Feminism Doesn’t Need A Savior, But It Does Need Leaders

The media loves to search for the next Gloria Steinem, as if what feminism most needs today is an iconic leader for everyone to follow. But we don’t need a singular icon, we need the actions of multiple leaders. The solution is reflected in the words of a Hopi elder: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On the other end of the spectrum, some argue that feminism is best served without any leaders at all. The reason for pause is understandable.

Ironically enough, some of the worst instincts of second wave feminism yielded into a small but noisy sect of hierarchal, top-down leaders who lost sight of the anti-dominance ideals that are at the core of the movement. Further, leadership circles tend to reflect privilege: white, able-bodied, gender-conforming, class privilege. Diversity is not just about who is at the table, and who sees that table and believes they are welcome to sit, but also which perspectives get centered. Finally, speaking for all women, as iconic leaders are wont to do, is a ridiculous urge. Whether it is an individual or a group of people, speaking for ‘all women’ is more harmful than helpful to the modern feminist cause. I’ve written about that before here.

All those disclaimers said — feminism needs more leaders. The great news is that we are all right here. You and me and everyone we know can and should step up to be the feminist leaders of today.

One of the most important places to take leadership is outside the feminist movement. Back when I had a hierarchal title within a hierarchal feminist organization, younger women used to say to me all the time: “I want to do exactly what you’ve done. Tell me how.” And my honest answer is: Don’t. Don’t limit yourself to taking leadership inside feminism, particularly in a movement job that probably isn’t going to pay you very well or provide much mobility (especially at the entry levels).

Feminism doesn’t need a queen or a savior. But looking more broadly, more feminism and more diversity in leadership is sorely needed. Disturbingly, the world is still largely run by white guys doing it by themselves.

So yes, organize and wave your feminist flag everywhere you can (including inside the movement). But go forth and be a feminist leader in government, in business, in your family, in your faith community if you choose to take part in one, and in non-profit organizations that aren’t focused solely on women.

Do not be afraid to take leadership ever. It is incredibly feminist to take leadership. Feminism needs more leaders, not fewer leaders. The modern feminist leadership is action-oriented rather than iconic or symbolic, collaborative, diverse, dynamic, and external, not internal, in focus.

9 thoughts on “Feminism Doesn’t Need A Savior, But It Does Need Leaders

  1. Well said. Each time a woman sees a teenage boy taunting a girl, that woman needs to step in and tell that boy his behavior is unacceptable. A man leers? Turn and face him and scream in your loudest voice. YOUR government, state, federal or local has unjust policies? Why aren’t you calling, e-mailing or if they are a local representative, show up and let them know you aren’t going away. If you have money, you let them know how much you have and how much of that money you will use to fight against them. Most importantly, your children and the children of the people you love, teach them from example. Women make the world, our responsibility does not end after it leaves the womb.

  2. What we also need is mindful followers. Many times I have been in rooms of 100 leaders and it is one ego-blasting kumete.
    What is the best idea?
    What is the best way to cull intelligence from the group?
    How can we dethrone ineffective leaders?
    Can I lead today and you lead tomorrow which means I have to be a good follower today but not held back from leading tomorrow.
    Can we have a fine leader and not escalate it to worship?
    The only person over 65 who is saying Steinem is not the Queen of everything is Gloria herself. Of course, most think it is some type of humility – when it is a sincere call for others to discover their own leadership skills.

  3. I’m bothered by all the organizations that talk about all young women urgently needing to learning ‘leadership’ as if it’s the skill to be prized above all else. As if everyone *should* be a leader. Whatever happened to Feminism as a collaborative or collective process? What happened to Feminism shifting from hierarchical organizing to horizontal organizing, with many voices heard & all becoming stakeholders invested in the process they co-create. Not to ignore the fact that we all have different talents, and that there are visionaries and self-starters and extroverts (and workaholics!) who look like de facto leaders, but there sure are other collaborative options where all kinds of skills can be equally valued. (Though it takes more time & work & yes – as Zoe points out above – consciousness!)

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