The word “feminism” itself tends not to be viewed as social justice jargon, albeit it’s often misunderstood. Feminism is sometimes misunderstood as a sort of “bra-burning/destroy-all-men” mentality.
However, that is far from the truth. On this Women’s History Month in the United States, I think it is important to distance ourselves from that false narrative about feminism.
The reality is that feminism is the advocacy for women to have equal rights to men. So no, it does not involve hating or destroying men.
However, what is sometimes less understood is the different phases of advocacy for women over the years in the United States, also known as the four waves of feminism. It’s also less understood why it’s so important to understand those waves, and why it’s also so important to think beyond the second wave of feminism.
These phases of advocacy for women, also known as “waves of feminism,” are divided as such:
The first wave of feminism is typically regarded as the phase of advocacy that focused on greater women’s involvement in American government, particularly the right to vote. It is worth noting, though, that the focus on the greater involvement of women focused on white women, not on women of color. This phase went from about 1848 (the year of the Seneca Falls Convention, a women’s rights convention where the right to vote became a major issue) to the ratification of the women’s right to vote in the United States (also known as the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution) in 1920.
The second wave of feminism said that it was not enough for women to have the right to vote, but that it was also important to advocate for social, political, and economic equality for women. This phase of feminism went from the 1960s to about the early 1990s (approximately). Betty Friedan’s book, titled The Feminine Mystique, has often been credited with starting this second wave of feminism. This wave of feminism also included advocacy for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was designed for people in the United States to have equal legal rights regardless of sex.
However, the second wave of feminism was criticized for predominantly advocating for middle class white women, while leaving behind poor women, women of color, women in the LGBTQ+ community, women with disabilities, and women from other marginalized groups. This criticism led to the third wave of feminism, which placed emphasis on advocating not just for economically upwardly mobile white women, but women who were also marginalized for other facets of their identity. In this wave of feminism, which many say started in the early 1990s and ended around 2012 (though I think this wave is in many ways still present today), there was a lot of emphasis on intersectional feminism—advocacy for the equal rights of women that takes into account how that advocacy should address the inequalities of women who experience overlapping and intersecting forms of discrimination in addition to discrimination for being a woman (example: discrimination for being an immigrant and a woman).
The fourth wave of feminism, which many say started in 2012 and continues today, focuses on online tools, such as blogging and social media, to highlight inequalities that many women face. Through this, we see the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements on social media, the increased blogging about sexism, and personal stories of various forms of sexism that women have faced.
It’s important to understand these different waves of feminism for a couple of reasons. First, it is good to have at least a working historical knowledge of the different eras of feminist advocacy, regardless of what your feelings on feminism are. Second, it’s generally good to understand what people are talking about when they’re referring to a particular wave of feminism. Finally, it’s especially important to understand the importance of third-wave and fourth-wave feminism, because without that understanding, it is difficult to appreciate the importance of advocating for all women and taking that advocacy to the public sphere.
So, next time you hear about third-wave or fourth-wave feminism, you will know what you’re talking about. If you’re accused of not moving beyond the second wave of feminism, you know that your feminism needs to do a better job of including women who are marginalized for other parts of their identity. And if you hear about the #MeToo movement, you know that you are hearing about the current, and fourth, wave of feminism.
 While, by many definitions, we’re into the fourth wave of feminism, the there’s still lots of emphasis on intersectional feminism; in other words, third-wave feminism.
Back in February, I said that on my blog, I would publish posts on major issues relevant to the election that are either misunderstood or not talked about as much as they should be.
By working on such posts, I found myself getting some insights into the upcoming election for President of the United States that I would otherwise not have. Because of those insights, as well as the fact that my blog talks about injustices that need to be addressed, I thought I would end these posts by talking about who I will vote for and why.
I’m voting for Joe Biden because, of all the candidates in the race, I think he gives the best shot at playing a role in addressing injustices. His past track record, while imperfect, gives me that belief.
On the issue of ableism and disability justice, Biden cosponsored some important legislation on this issue. He was a Senate cosponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was landmark legislation for people with disabilities. Earlier in his Senate career, he cosponsored the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which required equal educational access in all public schools for kids with physical and mental disabilities. While there is still much to do to make all corners of our country as accessible as they need to be, the passage of these laws, which was made a bit easier by Biden’s support and cosponsorship in both cases, was nevertheless useful. His support of such legislation gives me hope that with disability rights issues, he would reject the argument that something is “too expensive” or “too impractical” to be made accessible—arguments I often hear against making certain things accessible.
Those who are familiar with human trafficking issues would know that arguably the most important piece of American legislation when it comes to anti-human trafficking laws is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)—without its existence, traffickers couldn’t be prosecuted as easily, and victims wouldn’t be protected as easily. The person who introduced the reauthorization of the Act in the Senate in 2008 was…Joe Biden. As someone who used to help with anti-human trafficking education myself, I think it’s important for me to set the record straight on this issue because it has only come up in this election in the context of a sex trafficking conspiracy theory (one that Trump has praised the supporters of) that has complicated the work of organizations that are trying to combat human trafficking.
Speaking of Biden authoring things, while his authorship of the 1994 Crime Bill was controversial in many ways, one major positive of that overarching bill was the Violence Against Women Act, which among other things helped establish a Domestic Violence Hotline. A hotline that has come of great use during the pandemic exists in large part due to Biden’s efforts.
On environmental issues, Biden, while not perfect, is still eons better than Trump. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has a scorecard that grades politicians based on which environmental measures they do or do not support, as well as which environmental regulatory rollbacks they do and do not support. Biden’s lifetime score is 83%, which is not as good as the 91% held by Bernie Sanders or the 96% held by Elizabeth Warren. But, his main opponent is Trump, who in LCV’s own words, said about Trump’s environmental grade in his first year in office that: “However, to simply award Trump an ‘F’ does not come close to capturing both the breadth and depth of his administration’s assault on environmental protections and the harm it is causing communities across the country – all to provide favors to the wealthiest corporate polluting interests.”
These are some of the positive things on Joe Biden’s record, and I’m not even coming close to mentioning all the positive things (just a few that should be highlighted). However, as I said, his record is not perfect. I mentioned his Crime Bill on my blog, which is part of a larger dubious record he has when it comes to racial justice issues; there’s also the fact that he supported restrictions that prevented openly gay individuals from serving in the military, supported the Defense of Marriage Act (restricting marriage so that it’s between one man and one woman), and poorly handled the Anita Hill hearing, to name a few of the more problematic parts of his record. A charitable view of Biden’s record is that when someone is in public service for nearly five decades, there are bound to be some major mistakes within that record. A less charitable view would look at his record as evidence of his being a person who would add to injustices, instead of resolving them.
I tend to take a line down the middle—yes, he’s been in public service for a long time, but he does have some injustices to answer to. He has answered by expressing regret for how he handled the Anita Hill situation as well as for past anti-LGBTQ+ positions and the Crime Bill.
More cynical individuals may think that such expressions of regret are just for political expediency and/or are woefully inadequate; I most certainly understand the cynicism because politics can be so cynical at times. However, unlike President Trump, Biden has demonstrated the capacity to not just apologize but back it up with actions to show that he has learned from past mistakes. Of note was the fact that not only did he end up regretting his past positions that were unsupportive of LGBTQ+ rights, but he backed it up by: a) supporting same-sex marriage and b) forcing President Obama’s hand on support of same-sex marriage (by the admission of Obama administration officials). On a number of issues, but particularly racial justice, I sincerely hope that Biden demonstrates a similar capacity to back up his remorse for certain past stances of his (such as authoring the Crime Bill) with action (such as trying to find solutions to the issue of mass incarceration against people of color that many believe he helped create).
Even with the positives I found with Biden, some may be wondering why I’m not suggesting voting for a third party or not voting at all. Especially since I live in New York, some might argue that I could do either without having an impact on the election.
The answer is that I am voting third party, as I will be voting for Biden on the Working Families Party line (a third party that exists in some states, including New York). I think that it is important for me to vote for Biden and I think it is important for third parties to have a voice as well—by voting for Biden on the Working Families Party line, it’s the best of both worlds as far as I am concerned.
I also never considered not voting. I never considered that for two reasons: first, because I was able to distinguish key differences between Trump and Biden on issues that matter to me; and second, because I want my voice to be heard on local elections too (even though all my seats locally are heavily Democratic overall).
So there’s my breakdown of how I judged between the two major party candidates, and how I decided to vote for Biden. While I’m not as enthusiastic about Biden as some people are, I’ve concluded that it’s the best choice out of all the choices presented to me in this election from the standpoint of addressing injustices. And, given the fact that Biden seems more willing than Trump to follow the science when it comes to COVID, it’s a choice that I hope will save some lives.
I will be interested to hear others’ thoughts on the election, though! Feel free to comment below.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this post are my opinions alone and does not represent an endorsement by any organization with which I am associated.
 I know many people have already voted. But this post is directed at those who have not already voted (or those who have but are curious to hear what I have to say).
 I am focusing on his past track record because I think looking at a track record of nearly five decades can be instructive in determining what sorts of issues he may stand for in the next 4-8 years—potentially even more instructive than looking at his platform.
 I am not going to use tons of space in this post talking about Trump. There are lots of posts on the internet talking about Trump’s negatives. Instead, I’m going to use space here to talk about some positive elements of Biden’s record, because it’s important not just to vote against someone, but for someone.
Because of the media’s focus on the coronavirus, one story that has gone somewhat (but not completely) under the radar is the changes that United States Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put into place for regulations that replaced Obama-era guidelines on how sexual assault accusations are dealt with at schools.
According to National Public Radio, which did a rather thorough piece on these changes, “Among the most significant changes are new regulations aimed at beefing up protections for accused college students, by mandating live hearings by adjudicators who are neither the Title IX coordinator nor the investigator, and real-time cross examination of each student by the other student’s lawyer or representative.” I want to zero in on the change I quoted here, because this is a regulation that will likely end up harming poor women the most and helping wealthy men the most.
In making this argument, it’s worth saying that the real-time cross examination is something that advocates worry will open up wounds for survivors of the assaults under investigation. While yes, there are absolutely male survivors of sexual assault, as well as survivors who do not fall within the male-female gender binary, this is a change that disproportionately hurts women in general, as women of school age are much more likely to be survivors of sexual violence than men of school age. Therefore, when we’re talking about cross examination opening up wounds for survivors, we are most of the time talking about opening up wounds for female survivors of sexual assault. This change will harm women in general.
However, this change will harm poor women the most. This real-time cross examination by the other student’s lawyer or representative, in effect, results in a double whammy for poor people who are survivors: emotional wounds opened up by cross examination by the defendant, and then an inability to spend the money to hire a good lawyer or representative to answer in any effective way to the cross examination. As most survivors are women, this double whammy for poor people who are survivors will predominantly affect poor women. I just hope that there are lawyers/representatives out there willing to potentially do some pro bono work here because otherwise, I don’t see how poor women who are survivors stand much of a shot at getting justice in sexual assault cases under the DeVos guidelines.
On the other hand, these new regulations will likely end up helping wealthy men because: a) most perpetrators are men and b) the male perpetrators who come from wealthy families will be able to spend on the best lawyer/representative money can buy in order to fend off any accusations. Unless the survivor comes from a situation of economic wealth and can have the ability to hire good lawyers, the side of the wealthy male perpetrator is well positioned to win the legal case.
As to the results of these DeVos changes, I do tend to agree with advocates that this will likely have a chilling effect on reporting in general. However, I fear it will have a particularly chilling effect on reporting from poor women survivors of sexual assault. While some people may take pride in being right on something, this is a case where I really hope I am wrong.
Please note that because of Memorial Day, I will not publish a post next Monday.
Content warnings: Inappropriate touching, sexual assault
I don’t know how many of my readers caught this bit of news with the media being in all-pandemic-all-the-time mode, but there is an allegation of sexual assault against former Vice President Joe Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States. Namely, Tara Reade, a former Biden staffer when he was a United States Senator representing Delaware, has accused her former boss of sexually assaulting her in the basement of a Capitol Hill office building in 1993.
And yet, I have heard relatively few on the Democratic side even talk about the allegations against him, save a few disgruntled former Bernie Sanders supporters who are struggling to support Biden. Goodness, even the story about the accusations eight women (including Reade) levied against Biden last year for inappropriate touching seemed to disappear after a couple of weeks, even though there are photos of him touching women in ways that clearly made them uncomfortable. For a party that claims to be pro-woman, it’s pretty appalling that the representative of said party for the party has, at minimum, a well-documented history of inappropriate touching of women (and potentially sexual assault).
It’s not just Biden and the Democrats, though. With the Republicans…need I say more? If you’re a Republican reading this piece, with all due respect, your party continues to stand behind someone who says: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Your leader literally bragged about getting away with sexual assault. Yet, leadership in your party looked and continues to look the other way.
Examining how the Democrats have handled Biden’s different accusations, and how the Republicans handled Trump’s, there seems to be a commonality: these politicians’ misconduct against women is not scrutinized fully if it is politically inconvenient to do so. It is politically inconvenient for the Democrats to scrutinize Biden’s accusations of inappropriate touching and accusation of sexual assault because of “blue no matter who.” It is politically inconvenient for Republicans to scrutinize Trump’s past allegations of sexual assault because of “Trump no matter what.” Treating these accusations with the seriousness deserved has seemingly been sacrificed in the name of political convenience.
We need to scrutinize the accusations of misconduct against women that our politicians face, regardless of whether there is a D or an R next to their names. We need to talk about and grapple with such accusations of misconduct, even if it’s politically inconvenient, and even if the accused deny the allegations they face.
Quite a few people were devastated when Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for President of the United States ended early with disappointing results on Super Tuesday. Following her departure from the race, there has been much talk of how sexism, not the substance of what she was advocating for, may have affected her campaign.
And, there seems to be truth to the belief that sexism hurt Warren’s candidacy, as well as the candidacies of Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Kamala Harris. However, it seems like that sexism is playing out through the veil of a word that has been used time and time again by many a progressive activist in 2020: electability.
There is much terror in progressive circles over what has happened during the Trump administration, particularly with regard to a number of civil rights issues. In response, most Democrats want to nominate someone who can beat President Trump in November…someone who is, well, electable. In fact, the top priority among Democratic voters is beating Trump—a solid majority of respondents in a poll from last November prioritized a candidate who could beat Trump over a candidate who they agreed with ideologically.
This electability argument seems fine and innocent for many progressives…until you consider how that argument likely undermined the female candidates such as Warren, Klobuchar, and Harris. According to an Ipsos poll done in mid-2019, the plurality of Democratic and Independent voters thought that a woman would have a harder time beating Trump than a man would, and only a third of Democratic and Independent voters thought that their neighbors would be comfortable with a female president.
In summary, even Democrats and Independents, who themselves, on average, are ready for a female president, think that female candidates have an electability problem. In an election where electability is by far the top priority of voters, the perceived lack of electability of female candidates put the likes of Warren, Klobuchar, and Harris at a disadvantage from the beginning.
But what should we do about this problem, as this may not be the last time that electability may come up as an issue in primaries at the national level?
It seems like two options tend to be suggested: we either need to stop making electability a priority, or else somehow convince ourselves and others that women are electable.
Suggesting that people should stop making electability a priority is probably the more unpopular of the two options among many progressives; after all, many progressives desperately want to defeat President Trump and would likely feel the same about many prominent Republicans if they were president. At the same time, if people want electability to be a priority, that’s a measurement that, as I have shown, puts all female candidates at the national level, even female candidates in a Democratic primary process, at a major disadvantage even if they had the best policies ever.
However, even if people stop making electability a priority, there’s still that nagging problem that women are often viewed as less electable than men (even if electability is a secondary or tertiary priority). Not making electability the priority doesn’t take away the problem that women are often viewed as inferior presidential candidates because they’re viewed as less electable than men; it only attempts to minimize the problem. Therefore, the better option might be to work towards the point that women are viewed as every bit as electable as men.
But how do we get to a point that women are electable, too? I propose a few ideas, but am open to others:
We need to convince ourselves (and others) that people are, in general, more ready for a female president than many of us realize. That Ipsos poll I cited earlier says that 74% of Democrats and Independents are comfortable with a female president. Yet, only 33% of Democrats and Independents say that they think their neighbors are comfortable with a female president. Some of the other polling I cited earlier notes that 53% of Americans (encompassing all political affiliations) are either “very ready” or “extremely ready” for a female president, yet only 16% of Americans believed that most fellow Americans were ready for a female president. Let these statistics show that most Americans really are ready for a female president.
We need to understand why those who feel “moderately ready” for a woman to be president feel that way. 53% of Americans either feel “very ready” or “extremely ready” for a woman to be president, but there’s another 25% of Americans who feel “moderately ready” (leaving only 22% of Americans who feel only “slightly ready” or “not ready at all”). Namely, we need to understand what makes that 25% feel hesitant about having a woman president, because if those hesitations can be addressed, you then have an overwhelming majority of Americans feeling ready for a woman president.
We need to examine our own biases about women in power. I could probably dedicate a whole post to the topic of biases against women in power, but criticisms such as “bossy,” “strident,” and “abrasive” are levied against powerful, successful women much more than against powerful, successful men. We need to be honest with ourselves and see whether we tend to levy such biases disproportionately on successful women, because if we do, we are making it less likely that we will vote for women (and potentially less likely that we would view women as electable). I say this from experience, because I used to think that Warren was abrasive, and I did not consider voting for her until I realized that this belief came from my own biases about women in power.
“Electability” arguments probably did hurt female candidates this year. However, moving forward, if we want to have the first Madame President of the United States, we need to do all we can to make sure that pro-electability does not result in anti-female attitudes towards candidates.