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Contributed by: Dr. Michèle Schaal
Dr. Michèle Schaal is an Assistant Professor of French and Women’s and Gender Studies. Dr. Schaal spends her time exploring where these two meet and have developed side by side.
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What is a movement? Too often when one speaks of a social movement, one uses the singular. Yet, when one looks closer, one sees that movements are made of a multitude of, and sometimes even conflicting, branches. No other movement better than feminism demonstrates this. Primarily in the Western world, there have been three waves of feminism and a fourth one is happening globally as we speak. History books and popular culture tend to portray the latter waves as coherent, if not one-dimensional, movements. Yet, from the very beginning, they comprised a variety of perspectives, individuals, and social groups with both common and contradictory needs or demands. For instance, while both some Bourgeois and Working Class feminists championed suffrage rights, they held disagreeing views on women workers and wage rights. Therefore, as I tell my students of both French and Women’s and Gender Studies, one needs to think and speak instead of the plural. Asian, Black, Chicana, Disability, French, Indigenous, Postcolonial, Socialist, Transgender: this is a meagre selection of the many branches that make and have made feminisms historically and cross-culturally.
Over the past few years, another adjective has been added to feminism: intersectional. Intersectionality was coined by African American scholar and feminist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. The term explains how, for some women, it is not solely gender that shapes their social identities and experiences. Rather other intersections—including but not limited to color, social class, age, or sexual orientation—either create obstacles or privileges in any given society. For Fourth Wavers especially, gender equality and broader social justice cannot be accomplished if one does not think about one’s own privileges but also about how the many intersections engender specific situations and discriminations—or, to cite Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Consequently, more than ever, feminisms cannot be and are not one-dimensional. Rather, they are and need to be inclusive to change society for good and for all.