What is Contemporary Feminism?
We asked our peers to respond to the question 'What Is Contemporary Feminism?' This ongoing discourse seeks to openly explore, redefine and challenge the notions of current feminism/s.
"This is not a line, it is a loop." - Barbara Cleveland, 1980
Feminism by its nature is a contested and subjective politic. The contemporary, new or future feminism we refer to is defined by our own experience and privilege and does not seek to speak for all feminisms.
For us, to be in feminism today is to be aware of the past in order to create a feminist future. It is about activating intergenerational dialogue (young to old and reverse). It is about excavating the forgotten and the overlooked. To loop back over the discarded moments and people from the past to see what remains. It is about understanding this past as impacting on how we inhabit the present. It is about acknowledging this as a way to generate a more equitable, altercapitalist, post patriarchal world. For us, what is important for feminism today is its intersectionality; that is, an awareness of race, class and gender as affecting our experience of privilege and power. This collides with an understanding that identity, sexuality, gender and bodies are now multiple and duplicating - nothing is fixed, that there is no 'one'.
Contemporary feminism is about fighting for equality, same as it always has been. For us at the Women's Art Register it is fighting for equality in the arts by supporting marginalised artists. Feminist art activism emphasises the visibility of women artists in both public and commercial galleries and the even handed distribution of prizes, commissions and art school or curatorial positions between the genders.
It’s important because in a way, not much has changed. We have not yet achieved equality.
In the arts projects like CoUNTesses make this very clear when you see that women still aren't receiving the same exposure as their male counterparts. It’s important to challenge the patriarchy and to fight for equality so that women artists are not forgotten and their contributions to culture live on. In the mid 1980s, WAR conducted research into gender inequalities in the visual arts from which we can see that not much has changed between then and the Countess’ recent statistics, other than more female staff at major art schools.
What’s different is that social media has opened up new channels of communication and digitisation has democratised professional creative production – given a woman can afford technology and its continual on-costs. Women are in the workforce in greater numbers than in the 2nd wave feminist era, although clustered towards the middle and bottom of the ladder. Yet this empowerment of voice and mind is granted in a world where violence/hostility towards women has not disappeared but is more institutionalised/legitimised by state structures across cultures than ever before. The world is globally connected, yet fragmented into hostile, combative fractions and plagued with never-diminishing human rights abuse.
Intersectional feminism now reminds us (itself articulated in a disavowed aggressive and divisive manner) that all women do not experience oppression in the same way. Even within cultures, and beyond Eurocentric feminisms, there are disputes as to what is an appropriate feminist standpoint and voice. Yet across all cultures and nations, first to third world, women lag behind men in opportunities and access to resources, even when judged within the values of their home culture.
Feminism today needs to be inclusive, active, supportive and extremely resourceful.
We have been an active arts organisation for over 40 years and we have always had an open collection policy, which means our collection of women's art making is diverse and has many voices. We have survived on a grass roots level with minimal financial support thanks to the support of our community. WAR has witnessed several different iterations of feminism - so-called 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations, our collection and our supporters reflect that range in feminist voices first hand, it’s complex, volatile, sometimes unwieldy but always unique and authentic to witness what women have done and can do in the arts.
The best kinds of contemporary feminisms are for me, inclusive, empathetic, and constantly striving to do more. Feminism today is important for the same reason it has always been important: because women still face continued and consistent oppressions. These oppressions may have changed and evolved over time, but they still exist. Changes in feminism are due to a change in oppressions, but also because feminism has needed to adapt to the demands of its growing community. Rightly so, the feminist movement that I subscribe to is inclusive of women of colour, trans women, queer women, sex workers, disabled women, and other women that face oppressions outside of those that white, middle class feminists can sometimes only be seen to address. As a result, feminism today needs to remain always inclusive, always adaptable, and always open to further growth and learning.
Our work tries to create free, open to all opportunities to compare politics, and as such we don’t advocate for one definition of feminism over any other, since our belief is that there are a multiplicity of politics indicated by that term, and that one has to try to understand some of the breadth of its significance today, in order to actively create meaningful, relevant, and contemporary coalitions— alliances that ultimately are the engine room of feminist politics today.