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Kira Cochrane’s irrepressible exploration of today’s feminist landscape, asking how far we have come over the past century – and how far there still is to go…

All the Rebel Women ebook

All the Rebel Women: The rise of the fourth wave of feminism
Kira Cochrane

£1.99/$2.99

On a bright day at the Epsom Derby, 4 June 1913, Emily Wilding Davison was hit by the king’s horse in one of the defining moments of the fight for women’s suffrage – what became known as feminism’s first wave.

The second wave arose in the late-1960s, activists campaigning tirelessly for women’s liberation, organising around a wildly ambitious slate of issues – a struggle their daughters continued in the third wave that blossomed in the early-1990s.

Now, a hundred years on from the campaign for the vote, fifty years since the very first murmurs of the second wave movement, a new tide of feminist voices is rising. Scattered across the world, campaigning online as well as marching in the streets, women are making themselves heard in irresistible fashion.

They’re demonstrating against media sexism, domestic violence and sexual assault, fighting for equal pay, affordable childcare and abortion rights. Thousands are sharing their experiences through the Everyday Sexism project, marching in Slutwalk protests, joining demonstrations in the wake of the Delhi gang rape, challenging misogynist behaviour and language, online crusaders and ordinary people organising for the freedom of women everywhere.

Kira Cochrane’s All the Rebel Women is an irrepressible exploration of today’s feminist landscape, asking how far we have come over the past century – and how far there still is to go. Whether engaging with leading feminists, describing the fight against rape culture or bringing immediate, powerful life to vital theories such as intersectionality, All the Rebel Women binds everything together into one unstoppable idea. This is modern feminism. This is the fourth wave.

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About the Authors

Kira Cochrane

Kira Cochrane (@KiraCochrane) is a Guardian features writer, and was women’s editor of the paper from 2006-2010. She edited Women of the Revolution (2010), an anthology of forty years of feminist writing in the Guardian, and co-edited Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs (2005), a collection of the best of women’s journalism.

Extract

This is an edited extract from Chapter 1 of All the Rebel Women

One evening when Jinan Younis was 16, a man began following her around a sprawling, deserted shopping centre in Manchester. This turned into a chase. Every time she looked around, he was there, until she was running up escalators as fast as she could to get away. She finally escaped, but the experience was frightening, and she was struck by the unfairness, a man feeling he had a right to threaten her, to infringe on her freedom. Her anger rose when she told other people. Instead of responding sympathetically, their first question was often, ‘why were you walking alone at night?’ She had always shrugged off the wolf whistles and catcalls, the daily chorus of street harassment. Now she reassessed.

On a trip to Cambridge with friends, a group of men shouted sexual comments at them from a car. Younis shouted back, determined to defend herself, and the men threw a cup of coffee over her. Later, she wrote about the way this had made her feel – verbally and physically abused, helpless, as if she’d done a disservice to all women by not standing up to them even more firmly, taking their number plate, reporting them to police. They had managed to make her feel low, inferior, basically shit, she says.

Rather than letting this incident rattle her more, she decided to set up a feminist group at school, to tackle the issues her peers were facing – physically and emotionally abusive relationships, sexual pressures, body image worries, in some cases serious eating disorders. In autumn 2013, when we speak, she’s juggling shifts at a call centre, babysitting for neighbours, preparing for university and her conversation is laced with determination, intellectual curiosity and sudden bursts of teenage laughter. Younis faced online abuse as a result of setting up her feminist society, but this hasn’t deterred her any more than the shower of cold coffee did. At 18, she has just begun helping out with a campaign for feminist groups in schools across the country.

Lucy-Anne Holmes, a writer and actor, 37, had her eyes opened during the London Olympics in 2012. She felt she was in an equality bubble at the time, with women’s achievements being celebrated as much as men’s – a big change from the usual balance of sports reporting, in which women’s events are granted about the same coverage, it’s been said, as men’s darts. On a day of triumph for British women, she bought a copy of the Sun, started reading their coverage of Jessica Ennis and other brilliant athletes, and was pleased that Page Three seemed to have been dropped. Holmes has an optimistic manner, the sort of upbeat outlook that aims to see the best in people. She leafed through the paper happily, until she arrived at page 13 (unlucky for some). There it was. The biggest image of a woman in Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper was a young model in her pants – as it is every week day.

Holmes started thinking about how Page Three had made her feel when she was growing up. How her older brother and his friends would bring the paper home, sit around talking about the models, and she had begun to assume that her breasts were there to be looked at and that they fell some way short of the ideal. She composed a long letter to the editor of the Sun, continuing deep into the night, falling asleep, waking to scribble new points, eight arguments reeling out over three pages. She asked why women were being shown primarily as objects for men’s sexual pleasure when rape and sexual assault are so common; why it is acceptable to show teenage breasts on Page Three, yet women are made to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public. When the letter was written, she knew it wouldn’t be enough. So she set up a campaign against Page Three, a feature first introduced in 1970, just as a previous generation of feminists was rising.

Nimko Ali, 29, has identified as a feminist for years, but it wasn’t until 2011 that she started speaking openly about her own experience of violence. When she was seven, her family took her on a trip to Somalia from her home in Manchester, where she was forced to undergo type three female genital mutilation – the most severe form. She started campaigning on international women’s issues in her late teens, went to university, became a bit of a hippy, she says, then joined the civil service, worked in child protection, and continued to study. Ali has an unstoppable demeanour. A witty, fizzy, funny woman, she moves at breakneck speed between talk of the ‘fanny forward’ list she keeps of supporters, to the death threats she’s received over the years.

One day in 2007, while living in Bristol, she was asked to speak to a group of teenage girls from Somali backgrounds at a local school. They wanted to discuss female genital mutilation (FGM), which surprised her – when she asked how many had experienced this, 13 out of 14 raised their hands. Ali was horrified, upset, and began working to address the issue. In 2010, along with two other survivors, she set up Daughters of Eve, a group dedicated to campaigning against FGM and supporting women, physically and psychologically. But she was still talking about the subject in the third person.

This changed when she met a woman who had undergone type three mutilation, suffered relationship and mental health problems, and then been sectioned. The woman looked to her for reassurance, without realising they had FGM in common. While comforting her during a panic attack one day, Ali decided she had to start telling her own story. Her silence suddenly felt complicit with a culture that doubts the strength and intelligence of women survivors, and so she began speaking out, at considerable personal risk. In the weeks and months after she went public, some men attempted to run her over, and she heard that an offer had been made to kill her in exchange for £500. She kept campaigning anyway, loudly, fearlessly, emphatically.

Everywhere you looked in the summer of 2013, a fourth wave of feminism was rising. Women were opening their eyes to misogyny and sexism, and shouting back against it.

In Britain, and beyond, women are raising their voices against millennia of oppression and marginalisation, against rape, violence, poverty and shame. They are rising against the fact that women worldwide, aged 15–44, are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. They are rising because women represent only around 21% of national parliamentarians around the globe – and in many countries have even less of a voice. They are rising for the women who make up 60% of the world’s hungry, for the 47,000 women who die each year because of unsafe abortions, and the thousands more injured, sometimes permanently, as a result. Every day a new campaign starts, often created by women who are just discovering sexist injustice, and responding with anger, alacrity and vigour. The wave raises two questions: why is it rising now? And how will it change the world?

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