Fourth Wave of Feminism: Everything You Should Know

Historical Context and Background: The fourth wave of feminism shares the core ideas of third-wave feminism, like sex-positivity and intersectionality but what sets them apart is the heavy use of the internet for spreading the feminist agenda. Even before that, information and communication technologies were used (like social media platforms like Twitter, blogs, and Instagram) to raise voices for women’s rights. However, these ICTs became extremely intertwined with feminism in 2012, when Laura Bates launched a website called “Everyday Sexism Project”. Through this website, Laura encourages women to share their experiences of sexism they faced in their daily lives at work, in public spaces, including teasing, lewd jokes and comments, etc. The project made thousands of women come out in the open with their experiences, which gave rise to a chain reaction, and soon women throughout the world joined this movement. Later on, she turned her findings into a book where she analyzed the deep, hidden misogyny intrinsic to our society and how to overcome the challenges posed by it.


Key Issues of Fourth Wave Feminism

  • Intrinsic Misogyny: With the coming of the third wave, the notion was slowly gaining legitimacy that women had become successful in achieving equality with men. They drew that conclusion based on recognition of women’s rights, laws and policies aimed to achieve gender equality and active campaigns for women’s rights. Apart from this, there were many women actively participating in all public aspects of society. So a latent understanding was formed which found feminism to be no longer necessary with its active vigor. However, the fourth wave revealed a deeper hidden layer of double standards and misogyny against women still very much alive in society, thus bringing attention to the fact that feminism is still relevant and very much required for the well being of women in the private and public sphere. 
  • Femicide: This term was used for the first time by feminists in Latin America and Canada. It referred to the murder of women by men, especially of marginalized women. They saw this as an expression of male rage stemming from patriarchal aggression.
  • Women in Muslim World: In this wave, feminist activities taking place in Muslim countries also got widespread public attention thanks to the expansion of social media and internet connectivity. In 2012, Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old girl, was shot in the head for writing an article against the Taliban. She was fighting for the cause of women’s education. In 2018, women in Saudi Arabia got the right to drive. All these events were celebrated as a triumph of feminism in the Muslim world.
  • Extensive and Intensive usage of Social Networking platforms: During this time, Feminist discourse came out of academic circles to the masses. For example, this wave witnessed a boom in the number of many feminist blogs, YouTube podcasts, Twitter posts etc.
  • Cyberattacks against women: As this wave was intensely intertwined with social media platforms, it also raised voices against issues like trolling, sexual lewd messaging/comments, especially on posts by women, Doxxing, Revenge porn, rape and death threats faced by women on these platforms. 

Key Figures and Their Contributions

  • Jessica Valenti and Vanessa Valenti: In 2004, they created a website “Feministing”. Through this blog they aimed to connect with feminists from diverse social settings. With time, a lot more feminist blogs, like Everyday Feminism, Rewire, News, Bitch Media, The Ladies Finger, The Women Takeover etc., came up. These blogs are dedicated to making feminist literature accessible to the common masses and analysis of current events and the obstacles hindering the dream of gender equality. Such platforms thrive on being interactive rather than being top-to-bottom. Here readers are encouraged to share their feedback and views, thus creating a safe space for discussion. These blogs have played a crucial part in bringing feminism online. 
  • Hollback: It was started in 2005 in New York City. This provided a platform for women where they could publicly expose their harassers by uploading their stories and evidence.
  • Emergence of Body Positivity Trend: The unrealistic and unattainable body images were criticized for putting undue pressure on women to cater to the male gaze to survive in the world. First, feminists criticized the notion of the perfect body. They bring attention to the fact that the very idea of a perfect body has changed over time. At one point in time, fuller bodies were considered feminine and desirable. For example, statues of the goddess Aphrodite and Indian goddesses were made with fuller bodies in ancient societies. However, with time, slim and fair bodies became the norm, and fat, cellulite, and body hair on women’s bodies were portrayed as unnatural. This had also led to many food disorders in girls that were related to this image of a perfect body. Anorexia, Boolimia, etc. These campaigns definitely brought about a change in the idea of Body Positivity. For example, clothing brands today have plus-size models. Cosmetic companies have started making makeup products for all skin types.
  • Hashtag Activism: This wave also saw a rise in hashtag activism, i.e., people were excessively using hashtags to voice their opinions. Almost every day on Twitter, we can see trending pages where the #’ of the days is given along with the number of users using them. For example, the #Metoo movement, #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, etc. are a few among many such instances. The impact generated by the #MeToo movement also percolated into the real world, resulting in the formation of Time’s Up. It is a non-profit organization formed to raise funds for victims of sexual harassment.
  • Carol Leigh: She is credited with using the term “sex work” with positive connotations in the 1970s. She propounded this as a positive form of labor associated with economic stability.
  • Laurie Penny: coined the term ‘Pink Tax’. She highlighted how capitalism had turned women and their bodies into commodities through the reinforcement of gender stereotypes, whereby women-specific products such as sanitary napkins, women’s accessories, cosmetic surgeries, etc. are more expensive.

Achievements of Fourth wave Feminism

  • ICTs and their utilization have definitely aided in making feminism a powerful force by helping to mobilize women from different backgrounds (from a teenage girl to celebrities) across the world to stand up for themselves.
  • The notion that society no longer needed feminism was slowly becoming acceptable. However, fourth-wave feminism, with its focus on personal narratives, brought out the inherent misogyny intrinsic to society, thus proving the relevance of feminism to contemporary society.
  • Opened up new strategies for practicing feminist activism via social media platforms.
  • Brought feminism out of academia in a big way to connect with the masses.

Limitations of Fourth wave Feminism

  • Increased presence of women on social media platforms on the one hand gave them voice but on the other hand made them vulnerable victims of Cyberattacks like trolling, doxxing, revenge porn, rape, death threats, and leaking nudes.
  • The digital divide continued to hinder feminism from reaching women who needed it the most. For example, a teenage girl is forced to marry before she turns 18 years of age because of the cultural traditions of the place where she lives. She is the girl who needs the empowerment promised by feminism the most. But net-feminism can’t reach her, nor can she reach feminism due to the digital divide.
  • The misrepresentation of feminism is rampant. There is a lot of misinformation and misrepresentation of feminist theories and concepts that present feminists as man-haters.

READ: Four Waves of Feminism – Summary

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Aastha, an engineering graduate turned Sociology student, is a passionate practitioner of self-reflexivity and the Sociological Imagination. Delving deep into sociological theories, she finds joy in experiencing her own 'Eureka' moments when understanding them. Fascinated by Sociology's power to connect her to social reality and ignite her curiosity, Aastha embraces it as a source of inspiration for her writing. As she embarks on her journey as a writer, she eagerly looks forward to sharing her profound insights about Sociology and gaining valuable perspectives from other individuals.