The Birth of a New Wave of Feminism

The election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States ushered in a new era of feminism, described by some as the Fourth Wave. Rather than basking in the milestone of the first female president, women found themselves having to resist the racist and misogynistic attitudes and policies of her opponent. Women realized they could no longer take the advances of previous generations for granted, as the new Trump Administration threatened to roll back rights on everything from reproductive health care to gay  marriage.  

This Fourth Wave of feminism is exemplified by two defining moments — the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement.

The Women’s March

On the night of Donald Trump’s election, two women in different parts of the country—retired attorney Teresa Shook in Hawaii and fashion entrepreneur Bob Bland in New York City—independently concluded that the best response to the election was for women to march on Washington, D.C. in resistance. Their Facebook postings attracted thousands of interested women in just a few days, and soon a movement was born

They recruited three experienced organizers to co-chair the march, and build a massive network of activists and community organizers around the country. Through this elaborate web of collaborators, the Women’s March Leadership created a movement of nearly five million people from Washington, D.C. to Seoul in the single largest protest in world history on January 21, 2017.Women's March January 2017

The organizers of the Women’s March built an encompassing movement that recognizes how women’s intersecting identities are impacted by a multitude of social justice and human rights issues. They created a “Guiding Vision and Statement of Principles” that envisions a representative government based on human rights notions of liberty and justice for all.” In this movement, women of all races, ethnicities, gender identities and orientations, religions, immigration status, and levels of ability must be represented. 

We believe Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice. We must create a society in which all women—including Black women, Indigenous women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Jewish women, Muslim women, Latinx women, Asian and Pacific Islander women, lesbian, bi, queer and trans women—are free and able to care for and nurture themselves and their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.

The Women’s March was not just a single act of resistance at a particularly low point in women’s history. It remains a vibrant, ongoing force for social justice.

The #MeToo Movement

Women’s frustration with the blatant misogyny of the Trump campaign also erupted in a social media explosion of stories about rampant sexual harassment in the workplace. Beginning with high-profile accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, thousands of women began sharing their stories under the hashtag #MeToo. The accused included actors directors, celebrity chefs, musicians, news anchors, journalists, politicians, and business executives. Dozens of the country’s most powerful men have lost their jobs or resigned from political office as a result of the scandal. 

#MeTooOn January 1, 2018, three hundred prominent women in the entertainment industry teamed up to launch Time’s Up, an ambitious initiative to fight systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond. The women started a legal defense fund with $13 million in donations to support less privileged workers to challenge sexual misconduct at farms, factories, restaurants, and hotels. 

Like the Women’s March, the Time’s Up initiative is volunteer-run and has decentralized leadership made up of working groups that represent a diverse range of women. 


Lessons from the Fourth Wave

The Women’s March and #MeToo movements shared a commitment to intersectionality and representation. They consciously chose their leaders to be representative of the people they were trying to lead, and to give voice to women who have been traditionally missing from the table. They decentralized leadership in the form of small working groups or huddles, so that more people could take leadership roles. They recognized and integrated the intersecting identities, social justice, and civil rights issues of their constituents. Finally, they shifted the emphasis from process and policies to producing results.

The Fourth Wave promotes four pillars of change to the current paradigm:

  1. Developing a conscious leadership model that counters deeply entrenched narratives of unconscious bias;
  2. Developing strategies to make government and private employers more representative of the people they serve;
  3. Developing new frameworks for valuing people’s intersecting identities; and
  4. Developing decentralized leadership models that provide pipelines to the top level of government and business.

The Limitations of Formal Equality

The first waves of feminism focused on getting laws passed to provide for structural equality for women. This resulted in many real and significant advances: prohibitions on discrimination in employment and other arenas, equal pay for equal work, and protections from sexual harassment and domestic violence. However, we now know that access and formal equality are not enough to dismantle the deep structural and cultural barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace and the political arena. 

Laws alone cannot change the perception that women who take advantage of flexible hours are less dedicated to their work and less worthy of promotion They cannot prevent bullying and sexual harassment by more powerful male supervisors and colleagues in a hierarchical workplace. The cannot undo the reality that many judges have been shaped by the perception that victims of sexual assault may have “asked for it” and it should not ruin the life of a boy “from a good family.”

Representation in boardroom meetingBeyond Diversity and Inclusion to Representation

Diversity and inclusion are well-intentioned policies that emerged from formal equality and are subject to the same limitations. There is one simple reason that diversity and inclusion have not reached their stated goals: power in most arenas is concentrated at the top, and the top continues to be dominated almost exclusively by white males. They control the pay, promotion, perks, and narrative. They protect one another from claims of harassment and turn a blind eye to unequal treatment of women and minorities.

Diversity and inclusion have been described by some experts as a two-step process.

Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.

The problem with “diversity” is that it perpetuates the reality that white males are the standard, and they hold all the power. The rest of us are “diverse” and need to do our best to fit in. “inclusion” is a step in the right direction, but all too often, being “asked to the dance” also involves being asked to participate in unwanted sexual behavior.

Women no longer want to be invited to the party. They don’t want to be asked to dance. Women are ready for a new approach that gives them a seat at the table where the party is being planned.

This new approach is best described as “representation. The difference between representation and diversity is the difference between invitation and entitlement. In diversity initiatives, women and people of color are invited to the table, whereas in a representative democracy, they would be entitled to be there as representatives of the communities they serve.