A new wave of feminism is coming
A few months ago, I moved into a new apartment and decided to take it as an opportunity to buy new furniture. The biggest item on my list was a new dresser. I scanned the internet for the perfect one, studying the dimensions carefully to make sure it would fit. But it never occurred to me to pay attention to the dresser’s weight. That was until I saw the 100-pound box sitting in my building lobby.
While I’m reluctant to admit this, it’s probably important to mention that I am a rather weak individual (as was confirmed during the moving process). A core part of my exercise routine, if you could even call it that, is carrying home my overloaded grocery bags from Trader Joe’s. But in spite of this, I managed to push the four-by-two-foot box down the hallway of my lobby and over to the foot of the stairs. As I slid the box up one step, then another, I thought for a second that I might actually be able to do it. And then the box (and me) slid back down to the floor.
I called my friend Hannah for help, who is just about the same height as me at a little more than 5 feet tall but surprisingly strong and claims she can tackle anyone to the ground. (This claim has something to do with her knowing krav maga and playing quidditch in college, I think.)
“We are independent women, we can do this,” Hannah yelled from one end of the box. “Yeah, feminism!” we shouted together, as though that would help us to summon the strength of Susan B. Anthony. But despite our best efforts, the 100-pound box continued to beat us both.
Midway through our struggle, one of my neighbors arrived home. With Hannah at the top of the stairs trying to pull the box up and me at the bottom trying to keep it from falling, we were undoubtedly blocking the path to his apartment. You can probably see where this is going now. But to be clear, we did not ask for his help. He volunteered. It may have been purely out of social obligation (or the fact that we were in his way). But regardless of the reason, it was quite frankly a blessing that he arrived when he did, even if it meant we had to thank him for coming to our rescue.
This isn’t the first time a man has helped me do something that I failed to do on my own. And let’s face it, it probably won’t be the last. I have no idea how I would have gotten my dresser up the stairs if it wasn’t for my neighbor’s help. More likely than not, I would have had to hire another man to come move it. This is an irritating thought, however. The realization that as a single, independent woman, there may always be things that I can’t do on my own. Or without the help of a man.
Of course, the ability to independently push a dresser up the stairs is not exactly the primary concern behind the fight for women’s rights. Nor is it the apex of gender equality. Gloria Steinem perhaps would roll her eyes if she saw us trying to do such a thing in the name of feminism. But this got me thinking, what does feminism in modern times really mean?
This question feels especially pertinent right now. The overturn of Roe v. Wade has rallied feminist generations young and old, uniting us in a way that has perhaps been missing. There is power in this, but at the same time there is something unsettling about witnessing one generation’s victory transition to a new generation’s cause. All this time we thought we were moving forward only to realize we were in rotation.
But what’s more unnerving is realizing how the last decade of feminism failed to prepare us for this moment. In a recent essay published by The New York Times, author Lux Alptraum argues that despite a handful of successes, 21st-century “empowerment feminism” has largely fallen short of its promises. And she’s not alone in this critique. TIME correspondent Charlotte Alter blames what she calls the “Empowerment Industrial Complex” for distracting us from critical feminist issues and thus, allowing the anti-abortion movement to gain political power.
If there’s one key takeaway from these reflections, it’s that girlboss aesthetics and flowery tropes of empowerment do not influence politics. Nor will they prevent sexual violence or keep women from dying. We need a new strategy, one that is more inclusive and comprehensive than before. One that addresses the issues at hand and works toward creating solutions. That delivers on more than it promises.
Maybe it’s too soon to answer the question of what modern feminism is because its meaning is still evolving. And the truth is, we need a new definition. A new narrative to guide us into this next era.
My hope is that we can channel our collective anger, fear, and disappointment into a new wave of feminism. If we can do this, then perhaps it will be the biggest one yet.