Let’s start with the basics: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes is what feminism means. If feminism is not needed, people probably wouldn’t keep asking if feminism is needed. People aren’t in the habit of talking about things which is completely not needed to them. So in some sense, feminism is obviously needed. There are also some senses in which feminism is probably not needed. Let’s look at this concept of ‘need’ a little more closely.
I’m assuming, for the sake of argument, that you’re a good person and that, if you’re not a woman yourself, you at least have a certain amount of respect for women’s lives. So you agree with me to the fact that women are still subjected to domestic violence and sexual assault is a problem, and that the fact that women are taught to hate their lives and their voices and their bodies is a problem, and that the gender double standard, in general, is a bad thing. We all agree, in other words, that the most obvious problems that feminists want to solve are real problems that need to be somehow solved. If you don’t agree that these are real problems that need to be solved, I don’t want to hear about it. Most of you, I’m sure, do. So if you agree that there are real problems of gender oppression in our culture, but you’re asking whether feminism is needed, then what you seem to be asking is whether the feminist movement, as we come to know it, can solve these problems.
My answer to that question would be probably a NO. The feminist movement as we have come to know is in fact going through a metamorphosis; adapting to the times. The older traditions of feminism, despite their accomplishments, are the products of a previous generation. Like all traditions, they change over time. Among the criticisms that have been made of feminism are that it tends to undervalue the lives and contributions of young , low-income and, more so, the LGBT women; it is often rooted in the Western terminology, and is difficult to adapt to non-Western cultures and it has arguably become more of an academic and philosophical tradition than a social justice tradition.
There are many new feminists who do speak on the struggles that all women face today. There are also some older feminists who have adapted their positions to address these challenges. The feminism of these feminists is certainly not needed. But our cultural understanding of feminism tends to be rooted in the women’s liberation movement of the 19th century, which addresses yesterday’s challenges using yesterday’s leaders and yesterday’s methodologies.
So I would say that the feminism of today’s activists is very much needed, while the feminism of 50 or 60 years ago is less so. If you’re committed to fight gender oppression, but don’t find feminism as you’ve not experienced it or is not needed to your life, then you may be a third-wave feminist.
Written by Shruthi Iyer