This is What Feminism Looks Like

In my social media networks and among the students I work with, I frequently hear concerns about the “failure of feminism,” the lack of intersectionality in “mainstream feminism,” and the disconnect between “white feminism” and the lived reality of far too many women. Some have said feminism is dead or irrelevant; others worry that demonstrations such as the proposed Women’s March on Washington in January are ineffective or simply won’t be enough. These are all valid critiques and concerns.

But it’s also useful to remember that there has never been a single “feminist movement.” In fact, prominent scholars such as Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry argue that the history of women’s movements is really to be found in places like the fight for workers’ rights and in the activism of working-class women and women of color.

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Here in Pittsburgh, many of the feminists I know are actively engaged in the Fight for $15 campaign. As the coalition OnePittsburgh explains:

“We believe that all people have the right to dignity and freedom from poverty. Less than $15 an hour is wage slavery, and we reject it. … When we Fight for $15 we are rooted in the struggles in our city. Pittsburgh has a rich organizing landscape and all of our fights are connected. Whether it’s affordable housing or education justice–when we fight for immigrant rights, against anti black racism, or indigenous peoples’ stuggle [sic] for sovereignty–we rise together.”

Because poverty is highly feminized, the Fight for $15 is fundamentally a feminist fight. Who’s making less than $10 per hour in Pittsburgh? Women. In 7 of the 10 of the lowest paid occupations in this country, women make up the vast majority (two-thirds) of the workers. These are occupations like home health aids, cashiers, and child care workers. As this graphic from the Economic Policy Institute makes clear, raising the minimum wage helps women and their families:

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Last week, in a national day of action, Pittsburgh’s Fight for $15 took to the streets. I am sure not everyone who marched would self-identify as a feminist. The term itself has come to be loaded; some reject it while others simply misunderstand it. Regardless, the campaign for living wages is a feminist movement. And this is some of what feminism looks like in Pittsburgh these days:

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Note the quotes from Audre Lorde, a woman of color, feminist, womanist, lesbian, writer and civil rights activist. Photo credit: One Pittsburgh.
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The day included a march downtown. Photo credit: One Pittsburgh.
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Photo credit: One Pittsburgh.
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Actions inside McDonalds. Photo credit: Pam Harbin.
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In sit-down actions, nineteen people in Pittsburgh were arrested. Photo credit: Pam Harbin.
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Women are the workers, the action organizers, and the activists on the streets. Photo credit: Pam Harbin.
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Women and Girls Foundation CEO Heather Arnet with GirlGov member and student activist Gigi Varlotta at the rally. Photo credit: Heather Arnet, Women & Girls Foundation.
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Quote from Dolores Huerta, labor leader who founded what became the United Farm Workers (UFW). Photo credit: Heather Arnet, Women & Girls Foundation.
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Activists Pam Harbin and Paulette Foster. Photo credit: Pam Harbin.
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Activist and organizer Erin Kramer. Photo credit: Erin Kramer.
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