Feminism: The fourth wave
Birthed in the digital sphere, the Fourth Wave of feminism has been ridiculed for what has disparagingly been called Hashtag Feminism. But it is in this medium that the new wave acquired relevance, found it’s voice, and built momentum. #MeToo may have been ‘just’ an online campaign, and one that is now no longer the stuff of headlines; but its significance cannot be dismissed off hand just because we aren’t screaming about it. Even if not every predator has found punishment, nor has every harasser been censured; there is an unprecedented level of awareness and conversation about what is the appropriate way to behave. This is the first time that the gaze has turned away from the victims and been put squarely on the aggressors. That companies have prepared booklets for male employees explaining appropriate behaviour is one of the Fourth Wave’s big wins.
The feminist movement has never been about hating men. It was always about equality. Neither is it just one thing that can be easily defined and put into a box. There have been, and will hopefully continue to be as many feminisms as there are feminists. Neither are all feminists female. This is why there continue to be arguments about whether or not it is even appropriate to even call these movements ‘waves’ and implying that they are all disparate monoliths with clear agendas. But here we are in what is being called the Fourth Wave of Feminism.
For the uninitiated, the First Wave of feminism fought for legal rights for women – their right to vote, right to own property, etc. The Second Wave took the movement further seeking sexual liberation, reproductive rights, and beginning the conversation about the place of women in families, workplaces and the existence of domestic violence. The Third Wave went one more step further, locating the individual within the movement. As it focussed on individual characteristics, it became obvious that other discriminations would surface – race, culture, class, caste, etc. The Third Wave also focussed on removing stereotypes around gender, and embracing concepts of intersectionality, sex positivity, and trans-feminism. The Fourth Wave is now taking this movement a step ahead, seeking to question the idea of power itself. Who has power, the movement asks, and why?
In the US and elsewhere, this has translated into the removal from power of several men thought to have been untouchable. From Harvey Weinstein to MJ Akbar, the movement has touched the rich and the powerful, and taught its young girls that silence is not the only option. In opening up about questions of identity, the intermingling of different forms of marginalisation, and pointing the searchlight on the aggressors, the Fourth Wave is an attempt to empower individuals – of all genders. Genders, in plural, yes. Even Facebook gives you 71 gender options.