“Is feminism dead?”
That’s the question Time magazine posed to its readers on a June 1998 cover. The controversial story ultimately concluded that the feminist movement had become largely irrelevant.
Dr. Lisa Levenstein refutes that claim with her new book, “They Didn’t See Us Coming: The Hidden History of Feminism in the Nineties.” Based on extensive archival research and more than 120 interviews, the book argues that the 1990s were a pivotal decade for the feminist movement.
Key moments in today’s movement – the Women’s March of 2017 and #MeToo – can be traced back to work happening in the ’90s. Additionally, feminist tactics from the time can be seen in today’s Black Lives Matter and environmental movements.
Levenstein (in visual above) is associate professor of history and director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. She has spent most of her career exploring the lesser-known – but equally impactful – moments and leaders of social movements.
Levenstein found that the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing played a critical role in getting feminists online. Over 30,000 activists from around the world attended the conference. Women
staffed a computer center and trained attendees on how to use the internet and email.
She also argues that women of color and women from the global South were leaders in redefining core feminist issues. Intersectionality – the relationships between sexism and other forms of discrimination – became an important part of the overall movement.
“Mass protests don’t just spring up out of nowhere,” she says. “They build on decades of organizing that doesn’t get public attention – people working in communities, spreading ideas, talking with other people about injustice, strategizing, and laying groundwork for future mobilizations.”
By Alyssa Bedrosian
Photography of Dr. Levenstein by Martin W. Kane