What Is Feminism Today?

We have come a long way since the inception of Feminism. The “First Wave” was the suffrage movement which won for women the right to vote in 1920. The “Second Wave” honored us with icons like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem who fought for socio-economic equality for women. Riot Grrrl, the Anita Hill case and Vagina Monologues were all hallmarks of the “Third Wave” and its focus on challenging gender norms and sexual identity. In the last two years, unprecedented activity and recalibration of feminism ushered in what I believe to be the “Fourth Wave.”

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Each year has built on the next in a way that is progressive and yet positive. There are few signs of the backlash we saw in the first three waves, only acceleration. As we approach the 20th anniversary of Beijing’s historic women’s conference in 2015, or the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in 2020 – it is today’s generation of female and male citizens, and the initiatives and companies they represent, that are the key multipliers of women’s global progress. The end of every year is an appropriate time to evaluate progress made and look ahead to the future. Outlined below are the 13 most progressive women’s milestones for women’s advancement with a projected outlook into 2015.

1.“Feminist:” Reclaimed and Reignited
Proudly standing in front of the word with such controversial associations, Beyoncé, the queen of music, proclaimed herself “Feminist” on national television at the MTV VMA Awards, reigniting public interest in feminism. Other A-List celebrities and individuals such as Emma Watson, Taylor Swift, Hillary Clinton, Pharrell and John Legend have also joined the ranks of self-proclaimed feminists, trending a national conversation about the meaning of feminism and its role in society.

2015 Outlook: The future looks feminine-tastic. The continued popularization of feminism will encourage more non-believers to relate to and understand the simple meaning that is: “establishing equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women.”

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2.Tech Industry Owns Up to Gender Gap and Takes Action
In May, Google released its employee data report, revealing major disparities between gender demographics. Google reported having a workforce composed of only 30% women. The tech giant’s report pressured other major technology companies to disclose employee demographic data, with universally similar results. The transparency around the under-representation of women in tech encouraged public accountability; Google invested $50 million in its “Made with Code” program to encourage young girls to engage in computer science and Apple announced an ambitious program to “fast track 3,500 women into the U.S. tech industry by 2016.”

2015 Outlook: This is the first private sector industry that has exhibited bold, transparent acknowledgement and action around their female gap. My hope for 2015 is to see other male-dominated industries such as finance, advertising make similar public commitments.

3. Malala Yousafzai Wins Nobel Peace Prize
Malala Yousafzai became an international symbol for peace after surviving a failed assassination attempt for disobeying the Taliban’s ban on female schooling. In response, Malala Fund was launched, providing a long-overdue voice for girls everywhere who do not have the opportunity to attend school due to gender-prejudice and restrictions. By fighting for equal education at the UN and across the world, Malala brought the international education emergency to the forefront for both policy makers and individuals. For her fearless stand and action, Malala was recognized as the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize this year.

2015 Outlook: Malala’s work will only shine more light on the significance of girls globally. In September, Clinton Global Initiative made a $3 million dollar multi-year commitment to her fund in partnership with Echidna Giving to support girls’ education leaders in developing countries including organizing and funding a summit on the subject before the year’s end.

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4. #BringBackOurGirlsNOW Challenges Educational Crisis and Violence In Schools
On April 15th, 273 girls were kidnapped from their school in Nigeria by well-known terrorist organization, Boka Haram. This sparked an international campaign and hashtag movement #BringBackOurGirlsNOW that demanded the safe return of the students and brought additional attention to the education emergency in many developing countries for girls. The outcry motivated international support for providing every child with an education, regardless of sex and highlighted the vulnerability of girls in the developing world.

2015 Outlook: 2015 will see increase awareness on the vulnerability of girls in developing countries, participation and pressure on government, and more hashtag movements given how widely this one spread.

5. HeForShe Campaign Launches
Upon her inauguration as Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson’s powerful speech on behalf of UN Women’s campaign “HeForShe” called for the mobilization of one half of the planet – men – to help women reach equality; over 100,000 men have since signed up. Her passionate speech resonated throughout the world inspiring a solidarity movement for equality for all individuals. This has been a groundbreaking movement to invite men to stand up as partners with women for their advancement.

2015 Outlook: With this increased focus placed on bringing men into the conversation, 2015 will see integration of male leaders into women’s empowerment events, be it CEO’s implementing policies for gender parity, male startup organization focused on women’s issues or the continued support of male celebrities.

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6. Ray Rice Incident Triggers NFL to Adjust Policies Around Women
The NFL faced unprecedented criticism when the video of Ray Rice’s domestic abuse of his wife went viral. The dispute and its subsequent aftermath led to a national dialogue regarding football, its influence on violence, and the way domestic abuse is perceived in the country. As a result, the NFL hired four new female advisors to help shape the league’s stance on domestic violence.

2015 Outlook: Zero tolerance will be taken more seriously by not only sports leagues but the men who consume them. With the NFL forced to lead the way, other professional sports leagues will review their domestic violence policies as well as addressing their lack of female representation. There are already calls to make adjustments by the NBA, the NHL, and the MLB.

7. Jack Ma Credits Alibaba Success to Women
Jack Ma, Chairman of the largest IPO in history, claimed that women are the key to the success of Alibaba. Women are major consumers of the brand’s products, and comprise 30% of the Alibaba Partnership. With stats like these and the financial success to back it up, corporations cannot deny the power women have as consumers and the positive impact they have in corporate leadership and success.

2015 Outlook: Businesses looking to innovate and increase their profits will further understand the value of diversity in leadership and take more aggressive steps to increase their female leadership.

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8. Corporate Egg Freezing Sparks Conversation Around Women’s Fertility
In an effort to equalize women and men’s position at work, big corporations such as Facebook, Apple and Citibank elected to provide medical coverage for “egg freezing” so that women could have more control around childbearing. The corporate decision aimed at helping women focus on their careers broke the silence behind many women’s tense relationship with fertility and professional success.

2015 Outlook: Just as child-rearing and motherhood have been a pillar of women’s workplace discussions, I see fertility as a rising issue of discussion. We will see hear more stories and conversation about fertility that will open the subject up to be a major consideration for corporations.

9. Empowerment Advertising Reframes How Women are Portrayed in Media
The old adage “sex sells” has long influenced marketing strategy and the way women are depicted in media. The new kid on the block, however, is the emergence of empowerment marketing toward women. While Victoria Secret received heavy backlash for their “Perfect Body” campaign, Cover Girl’s #GirlsCan, Always’ #LikeaGirl, and Under Armour’s #IWillWhatIWant campaigns saw viral success with their empowerment themes, offering us hope that the trend is here to stay. In fact, I am proud to say I was named Gillette Venus’ global spokesperson in their #UseYourAnd campaign. Watch their brand new spot — I’m incredibly proud of it.

2015 Outlook: Empowerment is the future of marketing to women where substance trumps materialism in campaigns. More brands will be forced to understand how they truly can make a difference in the lives of women and define how their values or heritage can align with that.

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10. “It’s on Us” Campaign Mobilizes Everyone to Combat Sexual Assault
From the Department of Education investigating at least 55 colleges and universities for possible Title IX sexual assault violations to stories like that of Emma Sulkowicz, the mattress-carrying Columbia University rape victim and awareness advocate drawing attention this year, campus sexual assault raised the concern of the White House. The Obama administration launched a national campaign, #ItsOnUs, to create action around the too ubiquitous problem of sexual assault and the need for better university policies and responses.

2015 Outlook: With California adopting the first law to clearly define sexual consent and requiring state-funded universities to have policies that more effectively deal with sexual assault cases, more states will likely consider such measures in the coming year. Universities nationwide have already responded to the new federal guidelines to revise their policies on sexual assault.

11. Women Characters Take the Lead in TV
Striking, powerful, and likeable female leads graced television this year. Madame Secretary’s Elizabeth McCord (played by Tea Lioni) sealed diplomatic relations flawlessly; How to Get Away With Murder’s Analise Keating (played by Viola Davis) is a force to be reckoned with both in the courtroom and her personal life, and of course, Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) continued to save our nation from destruction in Scandal. The presence of new popular female roles is a confident nod to skeptics who questioned whether media with female leads earn money.

2015 Outlook: Watch the small screen for even more dynamic heroines next year. Women like Shonda Rhimes and Mindy Kaling will continue their creative winning streaks.

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12. 2014 Celebrated Many Female Firsts
2014 set a precedent for female advancement. For the first time, 100 women occupy seats in Congress (including the first black Republican woman), the NBA hired its first female assistant coach, a young girl pitched for the Little League World Series, Janet Yellen became the first female head of the Federal Reserve, and Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman to win the Fields Medal.

2015 Outlook: These milestones will segue into a 2015 of more shattered glass ceilings and more women adding “first” to their achievements in different sectors.

13. Frozen Modernizes Heroines for Young Girls & Toddlers
After an eleven year history as reigning queen of toys for little girls, Barbie was outsold by Frozen’s Elsa and Anna. Frozen’s depiction of the love between two sisters challenges the typical “fairy tale romance” narrative familiar to girls, but proves even more successful.

2015 Outlook: With this outstanding response to the narrative and merchandise, let’s expect more film producers and toy manufacturers to take heed next year and create more multi-dimensional characters and stories for girls.

About the Author

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Claudia Chan is the Founder of S.H.E. Globl Media Inc., the women’s empowerment media company behind the renowned global women’s conference, S.H.E. Summit. Referred to as "the Richard Branson of Women’s Empowerment” in Fast Company, Claudia's life passion is to unleash female potential to change the world through social entrepreneurship. Her media and education initiatives have reached hundreds of millions of women globally. Find her at ClaudiaChan.com or on Twitter @ClaudiaChan.

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