Feminism in the Modern Day: The Biggest Challenges

So, a relaxing Friday night. Consuming unhealthy amounts of TikToks and I’ve stumbled upon this:

No man has ever been raped because only they have the privilege of doing that. Only women experience that. With a hashtag #maletears. And #feminism.

Well, this got me thinking: how much do we women understand about advocating for feminism, in simple practical ways?

If I call myself a feminist, is that an excuse for male-bashing? Of course not.

So how can we all support equality in the truest sense of the word?

Let’s explore the main ideas behind the feminist movement and how they get skewed in our modern-day times.


What is Mainstream Feminism?

You’ve already read an article about women becoming CEOs in male-dominated industries. Or watched a documentary about girls struggling to get proper education in developing countries.

When you hear, read, or see the word “feminism”, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?

The widest definition goes something like this: feminism advocates for the social, political, and economic equality of women and men. It is a set of theories and beliefs that both sexes deserve equal rights and opportunities.

We have three traditional types of feminism (we call them the “Big Three” schools of feminist thought):

  1. Liberal feminism- feminism as we know it today; fights for institutional and legal changes to achieve gender equality
  2. Socialist/ Marxist feminism- developed in the 1970s, explores how women are oppressed in different areas of society (economy, race, etc.)
  3. Radical feminism- believes that changing the current patriarchal system won’t improve women’s rights unless it gets knocked down (important to say here is that radical doesn’t mean men-hating but hating the system that favors men and oppresses women).

Whenever we talk about feminism as a mainstream global movement, we’re talking about liberal feminism. Feminists fight against gender division, typical stereotypes, and prejudices about women. They want legal changes that give women equal pay, equal education opportunities, and equality in general.

Feminism supports important things, such as:

  • abortion rights,
  • access to birth control,
  • calling out sexist behavior,
  • fighting sexual violence against women,
  • affordable childcare,
  • equal pay for equal work,
  • equal education opportunities for girls,
  • other obstacles women and other marginalized groups deal with.

Liberal feminism is a broader term for many other branches and ideas. To name a few, there are equality feminists, social feminists, libertarian feminists, Black feminists, multiracial feminists, eco-feminists, and so on. The most relevant today are Black feminism and diversity feminism.

Below follows a brief timeline of how the feminist movement came to be.


Women’s Liberation Movement: Short Overview

1. The First Wave

It all began back in 1848 with the suffragettes. The Seneca Falls Convention, the first American convention for women’s rights, was the starting point for the first wave of feminism.

Suffragettes (mostly middle-class white women) fought for women’s voting rights, property ownership rights, and equal treatment in education and employment.

With the 19th Amendment passage in 1920, women got the right to vote.

2. The Second Wave

In the 1960s, along with the civil rights movement, the feminist movement was on the rise again. The period between the 1960s and 1970s marks the second wave of feminism.

Second-wave feminists fought against gender-based discrimination and social equality. The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963 to stop workplace discrimination against women.

Second-wave feminism brought about a tremendous shift in the way society viewed women. It had been normal to assume that men naturally desire women and vice versa. Gayle Rubin introduced the sex/gender/sexuality system in her essay “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy of Sex.”

According to Rubin, gender is a product of society. We associate certain gender norms with the biological sex. The belief that a woman should behave this way and a man that way? We, humans, invented that.

A big part of the second wave of feministic activity was fighting for women’s reproductive rights and ending violence against women.

In the USA, birth control became legal in 1965. Spousal rape was criminalized across the United States by the early 1990s (in some European countries many decades earlier).

On top of that, domestic violence wasn’t considered a serious crime until Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994.

3. The Third Wave

As the 1990s rolled around, so did the third wave of feminism. This period in the women’s rights movement didn’t result in great political changes.

It contributed to fighting workplace sexual harassment and allowing women to compete for prominent positions. Feminism was no longer a fight for women’s liberation, it also embraced the fight for transgender rights.

The hallmarks of the third wave of feminism are the punk rock grrrl groups and the free expression of one’s sexuality.

90’s feminism was diverse and intersectional. (Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989.)

Intersectionality means we can oppress a person based on more than just one characteristic: race, gender, religion, class, and mental or physical disabilities. Let’s take Afro-American single mothers as an example. They get discriminated against for their race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

In their rebellion against patriarchy, third-wave feminism embraced the traditional notions of femininity, proving that the only goal of wearing make-up and high heels isn’t to be beautiful to a man. (That’s how the term “lipstick feminism” came to be.)

Second-wave feminists were characterized as masculine, presumptuous, hairy women. Now women were free to look and dress how they may please.

4. The Fourth Wave

This leads us to the latest, fourth wave, which originated sometime around 2012. Current-day feminists subscribe to female empowerment, body positivity, trans-inclusivity, and stopping rape culture.

For the first time, social movements are happening in the digital world. The #MeToo and the Time’s Up movements focus on digital advocacy for women’s rights. The Harvey Weinstein effect has uncovered an entire list of powerful men in politics and media accused of sexual abuse.

During the Women’s March in 2017, after Donald Trump won the presidential election, around 4.6 million people across the United States rose for gender equality.

In the past few years, the biggest focus of women’s rights activism is overcoming the gender pay gap, internet misogyny, and seeking justice for sexual harassment victims.

The latest feministic wave fights for the rights of many marginalized groups, particularly women of color and trans women. As gender roles are shifting, modern-day feminism doesn’t exclude men.


Problems Modern Feminists Face

The Generation Wars

In the brief history of feminism, you’ve seen the wave metaphor. The women’s movement gets separated into four waves. Each wave represents a certain era of feminism, each having a different agenda and different social impact.

Throughout the 20th and 21st century, each wave had different approaches and therefore different legal or social achievements. However, we can’t look at waves independently of each other because they all had the same agenda – women’s rights. One wave’s success was often the motivation behind the next. One wave’s shortcoming was acknowledged by the next. And so on.

So, why is there this generational conflict between different waves?

The generation war between feminists results from different socio-political climates at a given time in history.

Second-wave feminists don’t agree with certain things fourth-wave feminists advocate for. Also, our generation will never experience systemic sexism on a level that the older generation dealt with.

Dividing such a complex social movement is helpful, so we can understand the timeline of historical events. But this can be tricky when we want to understand feminism as a whole.

Feminism is not a set of different historically separated ideas that contradict each other. Suffragettes had their own way of fighting for equality. Today, we have our own. It’s as simple as that.

The Stigma Around Feminism

You’ll rarely find a person who doesn’t support equal rights for women. And even less, those who believe equality has been achieved.

Only 23% of women and 16% of men nowadays say “yes” when asked if they consider themselves feminists. 82% of both genders support gender equality.

Check out the results of a Pew Research Center survey from 2020:

  • 19% of U.S. women say “feminist” describes them very well and 42% say it describes them somewhat well.
  • About 40% of U.S. men say “feminist” describes them at least somewhat well.
  • 45% of U.S. adults see feminism as polarizing and 30% see it as outdated.
  • 43% of U.S. adults who say feminism describes them very or somewhat well say feminism is polarizing, and 45% say it’s not inclusive.
  • Women are more likely than men to associate feminism with positive attributes like empowering and inclusive, while men are more likely than women to see feminism as polarizing and outdated.
  • White adults are more likely than Black and Hispanic adults to associate feminism with negative characteristics.

At this time in history, more young women attend college and graduate compared to men. Women being financially independent is a standard.

Yet, young women don’t associate with the term as much as older generations do. Women from ethnic minorities don’t think feminism has done much for them. (Keep in mind, white women are more likely to consider themselves a feminist.)

It’s not that women don’t like the word feminism because they’re against gender equality or because they think we have reached it.

There’s a valid reason for that: female empowerment has become a buzzword, the “new cool” that influencers capitalize on when coming up with T-shirt ideas. A pink shirt with a boss bitch slogan for $60? Take all my money right now.

The problem is that you can’t say you’re empowering women without considering race, health, and economic status.

Feminism shouldn’t be only for the privileged.

Internalized Misogyny: When Women Hate Women

Here’s how Barbara Seeman, American author, and journalist described what a feminist is in a The New York Times article from 1975:

“It’s a woman who is for women, which does not mean being against men; a woman who is giving up the masochism that has for so long characterized women of the western world, refusing to stay in an Adam’s rib role; a woman who thinks for herself, who feels autonomous and feels she, at least to some extent, is in charge of her own life, to make her own decisions and not, be afraid. A feminist is also a woman who Identifies with other women, who doesn’t think of other women as ‘them.”


That’s what any woman would say today as well, isn’t it? Well, it should be, but that’s not always the case.

Let me backtrack for a second here. Kim Kardashian and Kayne’s very public divorce. Let’s talk about this. The abuse Kim Kardashian’s been getting from her ex-husband.

Hundreds of men were supporting Kayne on social media. ‘Cause he loves her. He’s fighting for her. 

But why aren’t feminist groups speaking up? Kim has said before that she doesn’t call herself a feminist. Yeah, she’s privileged and filthy rich. Yeah, her advice to just “get your fucking ass up and work” is, well, you know… Jesus Christ.

Yet, she’s a woman. And with everything that has happened to her, doesn’t she fill out the requirements for a woman whose rights have been violated? Well, talk about hypocrisy.

How often have you judged your ex’s new girlfriend? Oh, or that girl from the subway? How is she always so jolly? It’s annoying, right?

Do you see my point? We unknowingly put other women down.

Internalized misogyny (or internalized sexism) is something we women sometimes do. Without being aware of how much that can harm that can cause.

And here comes the pick me girl phenomena. You know, the cool chick who likes sports and video games just like any other dude? She’s all about freedom and living in the moment. Probably has a very artsy hobby. Preferably reads a lot. She’s so very different from other girls.

She’s anything but a stereotypical woman. So she changes herself because the guy she likes loves video games and now she likes them too.

If she’s feminine, she’s a clumsy damsel in distress. If she prefers to wear makeup, she’s vain and superficial.

Isn’t it exhausting to be who they want you to be?

When I was still in college, I had this aversion to cooking, especially for a man. For me, it was embarrassing. I didn’t want to be the stereotypical woman who is expected to cook for her man. Crazy, right? Cooking is an impressive skill to have.

Another absurd example is the color pink. I hated it because it was too girly. Lana’s a badass, she’s wearing black.

Anyhow, next time you want to say stupid, stupid things like:

“You can’t be pretty and smart.”

“I don’t understand women who’d rather be a stay-at-home parent than a career woman.”

Stop yourself. Stop yourself and bite your goddamn tongue. We get enough of that BS from men, as it is.

Intersectionality and Inclusivity

Liberal feminism remains the most widespread type of feminist theory. However, it’s considered to be a movement reserved for the privileged. Liberal feminist tradition has been dominated by upper-class white women, disregarding the fact that their issues aren’t issues of all women. That’s why liberal feminists sometimes get labeled as “white feminists”.

In hell book’s 1981 book “Ain’t I a Woman? Black women of feminism”, which was inspired by Sojourner Truth, one of the first black feminist activists, mainstream feminism had received a fair critique for not being inclusive.

(During the first feminist protests in the late 19th century, Black women had to walk behind white suffragettes.)

Diversity feminism has emerged in response to the neglect women of color and other minorities were facing within the mainstream women’s rights movement. (Another similar type that also developed in the 1980s was decolonial feminism.)

So many marginalized women want to be a part of the movement, yet they often get overlooked or dismissed.

Male- Bashing and Double Standards

And we can’t talk about inclusivity without including men as well.

The issue is that the term feminism gets associated with a group of pissed-off women who want to bring men down. Female empowerment isn’t a threat to men (MRAs would disagree). And hating men isn’t something women find enjoyable.

Guys, have any of you ever felt like you have to be trained by a woman? Or been called a creep if you’ve simply walked up to a girl in a bar?

Here are a few examples to remind you of the double standards that are around us:

  • We forget that men also struggle with beauty standards.
  • Women commenting on men’s physical appearance is acceptable.
  • Men are often treated unequally to women in custody battles.
  • We don’t believe male rape victims as much as we do when it happens to a woman.
  • Men can be victims of emotional abuse too.
  • Lusting over male celebrities is normal. (Thirst Tweets, ya’ll?)
  • Men can’t openly express their emotions without being called weak.
  • We expect men to be providers, well-off, and successful in all areas of life.
  • We expect men to be the chasers in dating.

Misandry is not feminist. It’s just as awful as misogyny.


What Feminism Means to You

Now, it comes to you. The individual who’s got the freedom of choice. You decide if you want to call yourself a feminist or not.

It’s every woman for every woman and every woman for every man. It’s never going to be not every man for every woman. And it’s never going to be every woman for every woman.

But it always starts with you and the choices you make today.

Photo by ABDALLA M on Unsplash


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