College campuses today are being rocked by the effects of the most recent wave of feminism. First-wave feminism, which focused primarily on suffrage for women, began in the early 1900s, while second-wave feminism arose during the 1960s. The second wave had its sights set on educational equity, economic parity and reproductive rights. Women of all ages were energized by the Civil Rights movement and anti-war advocacy, but colleges coeds were especially enamored with the changes that feminism had to offer. Beginning in the 1990s, third-wave feminism embraced individualism and diversity. Those who adhered to this emerging ideology intentionally sought to redefine feminism altogether. In 2012, what some call fourth wave feminism began and remains influential today. This particular wave is centered on the empowerment of women and intersectionality. There is a specific emphasis in fourth-wave feminism on examining the systems of power that contribute to the marginalization of minority groups.
When trying to understand the historical waves of feminism, it is important to ask the question, “Where does our campus fit into all of this?” That question is broad and hardly definable, unless tolls are taken and stats are counted. However, it is apparent that feminism has by and large been welcomed on college campuses. Over 60% of the student population is female. Women fight for women. It is easier to find like-minded women who stand alongside one another in this movement when there is a female majority in higher educations. The New York Times lists a skyrocketing statistic in their article, “On Campus, Embracing Feminism and Facing the Future.” Similar to the charts that indicate an increasing number of female students at Hope College, this is a consistent theme for most Universities in America: “Women now account for the majority of college students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 11.3 million of them as compared with 8.7 million men. And 63 percent identify as feminist.”
During an interview with a current Hope College student, Michaela Stock (’20) shared her views on feminism and the culture she notices on Hope College’s campus today, saying, “I completely consider myself a feminist. Being a feminist, to me, is the pursuit of equality between men and women, though I believe in equality regardless of one’s gender identity.”
When asked if she has faced difficulty being a woman during her education, Michaela replied, “I’ve definitely gotten some pushback on my career choice, as I’ve chosen to pursue the music industry which is known for not having the cleanest business practices. But I’ve never faced discrimination from anyone who works at Hope or attends Hope because I’m a woman, and I’m really grateful for that. My professors, bosses, friends and I constantly engaged in conversation about how we need to break the ‘glass ceiling’ and keep pushing to make things more equal between men and women.” She continued to share that she has not felt alone in this journey. Rather, she spoke of feeling very supported by her peers and influencers. “I’m lucky because I’ve always been surrounded by other feminists at Hope. My freshman year, the girls who lived across the hall from me had a beautifully illustrated ‘smash the patriarchy’ poster on their door, which was both funny but also a decorative way to encourage femininity in the dorm. It invited dialogue around the topic, which is key. I think that the conversation about femininity has risen since I began attending Hope, and regardless of if the numbers of feminists have changed, just seeing people more open to talking about women in the workplace, their rights, and gender in general has been really encouraging. I hope to see it keep growing with the future incoming classes and beyond.”
While another wave of feminism is rushing about campus, there are still subtle or obvious pushbacks against it. Whether it be a peer mocking another for identifying as a “feminist” or the simple, “What are you talking about? You have equal rights!” The problem with these outlooks is that feminism goes beyond legislation. Women have made it and are continuing to make it, but have not made it all the way. There are still roots of misogyny in our nation’s institutions. There are several observations on the status of current feminism being harmful or misunderstood. Observing with an optimistic approach could allow the observer to notice what is still lacking in society and why the fight has not yet ended.
It is easy for a feminist to feel isolated simply by lack of support for women. It could be that no words have been thrown her direction, but the lack of value she may feel as she speaks contributes to the rise of her frustration. She must feel that she is seen, she is heard, and she is wanted. There is an extensive history in which she has not been. To deconstruct the concepts of misogynistic thinking, especially on college campuses, students are working together to support one another in the fight for equality. This fight doesn’t end in the legislature. It must be fought in the dorm room. The dorm room can be a breeding ground for lack of confidence, isolation and feeling unsafe. A protest of hookup culture goes hand in hand with the rise of fourth-wave feminism. It is easy for women and men to feel unsafe and devalued by hookup culture. As women experience the burdens of popularity, standards of beauty and the need for single-night gratification, women are increasingly opposed to the culture that gave rise to these pressures. There is a deep recognition for personal worth among women on college campuses today.
As there is growing recognition for the worth of each individual, there is also a recognition for the worth of men on campus. The label “feminist” often makes people feel uncomfortable because of the stigma attached. One assumption that is in equal parts false and harmful is that if you are a feminist you degrade men, you are not respectful or you aren’t willing to bring all genders up with you. This ideology and any action to promote it must be dismantled. The rise of fourth-wave feminism will not last if it is built simply to gain dominance over the “opposer,” meaning there is a strong war for dominance within gender roles. Dominance will never leave the lasting positive impact that equal rights advocates fight for. Instead, it will promote a toxic social environment. To be a feminist simply means to advocate for women and women’s rights. A man could be the greatest feminist alive. Your gender alone does not qualify you. You are not fighting against the opposite gender for gender-based dominance. The worth that drives the movement to examine the systems of power that contribute to the marginalization of people must be the same worth that a woman values herself with.
As this wave is centered on the empowerment of women and intersectionality, there is an essential piece to the current culture of feminism. Instead of advocating for white women alone, this wave advocates for all women, especially women of color, so that they can have a place to lead and to speak. There is not a specific woman that qualifies for this movement anymore. It is a fight for every woman. It is a social war that requires much strength. It is a fight for life to be restored from generations passed. The end goal of feminism is not to take every man out at the knees. It is not to replace a man’s role in society, neither is it to claim dominance for the sake of dominance itself. The goal is to promote the rights of women, the equality of women and the worth of women across all walks of life, from the residence hall to the halls of power.