The feminist movement is alive and well, but it has undergone changes since the conception of the first wave. Genesis Siverio, the student women’s outreach coordinator for Ramapo’s Women’s Center & LGBTQ+ Services, held “Clued-In: Telling Women’s Stories” to bring attention to the lesser-known women of color who acted as the backbone of the movement.
Siverio began the presentation with a summarized history of the four waves of feminism.
The first began in the 1800s and focused on suffrage. Demonstrations such as the Seneca Falls Convention led to the passage of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote.
From the 1960s to the late 1970s, the second wave tackled broader issues such as workplace equality, reproductive rights and domestic abuse. During this time, many smaller movements led by women of color emerged, including the National Black Feminist Organization, the Chicana Movement and Asian Sisters.
Siverio recounted how some activists tried to divide the movement. For example, Betty Friedan claimed lesbians needed to be excluded for feminism to be taken seriously. Others embraced solidarity.
“We are not strong unless we are all together fighting this fight,” Siverio said.
The third wave of the 1990s was heavily influenced by the postmodernist movement and academia. Its expressions included the rise of queer theory and the riot grrrl subcultural movement in the music sphere. Proponents pushed for better portrayals of capable women in the media.
The existence of the fourth wave has been debated, but Siverio pointed to the Women’s March that protested the inauguration of former President Donald Trump and the Me Too movement as proof of its legitimacy and power.
Siverio described the first and second waves as establishing women as just as capable as men. She expressed a connection to the third and fourth waves, which argued that women should not have to imitate men to have rights. She said, “You don’t have to be masculine to be deserving of respect.”
The majority of the presentation was about the work done by women of color for intersectional social justice, blurring the lines between the feminist movement, racial justice and gay rights. Siverio admitted several of the names were unfamiliar to her before she began conducting research for the event. Including them in the presentation is a way of giving them overdue recognition.
Influential Women of Color
Michele Wallace, a “Black feminist author and cultural critic,” co-founded Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation with her mother in 1970. The organization aimed to make space for women of color in the art world. Wallace also was one of the founders of the National Black Feminist Organization in 1973.
Stormé DeLarverie was a biracial butch lesbian who is credited with igniting the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. The event inspired many LGBTQ+ activists and allies, leading to the creation of organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front.
Alicia Escalante is a Chicana activist known for advocating against the forced sterilizations experienced by women of color at the hands of white doctors. The titles she has collected throughout her life include founder and chair of the East Los Angeles Chicana Welfare Rights Organization.
Today, women of color continue to have the greatest difficulties with sexual health services. This issue has increased since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year.
“Little to no access to abortion impacts women of color the most,” Siverio said.
Celebrating Women’s HERstory Month
Siverio encouraged attendees to learn more about several of the icons she mentioned by checking out relevant books from the Women’s Center’s library. Its collection includes one of Audre Lorde’s many poetry books, “Difficult Women” by Roxanne Gay and “Girlhood” by Melissa Febos.
Siverio called Febos’ book a must-read for anyone who has felt boxed-in by the labels and expectations associated with the social construct of being a woman.
Other ways to celebrate Women’s HERstory Month include donating female-presenting clothing to the clothing drive held by the We Care Program. Siverio encouraged people to participate regardless of gender.
“The patriarchy and the ideas that we have about gender and sexuality affect everyone,” she said. “Sexism isn’t necessarily a woman’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem.”
Featured photo by Danielle Bongiovanni