Describing oneself as a feminist often elicits criticism of the movement from members of the older generations; they denounce the futile bra-burning efforts of second-wave feminists, claiming that advocates for women’s rights in the 1960s and 70s were unjustifiably aggressive.
Modern feminists now see the second wave of feminism as an understandable violent reaction to years of oppression, but historical perspective aside, many see it as a highly exclusive movement.
It was exclusive to white women, who had the privilege of protesting because racial barriers did not stand in their way. It was also exclusive to middle-class women, who experienced modest economic hardship but did not have to worry about where their next meal will come from.
It was exclusive, most of all, in that it emphasized the distinctions between men and women rather than the human traits which unite all genders. As a consequence, second-wave feminism evolved into a crusade against the unilateral oppression of middle-class white women, ignorant of the multifaceted nature of historical and concurrent female oppression.
Four months ago, Missouri artist Rori De Rien embarked on a journey to raise awareness of important women ignored in history books and popular media alike. De Rien drew one influential woman from history every day for 100 days, starting the hashtag #100Women100Days to spread her message. This project is her way of teaching the world about “the people whom history has intentionally forgotten. Having something creative that you can connect to helps you make an emotional connection [to a historical figure] as well as an intellectual one.”
De Rien has been drawing “since she could pick up a pencil,” so art has always been a central part of her life. She chose comics as the medium for this project because “there is a very immediate, visual message” that takes on a life of its own after being created. Especially considering the prominence of social media in today’s culture, visual art and ideas are more powerful than ever in communicating significant social messages.
Social media is vital because it is a form of “communication where we’re not limited to paper,” which provides “access to the whole world. Art becomes something that people can easily rally around and feel a sense of community; it is also a source of education.” Additionally, social media gives far more people the ability to make their voices heard in a way that, historically, was not always possible; “people of color and queer people have a bigger platform that they have had before.” This does not mean that issues of racism and queer erasure are solved, but social media has played an important role in lessening these problems.
The fundamental goal of De Rien’s movement is to “correct historical wrongs and make the future better for all genders.” As inclusive as social media may make today’s culture appear, the unfortunate fact remains that “people get erased from our history. The [feminist] movement abandons them — this is a really important thing to grasp. A choice is made to abandon queer people, people of color, to make the movement more ‘palatable.’ This is a part of our national dialogue. First-wave feminists made a choice to abandon Chinese women in the west and viewed them as not even eligible for citizenship.”
Art like De Rien’s highlights the fact that the most important figures in history were not all white, were not all straight and were certainly not all male. To ignore this in an effort appeal to the male ego and “make the movement more ‘palatable’” would be to “dismiss our responsibility to be better.” De Rien added, “Yes, that would be the easy way because then I would get the ‘special white dude approval,’ but I’m not going to do it. I didn’t want to stick to easy history, [which has been] sanitized enough to teach to children.”
While the anger and oppression that motivated such figures as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan certainly remains relevant, modern feminism has largely become a force for positivity. The movement spans economic classes, as social media makes activism more accessible, and most notably, intersectionalism has been integrated into mainstream feminism, opening doors for myriad racial groups to participate in women’s rights advocacy. Art movements like De Rien’s spread rapidly as a result of the social media revolution, and proselytize ideas of inclusion, equality, education, and universal progress.