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Opinion: How the Patriarchy Shaped Fourth-Wave Feminism

Charlotte Hampton, Grade 11, Opinion Head and Staff Writer


One might expect easy communication in the digital age to make advocacy easier, but it mostly has complicated matters for feminists. The 1960s movement of “bra-burners” (second-wave feminism) saw a striking change, with women entering the workforce in increasing numbers, new vocabularies like sexual harassment and domestic violence created to describe the female plight, and Shirley Chisholm running for president in 1972. Today, young women have moved away from the radicalism that was the second wave and towards a new movement.

The movement’s current incarnation (let us call it fourth-wave feminism), has gone soft, characterized by social media activism where young women promote meaningless slogans. One of these common slogans is the mantra that “all people are beautiful.” Beauty is subjective, but only up to a point. It is intrinsically hierarchical, so the narrative that “everyone is beautiful” is an oxymoron.

Even if these slogans were valid, they are not accurate, as young women’s view of beauty is still based on archaic values. Most of the time, men at the top of corporations establish beauty standards for young women, and it is antifeminist for women to create themself in that view. People must abandon their collective idolatry of beautiful people simply because they were born to conform to the patriarchy’s standard. As the generation of “Instagram feminists” argue, liberation will come when women can dress however they want without being sexualized. Feminists must be very careful with how they go about this. Fourth-wave feminism sanctifies what Gloria Steinem fought against. Decades after her expose on Playboy, young feminists largely accept an institution whose purpose is to cater to the male gaze.

The “feel good,” idealistic, and self-gratifying feminism of the 21st century is self-defeating. The sweet-natured way we try to empower other girls is unthreatening to the position men hold in our society. The “girl power” narrative does not translate into real power. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is supported as a junior member of the House of Representatives because she is not threatening the male hierarchy. However, Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton (or Ocasio-Cortez as a future presidential candidate) are not supported when they earn a position that could give them a shot at the presidency, and excuses are made to abandon them. This real power is too frightening to come close to.

Social media makes it easy to focus on the visual aspects of female empowerment — opting for feel-good slogans over real, legislative, global change. We focus on the issues of women in the US and ignore the high rates of child marriage of women in developing countries. In terms of national issues, a small amount of coverage was given to the skyrocketing amount of domestic violence during quarantine.

Gender equality may not be something we achieve in any of our lifetimes, but the younger generation must not shy away from shaking the bones of the patriarchal, hierarchical system that keeps women down. We cannot be placated with easy, virtual advocacy that centers itself around pleasing the archaic, male beauty standards.

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