I have a memory from my final year of university so humiliating and mundane I hesitate to share it. I was walking through Hindmarsh Square in Adelaide’s CBD and there was a group of guys on the corner pub’s balcony. They were catcalling the woman in front of me, but as I passed, they called out, ‘Yeah, sorry love, not worth it.’ I was mortified.
I felt demeaned, not because I had been catcalled, but because I hadn’t. I felt embarrassed because I had not been deemed worthy of sexual objectification. I felt like nothing because I was not appealing to these louts.
This whole situation is premised on the idea that men are entitled to harass women who do not meet their standards of physical attractiveness. Underlying that is an assumption that a woman is obliged to be pleasing to men. This is sexism played out in the everyday.
I live in a world where I’m told men and women have sexual equality but this has not been my experience. Women like me, women who are being told everything is OK when it’s clearly not and are angry about it, are the fourth wave of feminism.
Kira Cochrane argues in her outstanding little book ‘All the Rebel Women: the rise of fourth wave feminism’ that where the shift from second wave feminism to the third wave was largely generational (the daughters of feminists distinguishing themselves and their concerns from their mothers), the shift from the third to the fourth wave is a technological shift.
This is not just clicktivism, this is women organizing online, sharing their experiences of everyday sexism. Where in the past they may have been inclined to let such behaviour go, the immediacy of the online world gives them a voice, a community and a medium to raise their issues. This has seen the formation of several grassroots organisations, which in the UK include Feminista, No More Page Three, and The Everyday Sexism Project, though many such organisations are now international now as well.
The fourth wave has brought feminist issues into the mainstream. Think in Australia of names like Melinda Tankard Reist, Ruby Hamad or Clementine Ford. The response to their writings has exposed the deep currents of misogyny that underlie Australian culture, with threats of violence and particularly rape. According to Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Stateman, such responses only justify the existence of feminism and energise the feminist base.
That base lives in a world where they find it difficult to be comfortable in their own skin as they are held to increasingly strict standards of appearance; where rape and sexual assault are normalised, tolerated, minimised, or blamed on the victim; where ‘liberated women’ continue to be sex objects for the male gaze; and where the media is obsessed with women in crisis (think: Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus) while ignoring men in similar situations. This feminist base are not academic feminists; they are ‘the girl who tells the wolf-whistler on the street to f*** off.’
Cochrane identifies several other markers of the fourth wave. Not only is it technological, grassroots, and concerned with the everyday, it is also intersectional, that is, more than a single-issue movement. Fourth wave feminism recognizes that all the ways people are oppressed intersect with each other. For example, women as a group may be oppressed, but a black woman experiences another layer of oppression as well. Fourth wave feminists are able to check their own privilege, creating space for those who are marginalized.
Cochrane’s book is a short read (I finished it in 2 of Elliot’s afternoon sleeps) but it’s well worth it. Packed with stories and examples, if you’ve found the rise in feminist voices online baffling, this is a great little book for helping you make sense of it, to see the realities that have prompted it.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.