Bra burning aside, today’s women must relight feminist match

The less vocal, third wave of feminism works to ensure U.S. women have access to proper care.

The less vocal, third wave of feminism works to ensure U.S. women have access to proper care.

I gladly flaunt around the F-word – feminism – without washing it down with a mouth full of Dial, but sadly, many women today disassociate from the term. maria zankey

“There’s this funny thing that happened,” said Dr. Judith Levine, an assistant professor of sociology who focuses on gender and its implications in the labor market, family and income distribution. “Feminism took on a negative connotation of angry, strident, male-hating women.”

Rather than swallow the term “feminism” like a nauseating tablespoon of pink Pepto-Bismol, women need to look past the word’s bad reputation and embrace it for what it really means.

But what exactly does it mean? According to Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards’ book “Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future,” feminism is “equality for men and women … and means women have the right to enough information to make informed choices about their lives.”

The first wave of feminists fought major battles for women’s suffrage and economic rights, and those of the second wave worked for unofficial equalities, such as anti-discrimination in the workplace and reproductive rights.

“Even those who want to reject feminism have the right to do so because there were a lot of women and men who did a hell of a lot of work to make that possible,” said Dr. Laura Levitt, director of the women’s studies program.

But just because we can vote and swing by Planned Parenthood for some birth control afterward doesn’t mean women can just kick off their heels and call it a day.

“A lot of college-aged women don’t identify with the feminist label and don’t see themselves in lacking in rights in any way,” Levine said.

When I was 17 years old, I heard eight words from my pediatric endocrinologist many women hope to never hear: “You might not be able to have kids.”

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a reproductive disorder that affects, among other things, the ability for one in 10 women in the United States to get pregnant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While PCOS is treatable, unfortunately, many women aren’t afforded the luxury of being treated for any kind of condition. The National Women’s Law Center reports that 18 percent of women lack access to health care.

But access to reproductive care is just one of many issues for women to claim.

“Women in the workplace still earn 77 percent of what men make in their mid-30s and -40s,” Levine said. “Tremendous inequalities still exist. But the inequalities that remain are more subtle, making them more difficult to eradicate.”

Levine said another reason modern-day feminism isn’t as prominent is because of the quiet, not-so-neon-pink nature of the latest wave.

“The third wave of feminism deals with a lot of women embracing femininity, but with power,” Levine said. “Because of that, the movement is not so clear.”

But whether you’re someone who believes in the third wave or someone who thinks the movement formerly known as “feminism” is dead, it’s important to realize there are still battles to be won, and you don’t have to take a lighter to your Victoria’s Secrets to fight them.

“Who actually knows anyone who’s burned their bras?” Levitt said. “That’s just a media fantasy. The word ‘feminism’ just gets in people’s way. Access to reproductive and prenatal care, access to screenings for breast cancer, ovarian cancer – I think lots of folks who don’t call themselves feminists certainly want to have access to those things.”

Maria Zankey can be reached at


  1. I think part of the problem is that feminism today has split. There is certainly a form of feminism that you refer to, that both men and women can identify with, and this form is still very much alive in the hearts of people across the nation. Unfortunately, there is a second far more visible branch that has taken the word feminism and redefined it as man hating. Such people as Catherine Comins stating that young men could benefit from being falsely accused of rape fuel this definition and cause women and men alike to begin to pull away from the word feminism, even though they still agree with a large part of the original principals.

  2. Strangely enough, bra burning is a myth. From this ( great New Yorker article by Ariel Levy:

    ” In 1968, at a protest against the Miss America pageant, in Atlantic City, feminists tossed items that they felt were symbolic of women’s oppression into a Freedom Trash Can: copies of Playboy, high-heeled shoes, corsets and girdles. Lindsy Van Gelder, a reporter for the Post, wrote a piece about the protest in which she compared the trash-can procession to the burning of draft cards at antiwar marches, and a myth was born. In her engaging tour d’horizon “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present” (Little, Brown; $27.99), Gail Collins quotes Van Gelder’s lament: ‘I shudder to think that will be my epitaph—’she invented bra burning.’” “

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