Do You Really Know the Difference Between Performing Feminism and Practicing Feminism?

There’s a fine line between actually being for a movement and only using it to further one’s goals. Long since feminism has made its way to the larger lexicon of society there has been debate after debate about what makes someone a true feminist and what makes someone a poser just in it for the woke points. The differences may seem complicated at first, but with some perspective and a deeper understanding of feminism as a whole, we can make the distinction between performative and true feminism. In order to truly be able to dive into the subject, we need to go back and take a look at where Feminism as an ideology started.

When we look at pre-first wave feminism, commonly referred to as protofeminism, we can see that around 24 centuries ago the Athenian philosopher Plato was calling for the total political and sexual equality of women. He advocated that women be deemed members of the highest class, those who rule and fight. Another outspoken individual in favor of women’s rights was the female Tamil saint by the name of Andal, who lived around the 7th or 8th century. Andal has inspired many women’s groups as her marriage to Vishnu is seen as a feminist act, because that gave her the autonomy that a normal marriage would not - such as, being exempt from the normal duties of a wife at that time. 

When we get into first-wave feminism, we’re dealing with a more familiar and widespread territory. Most people are knowledgeable of the period, the late 19th and early 20th century, where the focus was on legal issues, such as the right to vote. Other issues confronted in this period, in addition to Women’s Suffrage, are women’s education rights, better working conditions, abolition of gender double standards, and the ever-present issue of reproductive rights. The two figures most associated with the feminist movement at that time are Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 

Second-wave feminism is the period between the 60’s and 80’s that saw cultural and political inequalities of the sexes as inextricably linked. This movement encouraged those women of their era to see aspects of their lives as deeply politicized and reflective of a sexist power structure, also known as hegemonic masculinity. Second-wave feminism focused more on discrimination against women, in contrast to first-wave feminism that focused on absolute rights like voting. Prominent figures of second-wave feminism are Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan who penned The Feminine Mystique, an exposed that spoke of the homemaking expectations put on women after their college years. 

When we get into third-wave feminism we see how the passing of the torch becomes important. In response to what was perceived as failures of the first-wave and second-wave feminist movements, third-wave feminism seeks to right those wrongs and take the progress of women in society even further. It began in the 90s and it’s where we saw more talks about intersectionality and broadening of what it means to be a woman. Third-wave feminism also calls out the centering of upper-middle-class white women as the faces of feminism while marginalizing women of color and LGBTQ women. It’s something that has carried over into modern-day feminism, also known as fourth-wave feminism.

That’s where we are at current, trying to redefine what feminism means to us and what we can do to further the movement. But before that, we have to make clear what feminism is not. Nowhere does it say that feminism is the hatred or subjugation of men. Nor is feminism the hatred of (un)conventional femininity.

Feminism is also not being disrespectful of transwomen. A big step forward from performing feminism to actively practicing feminism is to remember intersectionalityTranswomen are women and their issues and abuse are just as important as the issues that cis women face. To try and separate or exclude transwomen from feminism is to regress the movement. The same applies to how women-loving women are treated in the feminist movement: lesbian and bisexual women are often disregarded or treated weirdly in women’s spaces by straight women who are either homophobic or have homophobic tendencies, such as thinking every WLW wants to hit on or sleep with them.

We also need to bring up the elephant in the room of women of color and how those issues can widely vary from the sexism that white women face. Whether or not we want to acknowledge it, each race of women has its own sets of issues that other races of women do not face. Such as colorism, misogynoir, arranged marriage, and other more horrific ordeals. We have to face our differences in order to really be there for each other.


Written by April Prince 

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