When Beyoncé stood silhouetted with the word “feminist” towering behind her in bold, white letters at the MTV Video Music Awards last summer, many were quick to proclaim: feminism is cool again.
Queen Bey wasn’t the only famous name to declare feminist allegiance. From Taylor Swift to Benedict Cumberbatch to Aziz Ansari, entertainment darlings are coming out of the feminist closet, so to speak, in droves. Combined with a loud, ongoing conversation about sexual assault, about rape culture, about the famous men who get away with hurting women, about women in video games, about #YesAllWomen, about abortion access in Canada, about the safety of transgender women, about Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel win — women have defined the zeitgeist of 2014.
It’s a curious proclamation to say the rights and well-being of half the population is having a “moment,” but here we are.
But here’s the rub: much of the mainstream conversation about women’s rights still circles around the inane questions of whether feminism is relevant, whether women are oppressed and whether the so-called f-word can overcome its alleged man-hating connotations. Even a segment on CBC’s The National last October asked (after obligatory images of birth control pill popping and singing 1960s protesters) centered on whether feminism is “a dirty word.”
Meanwhile, those interested in actually improving the lives of women are ready to move on.
The sort of feminism most talked about, most picked apart in the evening news, is one that was largely defined by a certain type of women: white, middle-class, straight, able-bodied and with enough clout to have her voice heard above the detractors. The voices of women of colour, transgender women, queer women, disabled women, indigenous women, poor women have been largely left out — but that’s changing.
One of the places where that change has been swift is on social media, where without the constraints of traditional platforms, diverse voices can connect. It’s where you’ll find tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar, former Toronto mayoral candidate Morgan Baskin, writer Septembre Anderson, consultant Steph Guthrie, trans advocate Sophia Banks and Shameless magazine editor Sheila Sampath.
Postmedia spoke with these six women about what feminism means in 2014 and how it’s far more complicated than a simple label.