made of. And you may well feel powerful with the eyes and attention of the world glued to your breasts, but I’m afraid I just can’t imagine how it’s going to make women any more safe from violence and I’m afraid I just don’t see stilettos and boobs as the things that, in the end, take down the patriarchy.

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • No Sugarcoating

    I’m ready for the 4th wave, got my swimsuit and everything!

    • http://womononajourney.wordpress.com womononajourney

      :) I think the term “4th wave” has actually already been taken by those with third-wave politics…

      • Meghan Murphy

        Really? Where/whom? They sure are speedy!

  • neverdroptheshadowforthepray

    Thank you for this. Refreshing.

  • Hari

    Thank you Meghan! “I’m afraid I just don’t see stilettos and boobs as the things that, in the end, take down the patriarchy.”

    Me either. If anything, those items (along with all that freely-empowerful stripping, porning and other sex work) only provide an eye candy that distracts us all from the way womyn are still denied the real goods in society…um, *at best*. What is still missing is our receiving respect as fully human beings: having full citizenship rights in the matter of control over our own bodies, and things such as equal pay along with compensation for all the presently unpaid-work we do that supports society. Just to name a couple of basics….

    Back in 1970 I helped change the school dress code for girls. At the time, I didn’t think that much of it, honestly. It was kind of exciting but seemed like a small thing nonetheless, in the Grand Scheme of Life. There was a hint of the power inherent in that work, by the protests of even some young womyn–who weren’t afraid that I would make them wear pants, but expressed outrage that we feminists were tearing apart the fabric of society. I was 13, what did I know of the power of culture? I respectfully argued the constitution, and the fact that they were still free to dress as they pleased. Privately I thought, “Sillies, this is America–land of the free. The way people dress is such a small thing–what is the big hairy deal here???”

    I actually did think in simple terms of the US Constitution, “all created equal” and the logic of personal freedoms. I thought, somehow the guys had left womyn (and POC) out of the plan, and now all we had to do was call attention to it and rectify. How hard could THAT be?

    LOLOLOLOL–sob. LOLOLOLOL–barf!

    Now I understand the power of culture much better, so I’m less surprised by the resistance to freedom fighting by all who challenge the status quo. It’s still so hard, though, to watch some womyn–even those who call themselves feminists–maintain their state of denial while holding onto their oppression with both hands. Shod in stilettos, breasts duly augmented and faces properly fixed for ‘beauty’, all the while.

    thanks again. If there is one thing that helps me keep heart for the struggle at this point, it’s knowing that some of the next generation has not lost their anger, and their will to continue changing the world.

  • Hari

    So, Megan, to me you are a True SheRa <3

  • marv wheale

    Moving from Lamentation to Jubilation

    What can defeat us from achieving equality? Will it be rape, victim blaming, sex positivity, porn, objectification, faux feminism, prostitution, or any other form of male dominion? No, no and no! In all these things we will be more than conquerors through the radical feminist movement and its political companions. On that great turning day all the drooping spirits will be uplifted and their tears will be wiped away. Enormous gratitude to you for being among the revolutionaries who are making this come to pass however painful and laborious it is.

  • http://www.stoppornculture.org womononajourney

    Well, not all of us have been duped.

    Some of us are gathering in San Diego, CA in June 2012 to discuss how we can create a feminist movement that challenges male supremacy in all its insidious forms. The focus of the conference, though is porn culture.

    Here is some information for those who might be interested:

    Contemporary Radical Feminism in the Age of Porn
    University of San Diego
    June 18-19, 2012

    Porn has moved from the back street to Wall Street, and is now a multibillion dollar global industry and a leader in technological innovation. As porn seeps into the mainstream economy, and softcore porn migrates into pop culture, the porn industry has become more hardcore and cruel. Porn images increasingly shape our visual landscape, and the pornification of the culture is played out on the bodies of younger and younger women who have grown up in a culture awash with hypersexualized representations of femininity. At the same time, much of mainstream popular and academic feminism has embraced a neo-liberal ideology that celebrates individual empowerment and agency while de-emphasizing the structural realities of gender, racial, and class inequality. In place of economic, legal and political liberation, we are supposed to be happy with individual “empowerment” in the form of stripping, waxing and hooking up.

    Our goal is to rebuild a vibrant, radical, unapologetic feminist movement that energizes and mobilizes women and pro-feminist men into fighting the porn industry, and fighting for real liberation. Presentations will explore how to make radical feminism timely and relevant in the lives of young women, and how to build activist movements on the local, national and global level.

    Topics include

    The Pornification of Representation in Pop Culture
    Heterosexuality and Hook Up Culture
    The Political Economy of Porn
    Sexualized Racism in Pop Culture and Porn
    How “Queer” is “Queer” Porn?
    Radical Feminism and the Right
    Men, Masculinity, and Radical Feminism
    Porn and the Culture of Humiliation
    Organizing Against a Global Industry

    Thank you, and I hope you will join us.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Right on! Thanks for sharing this info.

    • Jen

      Womononajourney-Thanks so much for posting this! I thought I was the only one who felt this way. I am so saddened and disgusted by how pornography has turned so violent in our society. There is a huge backlash on feminism and women in general today. when will it ever end? Mostly, people act like you’re crazy if you bring this up to certain parties..I need to be around women who are aware of all of these issues. Thanks for speaking your mind.

  • K. Kelly Meine

    I think you’re getting confused as to the point of the slutwalks. They aren’t about sexual freedom. They are a specific response to rape culture. A police officer gave a talk about sexual assault, and stated the following: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. Which to me seems a lot like the victim blaming of rape culture.

    The slutwalks were meant as a protest *against* that very specific sentiment. I don’t see how this is in line with saying that stripping is empowering or the like.

  • Rebecca V.

    This is my first time ever responding to an article, let alone an article on feminism or rather “faux-feminism” but I thought I might add a little something. I am 18 years old and to be honest I don’t know a whole lot about feminism, I’m just getting into it so I apologize beforehand if I sound a little uneducated.

    I wanted to throw out the thought that maybe why some feminists nowadays are using such sexuality as to empower women is because for so long women were only used for their bodies, for their sexuality by men that now that we have fought and though maybe we haven’t “won” we can embrace our sexuality for ourselves finally. Instead of only men using our sexuality to further their needs we have taken it back and are using it for ourselves, to bring awareness to the problems we face. Sometimes I do think it is empowering and other times I can agree with this article and be just as embarrassed. At this moment though, I just wanted to put the idea out there that these women and feminists are using sex and their sexuality as the language that our culture only seems to know.

    • Maria de Lourdes

      Rebecca,the backlasher act in this matter,they know many of us are insecurity and wishing our to be free from the “slut-blaming”( we want to enjoy sex without being considered whores).So,what do they do? take this opportunity and sell us the idea that to be sexual free is to be sexual object!
      that´s where the problem is.