Wolf whistles and catcalls aggravate Talia Weisberg, a freshman at Harvard University. Her mother, on the other hand, thinks she should just take them as a compliment.
So which of these women identifies as a feminist?
They both do. Weisberg has simply shed the feminist image and emphases of her mother’s generation. Instead, she, like many of her peers, has found a new focus for her feminist views.
“Changing [societal] structures – that’s just what feminism is about, making the world a better place,” said Weisberg.
“It’s not even feminist issues anymore but basic human rights.”
Long past are the days when one could characterize feminism as focused solely on women’s rights. Though the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s may serve as part of their inspiration, today’s college-aged feminists face far different battles than their mothers did years ago.
Like Weisberg, Patrick Moffat, a junior sociology major at Boston University, recognizes the need for modern feminism to expand beyond its second-wave borders.
“It’s important to recognize not just [gender] equality but the groups that have been underserved historically and continue to be so,” said Moffat, citing the black community and individuals identifying as transgender as examples.
“I think that’s inherent to feminism – you can’t have equality of genders if they are also unequal on different axes.”
Though Moffat, as a male, falls into a minority within the feminist movement, he doesn’t view his position as inherently unequal. In fact, he rejects the notion that feminism encourages “reverse-sexism,” an idea perpetuated by the lingering stereotype of feminists as “man-haters” who favor the exclusion of men.
“That belief that there are such things as reverse-sexism stems from the notion that equality has already been achieved,” said Moffat. “That assumption is false…It neglects where we come from and where we are and neglects the specific needs of women today.”
Diane Balser, a women’s studies professor at Boston University, identifies this as the core challenge to modern feminists.
“People today have an ideology that all that has been challenged and today women can be free,” said Balser.
“What’s evolved is the attitude that sexism no longer exists in the contemporary world. If sexism no longer exists, then feminism, if it ever had a purpose, is done.”
While second-wave feminists fought against a society that either refused to acknowledge the oppression of women or saw nothing wrong with it, their children now face a world that considers the change complete. This dismissal of reality has led many modern-day feminists to adopt the belief that they can only achieve true equality for women when they achieve true equality for all.
Few could put it more simply than Chelsea Lennox, a Boston College senior majoring in psychology. Asked to identify the goal of feminism, she responded with one quick refrain: treat humans as humans.
“There’s a whole intersectionality with the problem of feminism,” said Lennox.
“You’ve got the problem of race, class, ableism, things like that, so you have to just broaden it to people are people.”
While she admits that feminism has been “weirdly exclusive” at times, Lennox views this as one aspect of the movement that should be left in the past.
“If you look at the history of feminism, people are always excluding other people because they didn’t fit with their fight at the time,” said Lennox, “but now it’s to the point where we’re getting over those first obstacles…It’s definitely opening up.”
Just as it was in decades past, no single, standardized form of feminism exists today. Balser has noticed that while “there’s more talk about feminism than there has been in years,” the way students define the term increasingly varies.
Yet, feminists such as Weisberg aren’t worried. No matter how many varieties of feminism emerge in the future, Weisberg remains confident that the movement’s underlying motivation will endure.
“Whatever the different strains of feminism…we might disagree on how the structures should be changed,” she said, “but at the end of the day, we’re all after the same goal, which is to make the world a better place.”