Feminism can be a very sensitive topic to discuss. As a whole, feminism shouldn't be treated as a singular issue. It's actually a combination of social, political, and ideological features. However, the main objective behind feminism remains the same: equality between all gender identities.
Throughout the years, feminism has been able to reach plenty of keystone moments as it works towards reaching its goal of true gender equality. However, the story of feminism is still an ongoing process.
If we want progress, it is vital to look at where we started so that we know where we want to go. It should be mentioned that we will only be looking at feminism from a broad historical perspective of the western world.
Here is a brief rundown of how feminism has changed in the last couple of centuries.
The First Wave of Feminism (19th century to the early 20th Century)
The first wave of feminism coincides with the latter stage of the Industrial Revolution. This time period was when the world shifted from being primarily agrarian-based to producing machinery and developing industries. In short, the barebones of our modern society had its framework begin to get laid out during this era.
Feminism's greatest concern had to do with the right to vote as well as the right to be elected, which led to the women's suffrage movement. Other rights for equality that women were fighting for were owning property, being afforded education, and the right to initiate divorce.
Here are some epochal moments for women during the first wave of feminism:
- Australia became the first country in the modern world to grant women the right to vote and hold office in 1902.
- Norway became the first country in Europe to allow both the right to vote and be elected in 1906.
- Jeanette Ranking was sworn into the United States congress in 1916, becoming the first woman member of congress in the United States.
- Russia granted women the right to vote on March 8, 1917. This date later became the universal date for celebrating International Women's Day.
- The 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, granting women the right to vote in the United States.
The Second Wave (1960's - 1980's)
During this time, the term "Pop Culture" was first adapted in the late 1950's. Pop culture, along with mass media becoming firmly entrenched in everyday life, the Vietnam War, and the corresponding Counterculture Movement, gave rise to the second wave of feminism.
The upheavals of this era affected a lot of facets in the way people lived. For feminism, this was a time for going up against traditional social and cultural patriarchy. Particularly in the United States, feminism championed the Equal Rights Amendment which would grant equal rights for all its citizens regardless of gender identity. However, a conservative women's movement opposed the ratification of the ERA on the grounds that it would abolish protections of certain women's rights.
These included: being exempt from getting drafted for armed service, obtaining alimony, and being granted custody of children. Here we begin to see the dangers of treating feminism as a single ideology. Divisiveness is a key symptom when standing behind a particular idea, and the idea behind gender equality began to blur as a result of social, political, and cultural contexts of this timeframe.
To this day, the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be ratified due to legal concerns surrounding it.
Feminism also split into two distinct factions, namely liberal feminism and radical feminism; with the former fighting for equal rights and the latter going a bit further by seeking equity in all facets of life. This divide has led into a lot of fragmented issues, with plenty of them remaining unresolved. Examples of which are abortion, sex work, and gender roles.
The Third and Fourth Wave of Feminism
As a result of the confusion caused by the second wave, feminism began to intersect with the root causes of inequality and oppression. Thus, the third wave of feminism --- also called intersectional feminism--- was formed. Named this because the new wave focused on the many intersections between gender, social class, race, sexual orientation, ability, etc.
A foundation was then built on scholarly introspection. The study of traditional power structures as being a primary source of inequality became the main focus of the third wave. As a result, feminism began to align itself with other civil rights movements.
The fourth wave of feminism came with the ubiquity of the internet and new media. Essentially the same as the third wave, the fourth wave distinguishes itself through actions such as social media campaigns. At present, we are still in the fourth wave of feminism.
To this, we know that feminism has yet to reach its goal. And while we have taken great strides to bridge the gap between gender inequality, there are still plenty of things we need to address.
The lesson here is that we should never become content to just being a bystander. We cannot solve inequality on our own, but we need to make a stand whenever we are able to. This is one of the biggest steps we need to take, not just for gender inequality, but for all forms of inequality as well.