Clarifying Feminism Through the Words of Second-Wave Artists

Posted by: Claire Komacek

If ‘1970s feminist artists were no longer clear about the nature of female identity,’1 it is understandable why today’s young women artists might still feel this confusion. With the rampant increase of mass media, millennials are essentially the first generation to grow up in an era this saturated with easily-accessible visual imagery, or, societally constructed imagery of females. As mass media is the main source of information and influence on millennials, they may be receiving an overload of mixed messages in regards to what a woman is expected to be. So how can a woman today be expected to know ‘what the female self is’2 when she is constantly bombarded with images and messages portraying what society thinks a female self should be? It might be fair to say that because millennials have grown up completely immersed in this image-rich world, they have accepted and adapted to this particular ideology as the truth.

Because of all this, you can’t blame millennials for refusing to affiliate with the term ‘feminist.’ They grew up and live in a highly superficial world that emphasizes your image and how you are perceived, now so more than ever with the strong influence of social media. Perhaps millennials are too hung up on the prefix of the actual word ‘feminism’ to move past it and see the ideas behind it. The results of a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll that states that while ‘only 20 percent of Americans consider themselves feminists, 82 percent believe that men and women should be social, political, and economic equals’3 goes to show that most Americans either do not understand the definition of feminism, or are too concerned with the opinions and judgments of others.

‘Feminism, even though it starts with f-e-m, does not mean female only. Feminism is a set of principles, and a way of looking at the world that is rooted in a re-definition of power – from power over other to empowerment.’4 For today, feminism is best defined as a ‘consciousness-raising’5 of the personal experiences of all people not determinate of the marginal ‘categories’ society places them in. White, Western, heterosexual ‘men are the norm’6 to which all others in the margins ‘provide background music.’7 As Miriam Schapiro said of the movement, ‘Since we women are well schooled in the way men think, the task before us is to educate men to see the female within themselves so they can finally identify with us.’ It is this feminist education of men … that will facilitate the changes that are needed – in relationships between men and women, and in the struggle between the powerful and the powerless.’8 In her TEDx talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists,’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives a great example of how feminism goes beyond the f-e-m by emphasizing Schapiro’s quote of allowing ‘men to see the female within themselves’9:

‘I would like to ask today that we begin to dream about and plan for … a fairer world … of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. … We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently. We do a great disservice to boys on how we raise them; we stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way … We teach boys to be afraid of fear … of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves.’10

Additionally this case can be made for all ‘others’ in the margins; education of the experiences of all people leads to greater understanding and acceptance; this is true equality. Possibly once we begin to do this, we will see that we most likely have more in common than we do in differences. A Huffington Post article regarding this very same subject emphasizes the importance of the education of all human experience, ‘For women who have more than just gender to think about – women of colour, transgender women, sex workers, and the like – the issues of traditional feminism may seem too limited. And because it is more complicated to discuss feminism with someone who does not share your experiences, people begin to shift away from one another. ‘11

On a final note, as the actual word feminism immediately brings up the issue of gender, perhaps millennials are also unwilling to define as feminist due to the increasing social awareness of third gender or transgender individuals, feeling that to define as such would be to sustain the gender binary. They might believe that the word ‘feminism’ advocates only for the rights of women and is therefore excluding. Perhaps the most appropriate term here is ‘equality’ – to treat everyone as the person they are, free from their gender, sexual identity, race, religion, etc. After all, ‘patriarchal oppression is not connected entirely to gender’12 but is a ‘system of values that a few benefit from.’13 While ‘all human experience in its diversity is valid, we have been raised to believe, implicitly or explicitly, that some human experiences are more important than others. Challenging that assumption is at the root of feminism.’14

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1. Broude, Norma and Mary D. Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: 1994, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 22.
2. Broude and Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art, 21.
3. Emily Swanson, Poll: ‘Few Identify As Feminists, But Most Believe In Equality Of Sexes,’ Huffington Post, published April 16th, 2013, accessed June 11th, 2015,
4. Broude and Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art, 72.
5. Broude and Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art, 21.
6. Broude and Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art, 82.
7. Broude and Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art, 82.
8. Broude and Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art, 83.
9. Broude and Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art, 83.
10. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘We Should All Be Feminists,’ YouTube video, 30:15, published April 12th, 2013, accessed June 11th, 2015,
11. Murphy, Devon, ‘Feminist Movement’s Future In Question After The Third Wave,’ Huffington Post, published June 24th, 2015, accessed June 11th, 2015,
12. Broude and Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art, 72.
13. Broude and Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art, 72.
14. Broude and Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art, 71.

1. Miriam Schapiro. Big OX No. 2. 1968. The Power of Feminist Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 1994. P76.
2. Marina Abramovic and Ulay. Relation in Time. 1977. Art and Feminism. London: Phaidon, 2012. P127.

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