Melissa Benn: New women's rights groups could present a popular and serious challenge to more entrenched inequalities
After nearly two decades of so-called postfeminism, protest is back, big time. We are witnessing a resurgence of feminist activism and argument. According to Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Statesman: "It feels as though there's a greater energy to the feminist movement now than I've experienced before in my adult life; there's a critical mass of women who just won't shut up about the things they care about."
Over the past few years there has been a rapid growth of feminist grassroots groups in the UK. The newer organisations – among them, Object ("challenging the sexual objectification of women"), Women for Refugee Women, End Violence Against Women, Everyday Sexism (a Twitter campaign that chronicles daily harassment), No More Page Three and Expert Women – have joined long-standing organisations such as the Fawcett Society to field a strong media and political presence.
In common with second wave feminism – the political and cultural movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s – this new wave is being largely led by young, educated women. What's most striking, however, is how cultural the concerns are: how issues of representation of women – or the lack of representation or the grossly distorted representation – have taken top billing, with violence against women coming a close, and connected, second.
But how does this new, fourth wave energy connect with more material concerns? We know from the Fawcett Society and others that women have suffered a "triple whammy" as a result of austerity and recession, losing jobsatafaster rate than men, sufferingstagnant wages and taking the hitfrom welfare cuts.
But deeper shifts, on a global scale, also pose new challenges and possibilities. While a small but significant percentage of women have joined the professional and managerial elite, they have also pulled away from less skilled women in dramatic fashion, tripling theincome gap between graduate and non-graduate women.