How to create practical steps out of feminist values


I have a tendency to embrace concepts that end up working in theory, but not in practice. This is especially true when it comes to “concepts” that are supposed to eliminate sexism. My impulse is to champion the most brilliant-sounding ideas I find in books written by my favorite feminists. Then somebody asks me how exactly these revolutionary changes -- ending the patriarchy, for instance -- would go into effect, and I stutter. I don’t think I’m alone here. My predicament is common enough to warrant an activist caricature, after all: the “-ism” chanting Millennial with lofty ideals, feminist tote bags, and very little knowledge about how to set change in motion.

One of my goals with Writing on Glass is to provide practical guidance on making the world gender equal. My how-to posts this summer have been somewhat actionable, but I wanted to go one step further in giving some step-by-step advice for advancing feminist causes. There are so many templates like this for goal-setting entrepreneurs. Why can't civic activists adopt the same structures for advancing feminism?

All that said, it’s really not my advice I'm propagating. We have Rebecca Walker, Patsy Mink, bell hooks, and Audre Lorde to thank for the recommendations in this series. The special feature will go live every Tuesday for the next four weeks.


Rebecca Walker pioneered the third-wave feminist movement in 1992, when she wrote an article called “Becoming the Third Wave” for Ms. Magazine. Her piece responded to the 1991 Anita Hill hearings. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had been accused of sexually harassing his former employee, Anita Hills. In the televised hearings, a Senate Judiciary Committee evaluated the validity of Hills' complaints. What followed was a public attack on Hills’s character and reputability. The Senate eventually approved Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court justice, and Anita Hill was brushed aside. Rebecca Walker had none of it. She voices the following revelation in her article:

“My involvement must reach beyond my own voice in discussion, beyond voting, beyond reading feminist theory. My anger and awareness must translate into tangible action...Part of this tangible action included her commitment to “push beyond rage and articulate an agenda.” (Rebecca Walker)

An agenda. The idea to create a personal feminist platform struck me as brilliant. The number of pressing women’s issues is dizzying, but I could create my own individual agenda to focus my contributions.

Rebecca Walker, author of the 1992  Ms.  Magazine article "Becoming the Third Wave."

Rebecca Walker, author of the 1992 Ms. Magazine article "Becoming the Third Wave."

You can do the same. By honing in on your key issues, you increase your effort where it counts and relieve yourself from activist “guilt” at not covering everything, since no one can realistically live up to that mandate. Plus, it’s well-documented that writing down your to do’s makes you more likely to follow through with them.

How to Create Your Feminist Agenda: A Step-by-Step Guide

Perfect for: Feminists looking for ways to move beyond theory and into action.

Grab a piece of blank paper to record your responses to these questions:

  1. What would your ideal feminist world look and feel like? Describe everything that comes to mind: walking to work without getting catcalled, never again feeling threatened by the possibility of rape, getting paid the money you deserve, having abundant childcare options -- you name it. Don’t hold back! This is the fun part, and the more detailed the better.

  2. If you could personally design your future feminist utopia, what 1-3 features would be non-negotiable? Mine would be no more sexual violence.

  3. Has your skepticism kicked in yet? If you’re thinking that your utopian must-haves sound unrealistic, you’re absolutely right -- in the short-term. (In the long-term, who knows?) Of course, getting to the long-term requires doing the right things in the short-term, so let’s make your vision more specific and achievable. Set parameters around your goals using a sentence like this: In the next [period of time], my vision is to [advance X feminist goal] by [doing action item #1], [doing action item #2], and [doing action item #3].

    In the next 1 year, my vision is to help reduce instances of sexual assault by teaching men about rape culture and advocating for improved laws around rape kit processing.

  4. Can you make your intentions even more concrete? Are there preexisting organizations you can join or fund that work towards your cause? Events you can attend or help organize? Policies about which you can call your Congresspeople? Spend the next 10 minutes Googling and write down the particulars of your plan. Feel free to give yourself deadlines, too, if that helps to motivate action.

    Extremely Achievable Examples:
    -I will get involved with Men Against Rape and aim to participate in one of their seminars educating men about sexual assault.
    -I will call my Congresspeople about X rape kit processing law, and donate $10 to, a non-profit that helps with this issue.

    More Ambitious Examples:
    -I will get start a monthly consciousness-raising group in my living room, invite my male friends, and lead discussions on rape culture.
    -I will partner with my friend Jane to organize a fundraiser in New York this fall, aiming to raise and donate $10,000 to the non-profit

  5. And finally, plan out how you will measure your impact. This is a really hard task, and I recommend focusing on what you can control when you choose your “success metrics." It's more reasonable to measure your impact based on your own follow-through than on whether politicians pass a law you support. Using the examples above, success would be raising and donating $10,000, not getting hospitals to process X% more rape kits. The is a long-term collective goal, not a short-term individual one.

Part 2 of this series will be here next Tuesday, September 19!