The Future Is Feminist
The new book Finding Feminism embraces queer women and argues that feminism does not occur in waves.
Alison Dahl Crossley
In Finding Feminism: Millennial Activists and The Unfinished Gender Revolution, sociologist Alison Dahl Crossley presents multi-year research that suggests the whole notion of feminist history in terms of waves is not only incorrect but deleterious to the movement itself. Crossley, the Associate Director at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, interviewed and surveyed over 1,400 students at three different colleges across America—Smith College, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Minnesota—to ground her argument that feminism is not built on a wave framework but is persistent and waveless.
Waveless feminism, she asserts, “emphasizes the persistence of feminism over time, the variations in feminism, and the interaction between feminism and other movements.” She continues, “To be clear, ‘waveless’ does not mean serene or flat. Rather … [it] is akin to a river. Sometimes there are rapids, sometimes it is very shallow or deep, sometimes there are rocks or other obstacles that divert its course, sometimes it is wide, at other times narrow, sometimes it overflows the banks, sometimes there is a drought.”
Noting that “lesbians have historically played a major role in perpetuating feminist organizations and nurturing feminist culture,” Crossley’s data shows that this influence has continued to today: “Survey data indicate that gay/lesbian, bisexual, and queer study participants were more likely to identify as feminist than heterosexual students. And those survey respondents who identified as queer were the most likely of all participants to identify as feminist.”
Far from being unpopular outliers of the feminist movement, queer women, says Crossley, challenge heteronormativity and gender binaries and help to energize the movement. "Queer theorists’ and queer activists’ emphasis on intersectionality and coalitions also closely match the feminist ideologies of the students in this research."
However, some queer students feel that the LGBTQ+ rights movement has overshadowed feminism. Smith student Anne W., who identified as queer and was in a relationship with a transgender man, felt she was in the minority as a feminist on campus, where "queer life tends to dominate.” In some ways, Anne W. found that queer topics had surpassed feminist topics in popularity at Smith, particularly in terms of interest in transgender issues. Other participants in Crossley's research, however, did not make such a clear distinction between queer and feminist issues. Most feminist participants advocated for both feminist and queer issues.
Through her research, Crossley identifies how feminism on college campuses, feminism as it exists online, and feminism in our daily lives combine to prove that the feminist movement is too complex and nuanced to be construed in waves. The historical framework of the wave, too, is limiting and contributes to what she rightly perceives to be a whitewashing of the movement: “The erasure of women of color in the mainstream narratives about feminism specifically impacts public viewpoints and the central narratives of feminism,” she observes. While an academic text tailored to college audiences, this sociological study is easy to read and the material, especially the interviews with students, are engaging. Crossley’s concept of waveless feminism very well may help us move beyond the stalled gender revolution.
Finding Feminism is out now from NYU Press.