“Wow, you don’t look like a feminist.”
I immediately look up from sipping my drink: “What do you mean?”
I was barely tolerating the conversation and now found myself a bit intrigued. He did a nervous, quick scan of my look:
“I don’t know; you seem pretty feminine. I mean, well, to be frank, you’re quite hot.”
It was a weekend night at a college bar near campus and I wasn’t wearing anything out of the ordinary. Dark skinny jeans, a floral top and some wedges. I had done my hair and makeup. Why wouldn’t I? I was going out.
“Well,” I smirked in response, “I’m very much a feminist. ¡This is what a feminista looks like!”
I don’t share this experience because it’s personal or unique to me. In fact, it’s representative of today’s redefinition of feminism, with my generation leading the charge.
In countless conversations, texts, tweets, SMSs, and Facebook posts, my feminist friends, fellow women’s studies classmates, and I have expressed frustration that feminism excludes anything remotely “feminine”.
Nail polish or the color pink seem forbidden if you wish to identify as a “real” feminist.
We have the journalists of the 1960s and 1970s to thank for the way our society “sees” feminists–as “hairy,” “bra-burning” female militant remains with us even today.
To be clear, not a single bra was actually burned at the 1968 Miss America pageant (although one or two were tossed into a trash can).
The media sensationalized this idea of what a feminist is by taking the most extreme cases of women in the movement and in their reports, making them the “norm.”
Newsstands emptied and ratings soared when the subject of a news story was an “Amazon” as opposed to the issues that formed the core of her activism such as reproductive rights and access to more professional opportunities.
The field of journalism, like most sectors in the professional world at this time, was dominated by men. Therefore, why wouldn’t they sensationalize the Women’s Liberation Movement which promoted advocacy and empowerment?
The way these women went about advocating for equality was new and fresh, but because it was focused specifically on women’s empowerment, the media felt the need to play it up as something fanatical, almost dangerous.
Their underlying story line: No “lady” would ever fight for equality!
However, this thinking has left people with the negative notion that feminists are anything but feminine. Even worse, that they stand against the socially sanctioned and traditional feminine ideals of family and marriage.
Although this assumption has become fact, this is not the case. My generation–what we at The Wise Latina Club call Next Gen Feministas–have been tasked with broadening the definition of feminism.
We are starting with a rebellion that does not reject the outward expressions of femininity–presentation and appearance. While these exterior attributes seem insignificant, Next Gen Feministas are using them as a tactic for change.
You see, the unthreatening act of being approachable defuses hardened-perceptions-turned-fact about feminists. This allows us to bring feminism into a wider range of circles and discussions, as opposed to championing it solely amongst ourselves.
When more people–men, women, African, Asian, Latino-Americans, seniors, girls, and boys–think, discuss, and act on equality, opportunity, pay scales, rights, and leadership, to name a few issues, the stakes not only become high for all of us but the outcome hinges on all of us buying in.
Bringing it back to my male, athlete friend, he and his roommates have learned more about feminism by speaking, being friends with, and learning from Next Gen Feministas.
In fact, their interest has so piqued, that one actually asked me to recommend a women’s and gender studies class for the spring semester!
Clearly, feminism is not exclusive. In fact, my peers and I were born into a generation where difference is the norm. This world view is marked by the knowledge that it is only through collaboration across gender, class, race, ethnicity, and religions that our social goals such as gender equity can be realized.
Erma Bombeck has been (in)famously quoted saying:
“We’ve got a generation now who were born with semi equality. They don’t know how it was before, so they think, this isn’t too bad. We’re working. We have our attaché’ cases and our three piece suits. I get very disgusted with the younger generation of women. We had a torch to pass, and they are just sitting there. They don’t realize it can be taken away. Things are going to have to get worse before they join in fighting the battle.”
This Next Gen Feminista has enough honed critical thinking skills to stand up and know when to say ¡no!
Just because our activism looks different does not mean that Next Gen Feministas are apathetic.
Quite the opposite.
Regarding this generational tension, Grace, a women’s studies student at Georgetown University, shared with me:
“Do I think the protests of the past are awesome? Of course! To an extent, I think they worked. Those women needed to rally and march so that society would view women differently on the whole. But, it’s time for a next step. I want to run for office one day. Am I going to organize a protest, possibly get arrested, and have that show up on my record later? It just doesn’t seem very helpful.”
Next Gen Feministas might not always (although sometimes we do) shout through megaphones outside the Capitol Building. But you better believe we’re working like crazy to make changes and not just in politics.
We are attending medical, business or law school so that by filling and ascending the ladder of these institutions, we can make policies that are friendlier for women and men such as child care, work shares, and flex time.
We are starting and running non-profit organizations like my roommate, Fabianna Pergolizzi, who founded Project Anti-Bully when she was in high school to advocate against bullying, an issue that is jettisoning our young girls’ self-esteem before they have the consciousness and opportunity to stand up for their rights.
Clearly, Next Gen Feministas are not “sell outs” who could care less about political or social activism.
In fact, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, author of The “F” Word: Feminism in Jeopardy, frames it beautifully when she states:
“Far from being slackers who are checked out of civic life, many young women keep close track of social issues that impact them and others…We’re merely seeing a split between social consciousness, social change, and electoral politics.”
Our way of achieving feminist goals is not better or worse than previous generations: it’s just different.
Yes, I took that internship on Capitol Hill.
Yep, I wore heels to work every day; but that doesn’t mean I care any less about the issue of gender pay inequity than Betty Friedan cared about women’s mobility in the workplace.
I am extremely grateful for what my sisters of previous generations have done for me. To show that appreciation, I’m putting into practice what they were advocating for by taking advantage of the system’s opportunities to change it from within.
Isn’t that the point?
Washington, DC native and self-proclaimed Latina feminist Giuliana Cortese, is a senior at Georgetown University majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies and will relocate to Nashville, Tennessee for the next two years as a Teach for America corps member. When she isn’t writing, you can find her on a run, practicing yoga, museum hopping, or “thrifting.” Click here to read more about and connect with Giuliana.
Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.How do you define “feminism”?