To the slacktivists and armchair activists in all of us—listen up. Does social media deserve all the credit it’s often given in promoting social change? “Timid activists” and “millennials looking for a shortcut to understanding Feminism”—are these oxymorons? While seemingly simple in its assertions and goals, the concept of Feminism is stuffed with a long and complex history of thinkers, writers, and politicians whose extensive work decoding the roots and resolutions to the problem of gender-based oppression cannot easily be summed up in a BuzzFeed article or a four-minute YouTube video (much to our generation’s chagrin). This article will not pretend to be that YouTube video, but rather admittedly scrape at the tip of the iceberg. This list of both timeless and current concepts and questions will provide a jumping-off point for a more in-depth understanding of Feminism that can only be achieved through self-education and rigorous personal investment.
Militancy—what do we actually mean?
“I’m a Feminist, but not that militant kind.” We’ve all heard this attempt to declare oneself a Feminist without the connotations of, well, caring too much. Because caring too much is passé—because there is such a thing as caring “too much”. This is not the case. A common mantra of the Black Panther Party asserted that you were either militant or an in-betweener, and if you’re an in-betweener, you might as well be nothing. This is to say that social change does not stem from lukewarm feelings or part-time passion. So what is “that militant kind” we speak of? What has militancy and radicalism come to mean in the context of Feminism? From whom and where did you learn this?
Oppression is an economic crutch for the privileged, and it is intricately woven into the foundational fabrics of our society. The late Black Arts poet Amiri Baraka persistently asserted that racism exists ultimately to serve capitalist interests. The historical and contemporary problems concerning Feminism are similar. What are the economic gains in dehumanization and oppression, and specifically the oppression of women? How does a capitalist society seek to manipulate, and what forms does this manipulation take when directed at women? How do I unknowingly participate in my own manipulation? Can equality realistically exist in a capitalist society?
Preaching to the Choir ... Let's Not
Discussing issues with like-minded people is never a bad thing—unless you stop there. Holding up a sign about why you need Feminism to all your Feminist friends can sometimes be no more productive than sitting in bed at night whispering into the ear of your teddy bear that you need Feminism. The problem is not only whether or not people know they are Feminists—it’s Feminists not knowing what to do with their Feminism. So who are you talking to? Who are they talking to? Who has the power, voice, and status to personally affect social change and who is talking to them? In other words, what politicians are speaking on your behalf, and are they saying what you want them to say? If not, what are you doing to change that?
Social Media and the Quick Fix
BuzzFeed is fun. Wikipedia is convenient. Facebook is engaging and an efficient mode of distribution. Neither one nor all of these resources combined will leave you very informed. On the contrary, they can trick one into feeling educated without actually gaining that much knowledge, and in this the danger lies. That de-contextualized Audre Lorde quote your friend tweeted packs a punch, but how far does that go? What has been gained, aside from a virtual high-five and enthusiastic retweet? And how many people have retweeted, blogged, or posted this without seeking out or understanding the text and ideas behind it?
Which Finally Brings Us To: BooksIf you were to sit down and elaborately answer all the questions posed here, you’d have a pretty hefty book on your hands. Luckily for us all, there’s over a century of these critical Feminist texts and ideas already at our disposal. Let’s read some of them, think about them, and update and build from them, not try to poorly reinvent the wheel.