Advocating equal rights for women is not new: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction of women’s suffrage and an important milestone on this long march. But this process is far from over, and there are still inequalities and injustices between the sexes. As times change, so too does the face of feminism. This is all the more true in the fast-moving times of globalization and digitization, two major phenomena that act as catalysts, so to speak, for this trend: The pursuit of emancipation of earlier decades has transformed into the “female force” of the early 21st century.

“Force” definitely describes the widespread impact that this trend has achieved, most especially by harnessing the Internet. Commitment to the cause of female equality, which has existed for decades, can now have a significantly greater public impact than before through social media channels, for instance. A good example of this is the #MeToo campaign, in which women worldwide reported countless time on the Internet their experiences with sexual abuse—not only to denounce the offenders, but also to achieve social sensitivity for this problem, which is still taboo and somewhat trivialized. Within this context, there is also opposition to discriminatory and sexualized advertising.

Redefining gender roles

Autonomy over one’s own body and one’s own life plan is a central concern of female equality. In the 1960s and 1970s in Germany, the conflicts over Paragraph 218 were mainly about legalizing abortion (“Whether children or none, we decide alone;” “My belly is mine”) and about sexual liberation. Today, it is above all about accepting the equality of women’s different life concepts: child or career, child and career, single or in a relationship (heterosexual or same-sex). And, of course, it is also about better equal opportunities and more fairness in education and work, for example, in women’s access to management positions and in the fight for equal pay for men and women in the same job.

The macro trend “Female Force” represents a redefinition of gender roles in Western societies. The traditional understanding of men and women’s roles is increasingly receding into the background. In the modern working world, it is slowly becoming clear that “soft skills” such as social and communicative abilities, which are predominantly associated with women, not only make it easier to live and work together, but are sometimes even a prerequisite for the realization of goals. Women occupy an increasingly important role in professional life. On the one hand, this has to do with the fact that women today are confidently pushing into and proving themselves in occupational fields previously dominated by men, and on the other hand, it is a consequence of the shortage of skilled workers that is emerging in the face of demographic change.

Statement for lifestyle diversity

In some rural regions of Germany, young women now make up the majority of well-educated young people, which can sometimes lead to problems and upheaval: The flexible and well-educated young women move away and seek their professional and private happiness elsewhere, while the old people and the less mobile young men, who are partly without prospects, are left behind—the result is the exacerbation of regional structural weaknesses and the consequential social unrest. One could easily say: These ladies show the gentlemen how things can be done…a development that is seen as a real threat by some male followers of traditional gender roles and can culminate in violence against women in the worst cases (…and is often accompanied by reactionary or right-wing extremist ideas…).

But naturally the “Female Force” does not create just friction with the supposedly strong sex when men see their traditional self-image put to the test upon encountering self-assured women. Even in the romantic interaction between man and woman, the “Female Force” can unfurl its productive, effective power: In the past, men were expected to take the first step in initiating a relationship, but today hardly anyone will be surprised if “She” clearly expresses her interest in “Him” and is the first to send out flirtatious signals.

Like other social currents, the macro trend “Female Force” draws its dynamism from the megatrend of individualization. Accordingly, the term “Female Force” not only describes the public and assertive support for women’s specific concerns, but it is also a statement for the colorful coexistence of different lifestyles, which we recently presented here under the term “Lifestyle Diversity.” Feminism in its postmodern form has become part of a globally linked pop culture that stands for more tolerance for the lives of all people.

The female image that is expressed in this trend has, of course, long since found its way into the picture language of photography in a variety of ways because “Female Force” has a lot of potential when it comes to conveying visual messages. This macro trend offers a broad field for photographers who can make creative use of the tension between traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” motifs: for example, sporty, combative women who have asserted themselves in previously male domains—as a boss, in boxing, on a fast motorcycle, or of course in a technical profession. Such images not only convey messages for the present, but they will one day be contemporary documents of social history. They are snapshots of the constant change in the relationship between the sexes that has to be found and negotiated again and again—a process that never ends.