One of I think the biggest PR problems for feminism (and part of why only 24 percent of women identify as feminists while 17 percent believe it is an insult), is that I think we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is. Backlash against feminism, from both men (think Rush Limbaugh) and women (like Lady Gaga’s “I’m not a feminist–I hail men”) distort what feminism really is.
It’s not, as Rush would have you believe, a movement to emasculate men. And it’s not, as many female celebrities seem to mistakenly believe, an anti-man hate group. Feminism is, instead, a broad swathe of movements that seek to obtain economic, social and political equality for all genders, races, ethnicities, sexualities, abilities, etc.
In the discussions about feminism created by this blog, Dad, I know we’ve agreed on a lot of my arguments about equality, about the sexual harassment women face, about a desire for economic independence and mutual respect. And yet you don’t identify as a feminist. I’ve wondered if that comes, like sweet Shailene Woodley’s dislike of feminism, from a fundamental misunderstanding of the movement (or movements, since there have been and continue to be a lot of ways that different people prioritize advocating for equality).
So! I thought I’d do some basic intro posts. A little Feminist History 101, starting with the waves:
First Wave: The first wave of feminism can be dated back to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, when 300 men and women gathered to draft the Seneca Falls Declaration, a document that demanded women’s equality, outlined their grievances and notably focused on giving the right to vote to women. In 1860, women were finally given the right to own property and make their own wages through the Married Women’s Property Act. The first wave focused a great deal on legal rights, such as the right to vote and own property. Suffragettes also worked with the temperance movement and abolitionist movement. Famous first-wavers include Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Women gained the right to vote in 1920, less than 100 years ago. Seems like such a long time, doesn’t it?
Second Wave: The second wave of feminism began in the 1960s and is linked to anti-war movements and civil rights movements (though the two have not always cooperated well). It is the start for our modern understanding of the feminist movement, as most people believe women should be able to vote and own property, but think feminism is bad. This second wave focused on discrimination in society. Women were being denied jobs because of their gender, and being paid less in the jobs they obtained (think “glass ceiling”). Feminist theory blossomed, discussing the origins and natures of women’s oppression, the role of sex and marriage in their lives and women’s relationship to men. This is also where the movement really began to fracture. There were feminists like Germaine Greer who believed that women should not have sex with men ever, and feminists who wanted equality with men and struggled to unify their desire for equal rights with their desire for relationships with men, for instance. Other feminists said the state and family were oppressive institutions that had to be dismantled. Liberal feminists, the most mainstream, argued simply that action through the government and legislation could help improve women’s lives.
Third Wave: The third wave of feminism began in the mid-’90s, and often finds itself at odds with the second wave of many third-wavers’ mothers. It’s characterized by the riot grrl movement, a combination of punk music and feminist ideas. This wave tackles not just womanhood, but seeks to explore and dismantle ideas of sex, gender, heteronormativity and universal womanhood. It also ushered in a new discussion of the sexual nature of women, and what sort of sexual liberation is female empowerment. It is characterized by the proliferation of feminist ideas and discussion on the internet, through e-zines, blogs and forums.
For a more thorough breakdown of the three waves, check out Pacific’s eloquent summary.
These diverse and competing ideas still exist today as facets of feminism, and even within the feminist movement you will find feminists arguing with each other. But these ideas, ranging from the extreme to the mundane, are all valuable, in my opinion, as is the discussion about equal rights. They advance our understanding of society, women’s role in it and the goal of feminism. Unfortunately, many opponents of feminism latch onto one or two extreme ideas, or, more often, fabricate feminist strawmen to discredit feminism.
In the end, though, I’m proud to call myself a feminist, knowing that while I don’t ascribe to all feminist views ever (that’s impossible), I do believe in equality for all people, and am proud to stand up for that struggle.