The Journey of Activism: A Request from One Feminist to Her Peers and Colleagues

By Zoe Hannah

The Fourth Wave, the bad-ass feminist publication you’re reading right now, had its first birthday in March 2015, a moment that reminded club members new and old of the immense growth we’ve been through in such a short time. Our presence on campus expanded exponentially, and we even hosted our first on-campus event (thanks again, Zerlina).

Most importantly, we changed our name. Formerly Slutciety, the publication realized the exclusionary nature of our first name: among other issues, the word “slut” is only reclaimable by women, particularly white, cisgender, heterosexual women. The name change was a significant moment of maturity for the club and for my fellow board members and I – after numerous late night brainstorms, we officially quit the white feminism camp and changed our name to The Fourth Wave, which is indicative of our own wave of feminism that we do not have to reclaim because it hasn’t been created yet (we’re in it – right now, you’re living in it!). This monumental shift was personal for myself and other longstanding members of our publication; this was one of the first moments where I realized that my feminism, along with anyone and everyone’s feminism, is always changing.

Jump to September 2015. After a summer apart, each of us having spent two months working at summer camp and, thus, being ridiculously tired, my roommate and I sat down for our first meal of our junior years. Expecting to catch up like usual with camp stories, drunk stories, living-at-home-is-fucking-awful stories, I mentioned what a significant summer this was for feminism. Yet my best friend, roommate, supporter of my superfluous Tostitos Hint of Lime consumption habits, said, “I’m so done with feminism.”

Naturally, I shoved more chips into my mouth so that I could shut myself up long enough to hear her out despite my obvious shock. This, coming from the woman who worships Janis Joplin, Frida Kahlo, and Gloria Steinem. She explained to me her frustration with feminists who take things “too far,” to the point that they are actually being regressive – those who censor themselves so much in an effort to create a safe space that they take the enjoyment, uniqueness, and creativity out of almost everything.

Broadly, a new feminist publication that’s a subsidiary of Vice, published an article chronicling the over-the-top censorship that is bred in a British feminist Facebook group, “Cuntry Living.” The Facebook group is known for encouraging its members to avoid ableism, misogyny, racism, and appropriation at all costs, something that sounds pretty good in writing. However, the group has gotten totally out of hand; Broadly writer Emalie Marthe highlighted one member of the group’s question of whether or not wearing glasses without a prescription is ableist. Obviously, that’s fucking ridiculous – but it reminded me of my roommate’s exasperation with such censorship, and I found myself getting on board with her train of thought.

This summer, feminism skyrocketed in the mainstream eye: Caitlyn Jenner made almost everyone want to support trans rights, people realized that Hillary Clinton isn’t a good presidential candidate just because she’s a woman. This is all very important stuff, and, of course, I’m glad it happened – but something else happened, too, and that’s what we can attribute this obsession with censorship to. White feminism, a term that encompasses all feminism that is primarily advantageous to white, cisgender, heterosexual, often American women, has been on the rise for somewhere around two years, and this isn’t a bad thing: white feminist thought is still feminist thought; it’s still working towards dismantling the patriarchy.

But, in practice, it’s detrimental because it draws attention away from the issues of non-white, non-cisgender, non-heterosexual people. This is the type of immature feminism that I was talking about earlier – the Slutciety days of our publication. What is so interesting is that these feminists, the ones who want to focus only on the problems of white women, are the ones policing other feminists about whether or not they should be wearing fake glasses.

According to the Broadly article mentioned earlier, “Cuntry Living” is made up of primarily middle class white women who went to or still go to Oxford University. Upon reading this, my principal reaction was something like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” It isn’t as if this Facebook group is small with about 10 thousand members – but it’s also indicative of a bigger problem, which is that white feminists love policing other feminists. I try to stray from statements like, “You’re giving other feminists a bad rap,” but these feminists are giving other feminists a bad rap.

This is the part where I’m supposed to rant on about how white feminism isn’t true feminism, and you should all go take a women’s studies course and be on your merry way. But that is not what I’m going to do! I’m going to say this: we, as a club on Pitt’s campus, as a generation, as a society of humans, are always learning. There is no Higher Power of Feminism who can tell us, “Hey, you’re doing this wrong, you should do it this way instead.” What does that mean? That white feminism is okay and we should just keep letting white girls police each other into wearing gray sweat suits at all times to avoid offending anyone? No! That means that we should always be questioning each other, people of authority on any subject that isn’t, like, math, and (drum roll, please) ourselves!

Yes, that’s right: you from the past can be wrong. I know, it’s weird for a college student to admit that. But this is so important for feminism right now because of this huge, crushing, blinding wave of mainstream feminism. This is a request for feminists: please do not lose every shred of personality that you have for the cause. That isn’t progressive. The whole point is that we can be whoever we want, right? Policing is regressive, plus it’s annoying to everyone around you. Make your choices based on what you believe in, not based on what you want everyone else to believe in. Ask questions if you don’t know something. I can promise you that your positivity will rub off on others, and who wouldn’t want that? Feminism is an entire movement dedicated to positivity and equality – please keep it that way.

Zoe is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying non-fiction writing and film. See more from this month’s issue here.