There has been much debate about what wave of feminism we are currently in (and whether any of that even matters). Have we officially moved past the riot-grrrl third and its disruption to the disruption of gender norms? Did we squarely enter a fourth, with the rise of Donald Trump and Me Too — the grip of the patriarchy personified and the rallying against it, both of which exposed how much more we had to learn from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s lessons of intersectionality?
Even with all the recent attention paid to the long centering of “white feminism,” the movement is still grappling to understand the ways race, social class, education, and queerness play into the systemic and everyday problems women of color and nonbinary people face. Add to that the unfortunate side effects of feminism going mainstream because of events like the Women’s March — the corporate branding of “persistence” shirts, empty gestures about lady empowerment — that have brought fatigue to all this feminism talk. Which leaves us wondering: Now what?
For Women’s History Month, we asked five renowned feminists and scholars where they thought feminism was headed. Many believe the movement indeed needs to make serious strides to address intersectional issues, especially in the face of climate change. Others, meanwhile, are hopeful that as that happens, the next phase will bring something more rewarding than female domination — true, unfettered support of each other.
In 20 years, I want feminists to see it as standard to consider the impact of proposed policy on women in every single community — not just wealthy white women. Mainstream feminism would consistently create and sustain policies that would be intersectional by default because the impact on those with the least privilege and resources would be the first concern.
Feminist marchers would turn up en masse to protest everything from police brutality to cuts to food aid. Candidates backed by organizations like Emily’s List would push for everything from decriminalization of sex work to advocating for immigration policies that aren’t the mishmash of cruelty and racism that we see now. Instead of bans based on religion and race, family separation policies, and arbitrary bigotry dictating who is worthy of citizenship, we could steer away from colonialist ideals of a nation that only serves the interests of the rich. We could honor existing treaties with Indigenous nations as well as create new ones informed by current events instead of white supremacist rhetoric.
We’d see mainstream feminism support movements ranging from disability rights to labor activism because it would understand that every issue that impacts women is a feminist issue. I don’t expect perfection in 20 years. But it would be nice to see the next wave of feminism live up to the goal of actually advancing equality and safety for all.
Mikki Kendall is an author, activist, and cultural critic. Her latest book, Hood Feminism, was just published.
When people say we are living in divided times, I say we are living in a time of extremes: We both have role models like Rihanna and we can’t get a woman in the White House. A woman is told she can “have it all” — but women are still paid less than men.
Measuring feminist progress can be challenging. In many ways, women’s lives are dramatically better than they have ever been. But there are also places where feminism’s work is far from over: women who don’t have access to sanitary products, women in certain states fighting for access to reproductive health care, women everywhere facing the constant threat of harassment and assault, to name but a few.
There is an endless list of places we could expend our feminist energy, but as we look at the status of women globally for the next 20 years and beyond, the one crisis that is not seen as a gendered issue, but often is, is climate change.
Women stand to lose the most as we continue to see the impacts of global warming. As communities are displaced, women are the most vulnerable to the implications of mass migrations and home loss (according to one statistic, 80 percent of those displaced from climate change are women). It is often women farmers in the global south who have fed their families off crops they will no longer be able to produce, seeds they no longer have access to. As climate change related diseases increase, such as Zika, it is often women who suffer the greatest consequences.
It is also women and girls who are fighting on the front lines of the global climate crisis. The future of feminism is Greta Thunberg. It is Jamie Margolin. It is Xiye Batisda. It is the Sunrise Movement. It is the Indigenous organizers who have led the way for decades on environmental activism. It is the women farmers in the global south.
As the ecofeminist and activist Vandana Shiva, who has worked to raise awareness for both how women are impacted by the degradation of the environment and how women hold the solutions for it moving forward, famously said: “We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth, or we are not going to have a human future at all.”
Samhita Mukhopadhyay is the executive editor of Teen Vogue and the co-editor of the anthology Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America.
Historically, male-dominated politics and structures have been zero-sum games: For you to have more, I must have less. Value is gained by devaluation elsewhere, and for anyone to win, someone must lose. It’s a framework built on scarcity, and it’s an illusion created by those in power, to keep them in power.
Over the past two decades working with domestic workers — nannies, caregivers, and housekeepers who are predominantly women of color — I have seen the leadership we need for the future of feminism.
Domestic workers have lived and worked in the shadows of the economy and society for generations, excluded from traditional sources of power, so they have turned to each other to build power, rather than look for a source to take it from. Our movement is expansive and abundant: It is multiracial, multilingual, and multigenerational. And rather than creating a hierarchy of issues that further our cause, we challenge the way all hierarchies of power create harm — including gender, race, and immigration.
Despite what seems obvious, the opposite of male-dominated politics (and the future of feminism) is not female-dominated politics and power structures. Instead, it is to move beyond the zero-sum game to systems and structures of abundance, where power is built and shared. This third option is best described as the “shine theory” by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow: “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” It understands that when I lift you up, when you “shine,” my own “shine” becomes brighter. It’s a theory of power built on multiplication rather than addition and subtraction. It moves beyond competition and the dualism of less-more.
This future feminism creates the path to a world where all people have the support to realize their full potential. Where every worker is valued for their contributions to our economy and professional women working out of the home aren’t building power on the backs of the domestic workers who support them in their homes. Where we look to each other for the value we can add, rather than the power we can take. Only then can we build a society where we value every person, their lives and their contributions, with dignity and respect. It’s the end of zero-sum politics, and it’s the future of feminism.
Ai-jen Poo is the director of Caring Across Generations, an advocacy group for families and domestic workers, and the director of National Domestic Workers Alliance.
The feminism of our future will hold the whole of me. In the future, we will take for granted that I am a feminist, Latina, queer, and progressive. The feminist movement will be tethered to the Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native experiences. It will be informed by a politics of liberation, of sovereignty, of belonging, and of movement-building. It will be a feminism of organizers and intellectuals, a feminism of artists and innovators, and a feminism of presidents and political leaders. The good thing is that today, in my community, this doesn’t feel impossible or far off.
The challenge I see for today’s feminism is how it is funded. As the incoming president of a nationally endowed foundation — the youngest and only Latinx person to hold this position in the country — I worry that the vast majority of funding to feminist movement organizations continues to move to white and wealthy organizations. I worry that as funders, we like belonging in our organizations and networks so long as it’s not in the leadership or boards.
I worry that it has taken us too long to expand the aperture of a feminist agenda beyond a woman president and abortion. I worry that we don’t see parity in funding to those seeking to address the treatment of Black mothers by our health care system, the political representation of our Native and Asian sisters, the protection of our Trans sisters, and the fact that it takes Latinas 23 months to earn what the average white man earns in 12 months. We all need to be at the forefront of a feminist movement of the 21st century.
The next wave of feminism will be a core part of the movements for economic opportunity, political power, and representation. It will be about protecting the vulnerable among us and holding those who make us unsafe accountable as well as imagining and creating a democracy and economy that works for all of us. The next wave is upon us, and I can’t wait to surrender to its possibility.
Carmen Rojas is the founder of the Workers Lab and the soon-to-be CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, which provides grants to low-income families advocating for change.
White feminists must recognize dismantling white supremacy as a core project of feminism.
This is not about being a better “ally,” though certainly there is no valid feminism that doesn’t prioritize the liberation of women of color. White supremacy is literally built on the subjugation of women: White supremacist men sterilize women of color against their will, allow them to die from pregnancy and childbirth at astonishingly high rates, and outright rape and murder them — anything to keep them from having more children. And they refuse white women our bodily autonomy, lest we choose not to have children, or to parent with someone other than a white man.
That’s why there is no path to feminist liberation that doesn’t involve dismantling white supremacy. And for reasons of both efficacy and equity, the labor of taking it apart must be disproportionately borne by white feminists.
Too many white women cosign white supremacy because of the bargain it offers them: uphold the power of white men who see you as nothing more than a combination housekeeper, broodmare, trophy, and sex dispenser, and you can wield some of that reflected power against people of color, LGBTQ folks, and more. White supremacist men also offer to “protect” white women against the imaginary dark man lurking in the bushes, while never mentioning that those same white men are themselves the greatest danger to the safety of the women they purport to love.
We’re all, right now, living out the daily consequences of this devil’s bargain between white men and white women. If white feminists can figure out how to convince more white women to break their white supremacist pact, it could be politically transformative.
Imagine the tectonic shift that could happen when white women recognize that white patriarchal men will never treat us as equal humans; when we withdraw our consent to be governed by them and en masse join with the women of color already at the forefront of feminism. When white women stop trusting white men more than women of color (or even ourselves), feminism will be unstoppable.
Jaclyn Friedman is a feminist writer and activist. She hosts Unscrewed, a podcast exploring paths to sexual liberation, and co-edited the new book Believe Me: How Trusting Women Can Change the World.