The relevance of feminism


The relevance of feminism shows up in our lives in how we define ourselves, our relationships and our place in the world.    Even so, it is alarming that the measures of women’s rights have been challenged in 1000 bills in the state legislation threatening women’s right to choose. One response to that is to revitalize a woman’s movement and promote a new wave of feminism. Both Ruth Rosen, historian at University of California Davis, and Estelle Freedman, Stanford historians and feminists provide the work of feminism and its history, and both say the work is underway in the lives of women and men today. Feminism is at work in the mainstream of life, and it comes in many forms. A perspective by Marco Cochrane, and sculpture artist, says that the work of feminism and the social revolution of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s has not had women feel safe, and that their contribution is needed by the world. Their speaking, their presence in the world will come through the assaults and rapes of the world are recognized for what they are. Radical distinctions in what feminism is, and how it works have been as varied as their sources.


The value and current form of feminism in the world is the running current throughout this book, Barefoot Frontrunners. The history of feminism provides the knowledge that women freed by the means to birth control and the civil rights act in 1964 provided a turn in the road for women. Affirmative Action and the change in how women are perceived and how they perceive themselves are the result that made for signficant social change in policy and law over the past fifty years society, and with that change in women’s roles and function.  The protests toward the inequity toward women began in the first wave of feminism at Seneca Falls in a Quaker gathering, and the second wave of feminism in the 70’s very definitely a consequence of the heat of the civil rights movement and antiwar movement. The impact and transformation achieved gave ground for the context for modern feminism today. Humanity came through the individuals choosing their roles, relearning with intelligence and behavior new ways of conceiving of their sexual and social roles. Modern feminism recognizes the limitations and empty rights not backed up by practice in the work place, in the military, in the halls of academia and in the sexual exploitation of women worldwide. The exposure of assault and rape within the institutions of society is groundbreaking, and points to the fact that in many ways the work of feminism is just beginning.


Like a continuum, the level of equality in sex and race in this country or any other is the measure of humanity, the value of the human being as primary over doctrine or dogma.   It could be said that the work of feminism in the past fifty years of social and sexual history corresponds and predicts the level of developments of any given society. Bias, Prejudice dislodged gives ground for a new road, a better road for human rights. Hillary Clinton has always said “women’s rights are human rights” and provides humanity a possible opening to equality and empowerment to those excluded for a fuller and richer participation on all levels.   Currently equal access and opportunity in terms of training young minority boys and girls is being recognized by #Yes WE Code in response to the resurgence of affirmative action efforts to add more women to fuller participation. The relevance of feminism is all about the need to have those excluded to find their voice and a place at the table throughout the world. Eve Ensler has brought to our consciousness the women of the world still under the most severe punishments because they are women in various parts of the world. Perhaps in our collective consciousness, the awareness of those women who suffer the lack of personal dignity and freedom and opportunity, whether they are in Richmond, California or in the middle east, or anywhere in the world has a connection to our own sense of empowerment.   But for sure the 1000 bills in state legislation attempting to reduce women’s rights cannot escape our notice and makes clear the work of feminism is far from over, maybe just a foothold and a place to stand.


For women, the personal as well as historical context of where we are, and why we are where we are is a work in progress. The past fifty years of social change and the role and identity of women and men are the beginning, a sociological evolvement changing the texture and fabric that is both personal and political at various levels of change and potential throughout the world. Empowerment and equality, access and opportunity, enlightenment of what is possible through the hopes and dreams of both men and women has been the process that best represents feminism and the goal of feminism as humanism.


Karl Marx and Gloria Steinem both speak of the necessity of revolution: disruption, deconstruction even to the point of destroying old forms of thinking. Karl Marx pointed to the need of “feminine upheaval” as the means to “great social change” and that progress could be measure by where the “ social position of the fair sex.”   Gloria Steinem in the 70’s argued that there was no simple reform and only revolution would suffice. She pointed to the visibility of sex and race as “a primary way in which human beings organize around superior and inferior groups.”   Humanism she pointed out is really the goal and the means by which feminism brings those changes that add to a better world.


The relevance of feminism today is well and alive, but has taken on a form that represents their commitment to humanity could be argued. Feminist Historians Ruth Rosen and Estelle Freedman identifying the 2nd wave of feminism of the late 60’s and 70’s identify the movement as a white middle class movement. The process over these years since and where we find ourselves today, both Rosen and Freedman consider that the commitment to the goals of feminism are being fullfilled in daily life. Women in their work place, at their children’s schools in their volunteer work, and in their communities looking to level the playing field and inserting their voice into the conversations and actions around them.   And men knowing that the contribution of women can benefit their vision and production like the Google Executives who are trying to figure out why women leave their company. The small percentage of women who come to work for them and stay with their job have pointed out to the invisibility of conditions that have women leave. The response to the issues of feminism and moving forward are inserted into every day life both Rosen and Freedman state.


For example, Estelle Freedman observes that the Occupy movement in response to a crisis of social injustice, like Trayvon Martin, provides effective and immediate action. Move oN, both men and women, but predominantly women, continues to gather at home meetings and take social policy personally, feeling it is their responsibility to be proactive toward their goals for themselves, their families, their communities and their countries. . Rather than showing up for the cause of feminism, they live in support of the goals of feminism, to include and make human the conditions of prisons, support schools with lunch & breakfast not for their own child but for the children who will make up the world of the future. The context of the modern feminism lives in participation in the community and in the world beyond our borders.



A recent article in the New York magazine (May 19-June 1, 2014) by Lisa Miller conveys a great picture of that modern context of feminism in the interview with Chirlane McCray, First Lady and partner of Bill de Blasio. Chirlane is a progressive and inspired mother of two teenage children who entered the political world with the truth of who they are as the lead introduced to the public in Bill de Blasio’s campaign as Mayor, and then victory. Chirlane and Bill have a mixed marriage and Chirlane was a lesbian, and a proactive African American woman during the 60’s prior to their meeting and marriage.   “Unprecedented candor” is how author Lisa Miller describes the family and the woman Chirlane. Mayor de Blasio refers to Chirlane as his full partner in everything he does as mayor and his adviser. Her concerns inequality, affordable housing, paid sick leave, after school programs, universal pre-K she defines as “the defining civil rights issue of our day.” As a young black, lesbian feminist in 1977 in New York City, and black feminists, she was keenly aware of the black feminists being “excluded from mainstream white feminism.” She describes how black women were diminished by the male leaders of the Black Power movement. “There was nothing about our sexuality, all about theirs” McCray states, and as a result a group, women of color, gay or bisexual began gathering at bars and coffee shops in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island.   They wrote plays and did performance art of poems with dance, starting a dance troupe and political performances like the Salsa Soul Sisters and the Flamboyant Ladies Theater Company. Although Chirlane is remembered as quiet, ,Marcia Ann Gillespie, editor of Essence remembers her as brave and fierce in her essay” I am a Lesbian in 1979.”


McCray doesn’t think the issue of feminism is about “leaning in” but taking action to improve life for girls especially by improving the number of opportunities offered to them. Violence against women is work she emphasizes, child care, affordable childcare.

What happened to the movements of the 70’s MCray attributes to disagreements with issues, polarization of purposes, people getting married but also she points to the fact that “after the 60’s and 70’s, you couldn’t protest. Government became more sophisticated and clamped down” to preclude that form of getting change into the mill of daily experience.   But McCray takes a strong position on “mass incarceration, drug laws and the life expectancy of the African American Male.” An unacceptable condition that must have not only attention but commitment by those who speak for the goals of feminism and humanity is implied by her response.


Chirlane McCray, and the men and women taking action to bring to consciousness and commitment to the changes in how we organize ourselves as community, as a society and as a world citizen. The relevance of feminism is alive and well and could very well be the means by which the new goals, the leaps we must take may have us arrive at the destination of the world we say we want, and actually the world that has sustainability and possibility.


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