The feminist movement has changed drastically. Here’s what the movement looks like today
ABC News spoke to feminists across the generations to define modern feminism.
Feminism, the first wave of which began with the suffrage movement in the mid-1800s, looks vastly different today than it did generations ago.
Thanks to the use of technology in activism, the adoption of alternative feminist philosophies into the mainstream, and more, feminists say the modern movement is defined by its intersectionality.
Feminists told ABC News that their fight is for the benefit of everyone – of all genders, races and more – led by a diverse set of voices to pave the way for gender equality worldwide in this fourth wave of feminism.
What is modern feminism defined by?
Feminism is the belief in the equality of people of all genders, a set of values aimed at dismantling gender inequality and the structures that uphold it.
These inequalities could be pay inequality, gender-based health care inaccessibility, rigid social expectations, or gender-based violence which still impact people everywhere to this day, feminists say.
In recent decades, the movement has begun to proactively include and uplift the voices of people who have typically been left out of past mainstream feminist movements. This includes women of color, as well as gender diverse people.
“Our gender, our race, disability, class, sexuality, and more – all of these pieces of ourselves generate different lived experiences and also help us understand that no one of us is just one thing,” said Diana Duarte, feminist group MADRE's Director of Policy and Strategic Engagement. “This inclusive vision is a powerful and integral part of feminism.”
Duarte said that “the personal is political” in feminism, “which is a way of understanding that our personal experiences are shaped by political realities that may be situated far from us or close to us.”
Our own experiences, she said, can inform and lead to political solutions.
Modern feminism co-opts the ideals of Black and queer feminist theories, activists say, in that it understands how the issues of gender, race and sexuality are all connected.
Uplifting the most marginalized groups of society will lead to wins for the overall advancement of gender equality worldwide, activists argue.
"[Author] Audre Lorde tells us that we do not live single issue lives, meaning that we do not have the luxury just to say, 'I'm only going to fight on this one issue,' because that's actually not possible," said Paris Hatcher, founder of the activist group Black Feminist Future.
How far has feminism come?
Mainstream feminism has not always been inclusive. For example, the suffrage movement and the teaching of it focuses on white women and their right to vote. National Organization for Women President Christian Nunes told ABC News that Black suffragists who helped win the passage of the 19th Amendment were erased by the white suffragist movement and in history books.
After the amendment’s passage, Black women continued to face barriers to voting.
“Even though there are women of color who were very instrumental in these movements and shifting it, and making sure that these rights were won, they just were not talked about,” Nunes told ABC News. “They were not mentioned, they were unsung heroes.”
She continued, “The fourth wave release focuses on: How do we be inclusive? How do we have allies? How do we really focus on true equality for all women? Because we know other waves of feminism have left women out.”
In becoming more inclusive, feminists around the globe have been able to make major strides in calling attention to and addressing multifaceted issues affecting women and girls across the globe.
In the U.S., the Women’s March and the racial reckoning of 2020 are two movements in which feminists played a major role.
“We're seeing women represented in … in so many different places, hold so many different levels of power that we haven't seen ever,” Nunes said, pointing to the achievements of Vice President Kamala Harris and Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
“We're seeing more women leaders, we're seeing more women scholars, we're seeing more activists, we're just seeing women really go out in their own authenticity in their own identities and live more truly and authentically.”
How much further does feminism have to go?
In recent years, though, the U.S. has faced a wave of laws restricting reproductive health care, transgender health care, certain curriculum in education, laws restricting voting rights, and more.
These have been seen as setbacks among feminist activists who argue that these laws create a “patriarchal world.”
Hatcher believes these laws support “a world where white men are in control, where the history that's told is upholding the history and the legacies of white men, and also where white men are able to control who was elected and who is not.”
Feminists say social media and technology will allow feminist movements across the globe to continue to connect, grow and spread their message.
Zikora Akanegbu, the creator of youth-led female empowerment group GenZHer, got her start in feminism on social media. She used it as a tool to be in conversations with and learn from other feminists.
“In middle school, in 2017, when [the MeToo Movement] was coming out on social media, I just joined Instagram,” Akanegbu told ABC News.
“When I think of feminism, I think it's women being able to share their voice … which we're seeing with the women speaking out in Iran the past few months,” Akanegbu said, referring to women protesting the Iranian government over the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who was arrested by the country's "morality police" for not wearing a headscarf, as is required by Iranian law, and who died three days later in a hospital.
“Social media is a big part of moving the feminist movement forward,” Akanegbu said.
As for feminism and its reputation, there are still strides to be made, feminists say.
A Pew Research Center survey found that about 6 in 10 American women say “feminist” describes them very or somewhat well.
A majority of Americans – 64% – say feminism is empowering and 42% say it’s inclusive. However, 45% say it is polarizing and 30% say it’s outdated.
While women are more likely to associate feminism with positive attributes like empowering and inclusive, Pew found that men are more likely to see feminism as polarizing and outdated.
However, activists argue that negative perceptions of feminism are perpetuated by those who benefit from the patriarchy.
“[We should] not let our opponents define the identity of feminism for us,” Duarte said.
She continued, “It's important … not to lose sight of the community, the political grounding that feminism has offered to so many, where feminism actually has a great reputation that comes from the positive and meaningful reality of it that people have experienced all around the world.”