Fourth-wave feminism

The fourth wave of feminism might be a recent development within the feminist movement. The definition and boundaries of the term are currently much contested. In 2005, Pythia Peay first argued for the existence of a fourth wave of feminism, combining justice with religious spirituality.[1] However, this spiritual component is not present in most other definitions for the term, which tend instead to focus on technological components. Jennifer Baumgardner identifies fourth-wave feminism as starting in 2008 and continuing into the present day.[2] In her view fourth-wave feminism was inspired partly by Take Our Daughters to Work Days, incorporates online resources such as social media, in turn inspired the Doula Project for children's services and inspired after-abortion talk lines, pursuit of reproductive justice, plus-size fashion support, transgenderism support, male feminism, and sex work acceptance; and led to developing media including Feministing, Racialicious, blogs, and Twitter campaigns.[3] Researcher Diana Diamond defines fourth-wave feminism as a movement that "combines politics, psychology, and spirituality in an overarching vision of change." [4] Kira Cochrane, author of All the Rebel Women: The Rise of the Fourth Wave of Feminism,[5] defines fourth-wave feminism as a movement that is connected through technology.[6][7] In a 2009 interview with the New York Times, feminist author and icon Jessica Valenti was asked whether or not she considered herself a third wave feminist. Her response was as follows: "I don’t much like the terminology, because it never seems very accurate to me. I know people who are considered third-wave feminists who are 20 years older than me." After the interviewer's suggestion that perhaps we had moved forward into a fourth wave of feminism, Valenti stated that maybe the fourth wave was online.[8]

Fourth-wave feminism is often associated with online feminism, especially using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and other forms of social media to discuss, uplift, and activate gender equality and social justice.[9] According to NOW Toronto, the internet has created a "call-out" culture, in which sexism or misogyny can be called out and challenged immediately with relative ease.[10] This culture is indicative of the continuing influence of the third wave, with its focus on micro-politics and challenging sexism and misogyny insofar as they appear in everyday rhetoric, advertising, film, television and literature, the media, and so on.[11] This online feminism aspect of the fourth wave has impacted how companies market to women so that they are not "called out" for sexism in their marketing strategies.[12]

Though the fourth wave of feminism often draws comparisons to the third wave of feminism, as with the past waves of feminism and their successors, fourth-wave feminism stands "on the shoulders" of the past wave. The addition of more advanced technology along with broader ideas of equal rights set the newest wave apart from the former.

Besides online feminism, the fourth wave has been associated with the increased focus on intersectionality, including the repudiation of trans-exclusionary radical feminism and a focus on solidarity with other social justice movements.[9]

Another aspect of fourth-wave feminism is the presence of individuals who are uncomfortable with the word feminism, because of "assumptions of a gender binary and exclusionary subtext: 'For women only,'" according to Martha Rampton, director of the Centre for Gender Equality at Pacific University Oregon. "Yet the word is winning the day," she wrote in 2015 [13]

Fourth-wave feminism and media

In 2014, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter released their book The Vagenda. The authors consider themselves fourth-wave feminists. Like their website "The Vagenda", their book aims to flag and debunk the stereotypes of femininity promoted by the mainstream women's press.[14] One reviewer of the book has expressed disappointment with The Vagenda, saying that instead of being the "call to arms for young women" that it purports to be, it reads like a joyless dissertation detailing "everything bad the media has ever done to women."[15]

In November 2015, a group of historians working with Clio Visualizing History launched Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution. This digital history exhibit examines the history of American feminism from the era of World War Two to the present. The exhibit has three major sections: Politics and Social Movements; Body and Health; and Workplace and Family. There are also interactive timelines linking to a vast array of sources documenting the history of American feminism and providing information about current feminist activism.

Fourth-wave feminism and technology

The fourth wave of feminism is often said to have started in 2008,[2] and many social networks were finding their footing not long beforehand. Twitter, a social network that is most popular with the 18-29 age group,[16] was created in 2006, and has made feminism more accessible to the general public. When Wendy Davis staged her 13-hour filibuster to prevent an abortion bill from passing, many women showed their support by rallying around the Texas State Capitol. But for those who couldn't, they were still able to show their solidarity through using the hashtag #StandWithWendy. Similarly, girls of all ages protested the often sexist questions directed at female celebrities by tweeting the hashtag #askhermore.[17] While some may mock this relatively new concept of Twitter activism and call it a cop-out,[18] it can also be seen as a way to get more young girls involved in issues, and a means to give women a voice when they would otherwise be silent. Social media like Twitter allows women to spread awareness of issues much farther than was ever possible in the past.[19] Although neither technology nor feminism are new to the world, the efficient and fervent use of them in unison is a defining factor of the fourth wave.

Fourth-wave feminism and sexuality

In 2014, Betty Dodson, who is also acknowledged as one of the leaders of the early 1980s pro-sex feminist movement, expressed that she considers herself a fourth wave feminist. Dodson expressed that the previous waves of feminist were banal and anti-sexual, which is why she has chosen to look at a new stance of feminism, fourth wave feminism. In 2014, Dodson worked with women to discover their sexual desires through masturbation. Dodson says her work has gained a fresh lease on life with a new audience of young, successful women who have never had an orgasm. This includes fourth-wave feminists - those rejecting the anti-pleasure stance they believe third-wave feminists stand for.[20]

The Fourth Wave Feminist Summit at Yale

Logo of the Fourth Wave Feminist Summit at Yale, 2015

The Fourth Wave Feminist Summit was a conference of feminist organizations from colleges across the Northeast United States including Middlebury, Barnard, Quinnipiac, UPenn, Bates, and Cornell. In this three day conference organized by The Women's Center at Yale University, college representatives shared their strategies on activism and discussed ways to improve solidarity across campus movements. As the keynote speaker, Reina Gosset spoke about activism for trans and gender non-conforming people, prison reform, overlapping systems of oppression and the relationship between personal and political.[21]

Fourth-wave feminism outside the United States

In 2012–2013, in the U.K. and some other nations, according to Kira Cochrane, a fourth wave was active. In an article she wrote, Kira describes that the fourth wave focuses on inequality manifesting in "street harassment, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination[,] ... body-shaming",[22] media images, "online misogyny",[22] "assault[s] on public transport",[22] and intersectionality, relying on social media technology for communication and online petitioning for organizing, and sharing with prior waves a perception that individual experiences are shared and thus can have political solutions.[22] According to Cochrane, organizations and websites included the Everyday Sexism Project and UK Feminista, events included Reclaim the Night, One Billion Rising, and "a Lose the Lads' mags protest",[22] and "many of [the leaders] ... are in their teens and 20s".[22]

The Everyday Sexism Project began as a social media campaign on 16 April 2012 by Laura Bates, a British feminist writer. The aim of the site was to document everyday examples of sexism as reported by contributors around the world.[23] Bates established the Everyday Sexism Project as an open forum where women could post their experiences of harassment. Bates explains the Everyday Sexism Project's goal, "The project was never about solving sexism. It was about getting people to take the first step of just realising there is a problem that needs to be fixed."[24]

The website was such a success that Bates decided to write and publish a book, Everyday Sexism, which further emphasizes the importance of having this type of online forum for women. The book provides unique insight into the vibrant movement of the upcoming fourth wave and the untold stories that women shared through the Everyday Sexism Project.[25]

Criticism of fourth-wave feminism

One criticism of fourth-wave feminism is a perceived dependence on technology. As Ragna Rök Jóns argues in Bluestockings Magazine, "The key problem that this '4th Wave' will face will be the disproportionate access to and ownership of digital media devices." The fourth wave is then left with the "inherent classism and ableism" created by giving the biggest voice to those who can afford and use technology.[26]

It is also argued that, that when people participate in Twitter activism, they don't feel the need to do anything else to help the effort. In an article for, the author argues that after contributing their say, people just "continue on with their day, liking other posts or retweeting." some may think of themselves as activists while never bothering to attend a single rally or extend their message beyond their Twitter fan base.[27] Fourth-wave feminism can therefore get a reputation as being lazy, be it true or not.

Jennifer Simpkins of The Huffington Post argues that fourth-wave feminism has created a hostile, Mean Girls-like atmosphere where women are more likely to tear each other down. "I've actually never once been belittled and attacked by a man for believing in the cause of feminism" she states, "but women are just about lining up to take a whack at the shoddy piñata of my personal tastes and opinions." [28]

After Suzanne Moore wrote an article which featured a "problematic" comment comparing the perfect female body by today's standards to a "Brazilian Transsexual", her friend Julie Birchill claimed Moore was forced off Twitter by a "gaggle of transsexuals".[11]


  1. Peay, Pythia (March–April 2005). "Feminism's fourth wave". Utne Reader (128). pp. 59–60.
  2. 1 2 Baumgardner, Jennifer (2011). "Is there a fourth wave? Does it matter?". Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  3. Baumgardner, Jennifer, F'em!, op. cit., pp. 250–251.
  4. Diamond, Diana (2009). The fourth wave of feminism: psychoanalytic perspectives. pp. 213–223.
  5. Cochrane, Kira (2013). All the rebel women: the rise of the fourth wave of feminism. London: Guardian Books. ISBN 9781783560363. OCLC 915373287.
  6. Baumgardner, Jennifer (2011). F 'em!: Goo Goo, Gaga, and Some Thoughts on Balls. Berkeley CA: Seal Press. p. 250.
  7. Cochrane, Kira (10 December 2013). "The fourth wave of feminism: meet the rebel women". The Guardian.
  8. Solomon, Deborah (13 November 2009). "The Blogger and Author on the Life of Women Online". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  9. 1 2 Martin, Valenti, Courtney E, Vanessa. "#FEMFUTURE: Online revolution" (PDF). BRCW. Barnard Centre for Research on Women (BCRW). Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  10. Zerbisias, Antonia (16 September 2015). "FEMINISM'S FOURTH WAVE IS THE SHITLIST". NOW Toronto. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  11. 1 2 Munro, Ealasaid (September 2013). "Feminism: a fourth wave?". Political Insight. Political Studies Association via Sage. 4 (2): 22–25. doi:10.1111/2041-9066.12021. Pdf via ReadCube. Also available online.
  12. Hamilton, Alex (28 October 2015). "How to package brands for the fourth wave of feminism". Packaging News. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  13. Rampton, Martha (25 October 2015). "Four waves of feminism". Pacific University Oregon. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  15. Sanghani, Radhika. "My generation of feminists is depressing me". Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  16. Brodzky, Brandon (18 November 2014). "Social Media User Statistics & Age Demographics for 2014". LinkedIn Pulse. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  17. Chittal, Nisha (26 March 2015). "How social media is changing the feminist movement". MSNBC. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  18. Guardado, Alex (3 March 2015). "Hashtag Activism: The Benefits and Limitations of #Activism". New University. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  19. Bennett, Jessica (10 September 2014). "Behold the power of #hashtag feminism". Time. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  20. Smith, Lydia. "Betty Dodson and Fourth-Wave Feminism: Masturbation is Key to Longer Life". Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  21. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Cochrane, Kira (10 December 2013). "The fourth wave of feminism: meet the rebel women". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 December 2013. (Cochrane is also the author of All the Rebel Women: The Rise of the Fourth Wave of Feminism (Guardian Shorts Originals series ebook 2013).
  23. Everyday Sexism Project
  24. Aitkenhead, Decca. "Laura Bates interview: 'Two years ago, I didn't know what feminism meant'". Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  25. Bates, Laura. Everyday Sexism. Simon and Schuster.
  26. Jóns, Ragna Rök. "Is the "4th Wave" of Feminism Digital?". bluestockings magazine. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  27. Guardado, Alex (3 March 2015). "New University". Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  28. Simpkins, Jennifer. ""You can't sit with us!" - how fourth-wave feminism became 'mean girls'". The Huffington Post. UK. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
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