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The dA-Zed guide to feminist activism

From Pussy Riot to Tumblr and vagina art: our 26-letter guide to 21st century female protest

To celebrate our Girls Rule issue, Dazed have been running a series of takeovers. We've played host to Angel HazeStacy Martin and Petra Collins. Today we're rounding off Girls Rule with a day of content curated by female protest group FEMEN. Inna Shevchenko selects the activist group's literary inspirations, we chart the dA-Zed of female protest and FEMEN react to the violence in Kiev with their own manifesto for change. Keep checking our Femen Day page for more throughout the day.


By now we’ve all figured out how much we’re being advertised to but before we were so keen to it, Jean Kilbourne pioneered the study of gender representation in advertising in the late 60s. We have Kilbourne’s scholarship and activism to thank for launching the movement to critically analyze media texts and their links to violence against women, eating disorders, and other gendered public health issues. Her films that served to critique advertising’s image of women, Killing Us Softly (1979) and Still Killing Us Softly (1987), informed all further critique and activism in the field.


Feminist author and activist Naomi Wolf is best known for her book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. A bastion of third-wave feminism and radical for its time in the 90’s – when the idea of the woman in the power suit who could “have it all” was taking hold at the same time as plastic surgery and pornography – Wolf examined the affects and contradictions of the ideology of feminine beauty as “the last one remaining of the old feminine ideologies that still has the power to control those women whose second-wave feminism would have otherwise made relatively uncontrollable.”


Within the different camps of the feminist movement "calling out" has become a highly contestable issue. In an ideal world the only "camps" we would be setting up would be cool Girl Scout-style slumber parties where we braid each other’s hair and sing Beyoncé songs around the campfire BUT this isn’t an ideal world; this is the internet. Call out culture, in its simplest form, refers to calling out people when they do "problematic shit".

Problematic Shit includes, but is not limited to: appropriation, unchecked privilege, and that time when Miley Cyrus twerked. Generally, the idea behind this is that feminism sometimes fails in a big way when it comes to defending women of color “in favor of a brand of solidarity that centers on the safety and comfort of white women” (see: W is for White Privilege). Call out culture brings attention to the less comfortable, kumbaya-y side of feminism and with the rapid proliferation of mob-style attacks – made possible through twitter and the media cycle – there has been recent critique on the validity and productivity of calling out (and yes, that critique has been, in turn, called out). Some call it an outrage cycle, others call it critical to broadening the discourse of mainstream feminism.


Ladies, it is probably of your benefit to get to know Betty Dodson: author, artist, and sex activist. A pioneer in the movement for women’s sexual liberation she published her first book, Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving, in 1987. The book, as you can guess, was an exaltation of masturbation, complete with informative illustrations and charts. She held workshops to help teach women how to feel comfortable and amazing in their own bodies and still maintains an advice website [NSFW] that features videos such as, “Is Female Ejaculation An Orgasm?” 


Ecofeminism is the umbrella term for a philosophy that links feminism with the environment and holds the view that ecological destruction ideologically derives from patriarchy. Indian environmental activist and scholar, Vandana Shiva argues in her book, Staying Alive, that the domination of nature under capitalism is intimately linked to the domination of women. She states that, “globalization as a project of capitalist patriarchy has accelerated and deepened the violence against women. Globalization robs women of their productivity and creativity. Food and water, which have been provided through women’s work and knowledge, are now being made into corporate commodities. And as women are displaced from productive roles in society, they are rendered disposable.” In this, the feminist fight for rural women in India is less in the traditional sense of feminism, which is normally viewed as a push for social change. The feminist fight for rural women in India derives from a preservationist ethic in which the invisible labor of women in the subsistence economy is preserved in the face of corporate globalization.


Betty Friedan is credited with leading the way for second-wave feminists and changing the game with her book The Feminine Mystique. She founded and was the first president of NOW (National Organization for Women) and also helped to establish the National Women’s Political Caucus


The riot grrrl movement is ostensibly the most recognized feminist counterculture movement. Punk, zines, and Kathleen Hanna brought together a loose network of young feminists that were pretty damn rad.


We’re hopefully far from the days when the Pat Robinson’s of the world said, “Feminists encourage women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, become lesbians, and destroy capitalism.” However, there’s still a lot of people who are confused about feminist activism and what its trying to accomplish. There are people that say: Why do feminists hate men? Why are feminists always trying to ruin the TV shows and songs that I like? There are apparently also people who think Men’s Rights is a thing we all need to be concerned about. Well, these people are simply “haters” and really all I have to say to them is, BYE.


The new feminist buzzword is intersectionality. Intersectionality is the way in which oppressive institutions (racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, etc.) are interconnected struggles. Intersectionality is, for example, realizing that you probably shouldn’t hold a feminist retreat on a former slave plantation, Ani DiFranco. Let’s all say it together: intersectionality. Now, let’s all stop saying it and actually do and write feminist things with intersectionality in mind.


Okay, I admit that I still check Jezebel from time to time, giving them all their greedy pageviews, but when it comes to activism they’re really doing it all wrong. Calling out Vogue for photoshopping Lena Dunham and offering $10,000 for the unretouched photos was nothing more than a publicity stunt. 


At the suggestion of Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press as she realized that women of color were often excluded from the literary cannon. Kitchen Table became the world’s first publishing company run by women of color. As a black feminist and scholar, Smith centered the press around critical works focused on relaying the lived experience of women of color and queer women. Along with the press, Smith founded the Cohambee River Collective which defined black feminist issues as “struggles in which race, sex, and class are simultaneous factors in oppression.” 


The act of archiving is so important, as it denotes what will remain and be remembered throughout history. The Feminist Library in London houses feminist literature of the Women’s Liberation Movement dating back to the 1960s. Originally a space for women to organize politically and network, today it exists as an archive for feminist texts as well as a space for lectures and feminist events. If you can’t get out to London to check out a book, Wikipedia might now have the info you’re looking for thanks to their new feminist makeover.  


Every organization who set out to overthrow the patriarchy had one, so if you’re looking to get into that racket you should try your hand at writing up a snappy manifesto. Most manifestos are uplifting and aim to inspire and some, like Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto, are a little frightening.


Forever incomprehensible to me is the fact that women still have to fight for the right of sexual consent and ending rape-culture. Along with many others, the DC-based activist group, FORCE, is fighting the good fight. 


Modeled after the Underground Railroad, the Overground Railroad was a network of Quaker women based in the Philadelphia suburb of Skippack that sought to help support women seeking an abortion or reproductive care where it is restricted in their state. They provided transportation, housing and meals to any woman that needed to travel to a another city or state to receive safe and legal reproductive care. A great example of grassroots feminist activism in action.  


For those of you who have just woken up from a coma, Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist protest group who fight oppression with punk music and guerrilla performances. Yeah, they’re awesome. In 2012 they were sentenced to jail for being awesome by the extremely non-awesome Vladimir Putin, and after a huge international to-do, they are now free to resume awesomeness. 


Though the myth that all feminists are lesbians has long been debunked, some of us are lesbians! And some of us are transgendered, non-binary, asexual, femme, butch, and/or queer. Remember when Pussy Riot was in jail and EVERYONE was talking about it? Well, also remember when Cece McDonald, a transwoman of color, was in prison for trying to defend her life – a men’s prison – and barely anyone was talking about it? Yeah. We probably have to work on that. 


Feminist activists have been struggling since the beginning of time to gain control over their reproductive rights. For some women, their reality is that they don’t have safe access to birth control or clinics or even the means to get to one. Reproductive rights are rights – you know, those little things that we reallyshouldn’t have to debate over. 


It’s easy to think of feminism just in terms of Western countries and concerns but feminist activism reaches beyond that. Some of it sounds fringe and a little bizarre – just this month in Tokyo, a group of Japanese women went on “sex strike” against men who voted for Yoichi Masuzoe for Tokyo governor because he once said that “menstruation made women unfit for government” – but mostly, global activism is crucial and necessary in often hostile political climates. In the case of Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace – a peace movement started by activist Leymah Gbowee that ended a decades long civil war and lead to the election of the country’s first female president – using non-violent protest tactics, including a sex strike.


Tumblr feminists get a lot of flack but historically, anything that serves as a platform for young girls to freely express themselves and share their ideas with like-minded ladies has been victim to attempts to marginalize and invalidate it. Tumblr is awesome, get over it. Riot grrrl inspired blogs like, Girls Get Busy, signal-boost feminist and queer projects, art, and calls to action. And if you’re looking to brush up on your feminist theory before you dive into writing your manifesto, you can check out the Tumblr Fuck Yeah Feminist Art & Literature for inspiration. Tumblr also provides you with basically everything you need to start your own online feminist collective.


In the 1400s, Christine de Pisan was writing what we would now consider feminist texts. Around this time in Europe, ideas behind feminism and what in the hell was a feminist were just starting to be planted. Pisanpenned The Book of the City of Ladies in 1405, which chronicled bad-ass women rulers in France and built an argument for women as active participants in society. In fact, in The Book of the City of Ladies women were the only members of society, as she envisioned a man-free feminist utopia. Though this isn’t what most feminists advocate for, if any at all, a girl can dream.


The history of feminist activists and performance artists making art with and from their vagina dates back to the turn of the 20th century. Going from object and muse as the classical nude figure to artist and disrupter, women reclaimed their bodies in their art. From Valie Export, an action artist in 60’s (Tap and Touch Cinema and Genital Panic) and Carolee Schneemann in the 70’s with her interior scroll, to the present day Casey Jenkins, who recently made headlines for vaginal knitting. And the ultimate theatrical ode to the vagina: Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues.


In 1993, Ms. Magazine asked feminist heavy-hitters Urvashi Vaid, Naomi Wolf, Gloria Steinem, and bell hooks to discuss “feminism: the backlash, the myths, the movement.” bell hooks asserted the racialized aspects of the current mainstream feminist movement. She stated, “I hear [women of color] saying, ‘I cannot go to feminist things because of the racism of white women and because these movements don’t meet my needs.” The Nation’s recent article stirred up the debate on the role of white privilege within the current wave of feminism and call out culture. With hashtags like #solidarityisforwhitewomen, started by Mikki Kendall – which calls into question the often exclusionary discourse of mainstream feminism when it comes to issues that effect WOC – bell hook’s statement is unfortunately still as relevant to the movement (and largely unaddressed) as it was in 1993, despite the fact that identity politics are little more fluid than strictly black and white.


For these girls at Columbia University, feminist activism means getting real weird in a library to challenge the male fantasy of sorority girls. It’s a little trite and a lot privileged, but isn’t everything in college? 


The riot grrrls of the 90s inspired a more diverse group of fourth-wave feminists like Tavi Gevinson and the girls at Rookie Magazine to empower young girls with a radical DIY aesthetic.


Obviously. Magazines like Bust and Bitch started their run as zines before becoming the publications that they are today. Fourth-wave feminists have fully embraced the zine aesthetic and DIY feminist mags are back in a big way