Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and the Potential Rise of Third Wave Feminism

Back in September, I wrote about the parallels between the first and second waves of feminism, and why the third wave is only in its early stages, if it exists at all - we may still be in a complacent or even regressive era. That was before Occupy Wall Street really got going, and I've been watching the movement ever since. I can begin to say with some confidence that Occupy Wall Street may be the catalyst Third Wave Feminism really needs.

For one thing, OWS isn't just about economic reform, its basic message is one of equality. However, as the movement slowly progresses and we're seeing more and more incidents of sexism within the camps, the women of Occupy Wall Street are once again realizing that they haven't fully reached equality with men. Just like in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960's, women who are occupying their cities' financial districts are seeing sexism within the movement. For one thing, stories of rape and sexual assault in the Occupy camps keep surfacing, and the rapes sometimes go unreported as protesters would rather keep that problem quiet than bring more negative attention to the movement. The problem has gotten so bad that we're seeing women-only tents being constructed, so women have a safe space. It's not as though this is the only movement experiencing internal rapes - my first sexual assault was committed by a fellow protester, at a post-protest shindig.

There's also the infamous Hot Chicks of Wall Street website, brazenly sexualizing women in the movement, often against their will, and reducing the value of female participants to how attractive they are. This is hardly anything new. The pro-marijuana movement has its Girls of Ganja website, and Anonymous has a blog dedicated to showcasing naked "femanons" in Guy Fawkes masks. I'll even admit to wearing sexy outfits to anti-Scientology protests. PETA almost goes without saying, using naked or scantily clad women's bodies to draw attention to their cause and push their agenda. When we think of the Tea Party, we often think of the attractive female politicians who represent it. Over the summer, I realized that "hippie chicks" are still being sexualized, assumed to be openly sexual beings just because of their involvement with the decades-old subculture.

While the inequality women face within the Occupy movement is nothing new, it's magnetized due to the size of the movement and the amount of attention it's receiving. This could mean trouble for the Occupy movement; it seems as though the rapes taking place within the camps are only being taken seriously and being reported without much victim blaming in an attempt to make the movement look bad, and "otherize" the people in the camps, rather than acknowledge that rape and sexual assault are happening everywhere else outside the camps in relatively similar numbers. The attention being given to the misogyny within OWS and its camps around the world is a wake-up call to those who think that we, especially left-wing society, are post-feminist and egalitarian. Yet, if OWS is a catalyst for Third Wave Feminism, the surge in feminism will come from the camps themselves, as these women realize that they need to fight for their own equality if they want to be taken seriously as Occupy protesters.

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