Do We Need Feminism in 2011?

Yes, says noted feminist scholar Beverly Guy-Sheftall. From young American girls writing rappers to protest lyrics about bitches and hos, to the women standing up in Egypt, Libya and Ivory Coast, feminism is indeed alive, well -- and needed -- in the 21st century.

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I’m thinking at the moment about the gang rape of that 11-year-old girl in a small town in Texas. We must stop listening to and buying misogynistic music, no matter who produces it. We must say “No!” to the prison industrial complex and the needless warehousing of black women and men. We must end poverty in our lifetimes and make it possible for everyone to have a living wage and affordable health care. We must recommit ourselves to re-electing President Obama and remember why we voted for him in 2008. The alternatives are unimaginable for feminists everywhere!

For feminism to thrive, we must remember our fallen sisters whose struggles against oppression and for a better world are legendary. I’m thinking about Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, Ida Wells-Barnett, Lorraine Hansberry, Pauli Murray, Coretta Scott King, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Dorothy Height, and many of our mothers and grandmothers. I’m thinking as well about our feminist brothers: Frederick Douglass, William E.B. Du Bois, Bayard Rustin, Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, and some of our fathers and grandfathers.

I am hopeful about the vitality of feminism when I see young black girls writing open letters to rap artists about the toxic nature of their images. I am joyous when I see women in the streets of Italy, Egypt, Ivory Coast and Libya risking their lives in pursuit of their own freedoms.

I smile when I ponder the example of my own mother, the feminist who raised me and my two sisters. She encouraged me to live freely, be independent, develop my intellect, treasure friendships with women and be outraged by injustice. The planet is (or will be) in good hands if all of our mothers raise all of their daughters and sons to be feminists!

Beverly Guy-Sheftall is the founder and director of the Women’s Research & Resource Center at Spelman College, where she is also the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies. She has edited or co-edited Who Should Be First? Feminists Speak Out on the 2008 Presidential Election; Still Brave: The Evolution of Black Women’s Studies; and Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. She is also co-founder of SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women.

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