The next wave of feminism

The Gian Ghomesi affair triggered much discussion in Canada about the pressures women face to remain silent after being sexually assaulted. But the next wave of feminism has been building globally for years.


Running counter to new feminism are the very institutions that perpetuate suppression of women.

Conservatives tell us that the invasion of Afghanistan was to protect women from the oppression of the Taliban and to send girls to school. Those are admirable goals but would they have happened without the criminal attacks on the U.S. of September 11? Honestly, weren’t the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in retaliation to terrorist attacks and not to save Afghan women?

It’s so typical. The new wave is becoming so popular that it’s being exploited for commercial and political purposes says Rahila Gupta in New Internationalist magazine.

Like when superstar fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld paraded his skinny models down the Paris runway earlier this fall carrying protest signs in a  supposedly feminist demonstration. “Ladies First,” “History is Her Story,” “Feminism Not Masochism.”

Or when Beyoncé sampled a Nigerian author’s talk “We Should All Be Feminists” for her the song “Flawless.” And at the MTV video music awards, the word feminist appeared behind Beyoncé in capital letters as she performed her hits.

Advertising feminism would be a good idea except when it’s a backdrop to the real message of selling clothes or songs. Instead, feminist slogans have been appropriated for corporate ends. Feminism is not just a prop for the glitzy world of show business.

Feminist issues of sexual assault and inequality are real. Too often, the solution that the corporate world offers focuses on individual effort. The real answers are to be found, not in shopping, but in the collective actions of society.

“One of the corporate sectors most effective appropriation strategies has been to cut feminism adrift from its roots as a collective project, by emphasizing individual empowerment and choice,” says Gupta.

Pantene shampoo urges women to be “strong and shine” in an ad that highlights gender inequality “as if glossy hair can fight the sexist labels that hold women back,” she adds.

Calls for individual efforts to reduce women’s issues are designed to fail because they fracture and paralyse any coherent response.

The passionate reaction to the gang rape and murder of a young student in Delhi, December 2012, triggered a wave of soul-searching and moral panic in India. Too often the response oppresses women rather than liberating them. Men were called on to protect women from assault, not just for the sake of women but to “protect family honour.”

It’s as if the real problem was the honour of men as a result of rape of their women. I say “their women” because the whole notion of protection underlies the idea of women as possessions.

Many blame the victim. Public figures in India criticized the young student who was raped for being out with her boyfriend. Parents restricted daughters more by refusing to let them out at night.

What needs to change is the culture of rape that gives men licence to assault women. The real consequence of the next wave of feminism will be cultural shifts in society, not cute slogans.


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