'Feminism' is a word much bandied about, but rarely do we investigate it in its specific historical context. At this very moment, a new generation is redefining feminism for itself and jettisoning some truisms and shibboleths that seem to many to have lost relevance. At the same time, new currents of influence – including the dynamism of feminisms of the Global South, the impact of technology, and the inclusion of men and analyses of the cultural construction of masculinity – are reshaping movements and debates. What's now and what's next for gender and liberty?
In her talk to current Rhodes Scholars, Dr Wolf took the opportunity to address questions on feminism by providing a brief historical overview of feminism and a discussion on where feminism is going. She began by describing her relationship with the Rhodes community and the University of Oxford – an uncomfortable relationship in the 1980s in which women were constantly made to feel like they didn’t belong. Returning later in life to complete her thesis, Dr Wolf says Oxford is a different place; a place in which feminist, queer and gender theory are thriving: ‘That’s what equality is meant to do – save you from being caught up in stupid nonsense and let you pursue what you actually want to do.’
Dr Wolf said there is a tremendous renaissance in the West – a flurry of young women and men identifying as feminists. But Western feminism often misreads feminist symbols and misunderstands the cultural practices of women around the world. She argued that places such as Africa, the Middle East and Asia have vibrant, sophisticated and exciting grassroots feminist movements, stating: ‘We can learn from the rest of the world and include men and families in feminism, supporting equality and justice without telling people who they have to be.’
Dr Wolf outlined an ‘Enlightenment Feminism’ inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft in which freedom and equal rights are extended to everyone. It’s about democracy, not a gender war or lifestyle prescriptions. Dr Wolf described what she supports as a Universalist or humanist idea of feminism, applicable to all. Looking to the future, Dr Wolf believes many great things are happening in feminism including gender parity, the #HeForShe campaign and Take Back the Night rallies and encouraged the Scholars to campaign for the causes in which they believe.