R.I.P. Women's Movement

Is feminist activism dead -- or has it just changed?

Published March 31, 2009 11:00AM (EDT)

Breaking news: The women's movement died early Monday morning at the ripe old age of 160. It is survived by innumerable offspring (including many estranged descendants who took its existence for granted). Services have not been scheduled, as its loved ones are still in total denial.

That political obituary comes by way of an article published Monday on the American Prospect's Web site. The headline declares that this is officially "The End of the Women's Movement." But before you shed a tear or, in the case of anti-feminists, begin your joyous funeral song -- "Ding-dong, the women's movement is dead!" -- note that the article is penned by none other than Courtney E. Martin, an avowed feminist. In fact, she believes feminism is actually alive and well; it's the movement "as it was known in the 1960s" that is pushing up daises.

At a recent feminist forum, Martin found that many older activists long for the good old days, when they were "marching in the streets ... taking over offices ... riding around the country in vans, falling in love." They have a "hankering for an unapologetic women's movement that they can see, hear, and touch." But Martin has some news for them: "In today's climate of shaky economics, smaller and smaller subcultures, and lightning-speed information, a feminism based on picket lines and in-person consciousness-raising groups is next to impossible." The final nail in the coffin: "There will be no singular feminist agenda. There will be no women's movement."

But, like a bell clanging after a premature burial, Martin announces: "That's not a bad thing"! She explains: "Many of us, myself included, believe that change is created through strategic communication, alliance-building, and a million little grass-roots movements all over the country that fight for justice and may or may not call themselves feminist (I don't actually care much)." Feminist work is still being done, but there is no longer a single political rallying point. We now have the luxury of strongly disagreeing with each other and pursuing pet causes (or, as Martin says, pushing for a culture of courage and creativity, rather than a "unified body"). As a result, we might be less organized, our wins may be less dramatic -- but that's only because the monolithic women's movement has been diffused. That's, more than anything, a sign of its success.

So, put the black formal wear back in your closet. Once again, reports of feminism's death have been greatly exaggerated.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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