Last week, after having just floated out of the UVic Ideafest event “Is Feminism Finished?” mock debate, I decided to bat away the ensuing cloud of confusion with some writing (and hopefully logic).
I was surprised to find out the leader of the ‘yes’ side (as in, yes, feminism is finished) was a professor from the Women’s (now Gender) Studies department. I was also surprised to see the remaining panelists were from the History, English and French departments: a 50/50 split of men and women. I know better than to think feminists only come from a women’s studies department, but I expected I’d be in for some facilitated mansplaining or outdated history or literature references. I was so wrong. The attendees got exactly what was advertised, but probably not what they expected.
For the sake of time, I will summarize, but really, you should have been there . . .
The yes side defended the meaning of “finished” ie. to be reaching the limit or boundaries of, to argue that in that sense, feminism is finished. The singular movement has outgrown its need, though there is lots of work to do to establish social, political and economic equality within our society, but also believing in a call for a more extensive and inclusive social justice banner. At the risk of putting words in their mouths, the yes party pointed out that the level of intersectionality, anti-racism, anti-neocolonialism, anti-ableism, non-classism, and gender demolishing that is needed and called for now cannot properly fit under the singular feminist label. Nor can the emerging multiple strands of feminism collectively and effectively address the growing needs of the movement. In that sense, feminism is finished. Not dead, not unimportant, not unnecessary, just finished. It has reached its limit.
The ‘no’ representatives appealed to the overwhelming injustices and horrors that women and others still face around the world today. Women need their distinctive needs and rights recognized and fought for, without being diffused under a non-specific name — especially given that a strict gender binary still exists with very real consequences around the world. It is not a fair, happy, safe world for girls and women. It’s clear that the work is not done.
The real debate, then, is which work? Whose work? Can feminism meet the needs of all those who call on it? Can it confront biology, gender, sex, race, class, ability, ethnicity, age, wage, violence, unpaid labour, and all the intersecting points in the spaces between? Can the existing movement ever progress to successfully encompass all of those needs? And if it does, can it still appropriately be called feminism?
One thing is clear after leaving the debate: the question is not “do we need feminism,” but rather, “where do we go from here?” It has reached its capacity, in its current form, to serve all of those who need it. No more groups or individuals can slip through the cracks before we honestly and humbly question the patchwork structure we’re working with. I am so grateful for everything feminism has brought about; I benefit from it every day. But with all due respect for the past and ongoing work, and while sadly admitting there is still SO far to go, I have to agree with the yes team. Feminism is finished.