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Feminism’s Gender Identity Crisis

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Miriam Zoila Pérez

Feminism has come a long way — it has absolutely revolutionized the way gender shapes our lives. The restrictions placed on my mother’s generation have little bearing on mine.

But sexism hasn’t disappeared, it’s simply adapted to the successes of feminism. Sexism today is often more subtle, less in your face, but still a very real part of our daily lives. Instead of being shut out of the board room, women are welcomed in, but when they don’t see the same success as their male counterparts, they’re told (often by other successful women) that it’s because they aren’t aggressive enough, don’t lean in to their careers, are too family focused.

Today’s sexism means that women aren’t the only ones who suffer. Sexism plays out in the narrow ways society uses gender to define who we are, who we can be and how we should be treated. This is something that we all experience no matter our gender. Feminism’s project moving forward? Constructing a tent big enough to hold a constituency beyond the confines of the women’s movement.

This work has already started, but it’s got a long way to go before we can claim a new direction for feminism. The LGBTQ movement, sometimes allied with feminism, has blown open new avenues for understanding gender identity in today’s world. Transgender, gender non-conforming and genderqueer people have more rights and recognition today than ever before, and this work is propelling the need for a feminism that understands how gender stereotypes and biological essentialism impact us all.

Let’s welcome everyone who cares about eliminating gender-based oppression into our circle, and talk openly about how our roles in this movement should be shaped by the privileges we hold. The smaller our circle, the less our potential to change our world. Let’s bust open the doors, invite everyone in, and start the hard work of envisioning a world where your gender doesn’t determine who you can be or how you will be treated.

Many fear that broadening feminism beyond a women’s movement will allow male privilege to run rampant in the movement. It’s true that sexism and gender-based oppression don’t impact us all to the same degree, and that’s a truth that goes beyond gender. Broadening the tent also means we have to better learn how to deal with privilege within our movement, a project that feminism has been struggling with for decades already around issues of race, class, ability and much more.

Feminism, it’s time for a new approach. But let’s not forget why we’re here: because we’ve won. We’re here because feminism has transformed our society, and now it needs to transform itself for the next frontier: building a world where no one is limited, treated differently or discriminated against because of their gender identity.

Miriam Zoila Pérez is a writer and activist based in Washington, DC.

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