The feminist movement is sometimes criticised as too middle class or too individualistic in orientation. None of these criticisms is fair. Feminist organising has important lessons for the left, showing how resistance to structural, cultural and economic gendered inequalities can be constructed in new and creative ways.
For those interested and/or active in the feminist movement, these are exciting but challenging times. Austerity often hits economically vulnerable women and women of colour the hardest, whilst violence against women and girls continues to be a seemingly permanent feature of our society. To those who equate feminist politics with the feminism espoused by wealthy successful business-women--such as Sheryl Sandberg--it may not be obvious that feminism offers much of a resistance to the current capitalist patriarchy. (1) Moreover, since 2013 we have seen a surge in prominent celebrities publicly identifying as feminist, giving rise to the phenomenon of 'celebrity feminism'--criticised for lacking depth and political awareness. (2) However, research I have undertaken with feminist activist groups in the US and UK since 2010, shows that feminist protest provides resistance to structural, cultural and economic gendered inequalities. Feminist activism is creative, diverse and committed to the wider social justice project. Evaluating feminist protest reveals resistance to three main forms of oppression: neoliberalism; state control of women's bodies; and violence against women. I argue that the analysis and strategies of feminist protesters shows a movement committed to resistance.
Resistance to neoliberalism
Neoliberalism refers not just to a set of discrete economic policies, advocating market-based solutions to political problems, but also to the promotion of social and cultural ideas about the value of individual effort, the worth of human capital, and the benefits of competition--all underpinned by a lack of social security. (3) For feminists, indeed for any movement that relies upon, at least at some basic level, a sense of solidarity, it can be difficult to break through pervasive individualist rhetoric to draw attention to collective issues; not least when the idea of President Clinton or Prime Minister May is presented as a 'feminist revolution' (4). There are some fears on the left that the goals and language of feminism have been so co-opted by corporate interests as to render feminism invisible. (5) For instance, large corporations (e.g. Nike) who run campaigns to improve girls' lives in the two-thirds world have sought to spread the neoliberal agenda by turning girls into 'entrepreneurial citizens', and at the same time bolstering neo-colonial approaches to development. (6) Meanwhile, the watering down and hollowing out of feminist terms, such as 'empowerment', have impacted upon the very language that feminists can use to critique patriarchal...