Three Waves of Feminism and Feminism Today

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Table of Contents

  • The First Wave of Feminism: 1848-1920
  • The Second Wave of Feminism: 1963- 1980’s
  • The Third Wave of Feminism:1991
  • Feminism Today

Women have been trying to reach the goal of equality among the sexes for decades. They have been seeking to establish equal opportunities in employment and education. The history of feminism can be divided into three “waves”.

“Feminism is often categorized as ‘waves’ – time periods aimed at elevating women’s status in society and giving them equal rights. This metaphor describes the surge of activity at the beginning of a phase, which then reaches its peak, usually in the form of a concrete accomplishment and consequence of struggle.” This quote from an article explains why feminism is categorized as “waves.”

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The First Wave of Feminism: 1848-1920

” The first wave falls under the nineteenth and early twentieth century. This also occurred in the western area of the world. Their goal was to gain basic legal rights for women. Business and politics were completely controlled by men. Women were not seen as a threat. According to this article, women had only one purpose, “Women were confined to their households and didn’t retain any control there as well. Unmarried women were seen as the property of their fathers, and married women the property of their husbands. They didn’t have the ability to file for divorce or be granted custody of their children.” The women that did work held very low positions. During this time, women did not have the right to vote. “Discussions about the vote and women’s participation in politics led to an examination of the differences between men and women as they were then viewed. Some claimed that women were morally superior to men, and so their presence in the civic sphere would improve public behavior and the political process.” This was one of the main goals focused on by feminists.

The Second Wave of Feminism: 1963- 1980’s

This was around the late 1940s, after World War II. This is where writers started to question how women were perceived in society. “After World War II, some writers began to question how women in society were perceived and the role they played, particularly as the war had shown women made valuable contributions and in many cases performed tasks equally to me.” During this time, a book was published that became very important. “Where World War II showed that women could break out of their gender roles as was required; the book questioned then why should women’s roles that saw them as secondary to men in the workplace and home be perpetuated when this was not the case during the war.” Some victories were made because of the book and also politics. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was a major success. This meant that they had an equal right to equal pay for the same jobs as men did. Although this was very important, feminists started to think differently, “Increasingly in the 1960s and 1970s, second-wave feminism diverged into two separate ideological movements: Equal rights feminism and radical feminism. Within equal-rights feminism, the objective sought equality with men in political and social spheres, where legislation and laws such as legalization of abortion and efforts to make women more established on the workforce equal to men were the primary goals.” Both movements made a major contribution.

The Third Wave of Feminism:1991

It is more difficult to narrate the third wave. “To understand the Third Wave, we must first understand the USA post the second wave ‘sex wars.’ The ‘sex wars’ was the name given to the open debate between groups within feminism over pornography and sexual activity. Anti-pornography feminists wanted to limit the porn industry because they believed it catered only to men and encouraged violence towards women. They wanted to end prostitution and saw it as a worst-case scenario for any woman.” The third wave spread more into social media and pop culture. Girl bands spread messages about female empowerment. Young girls, and other teens, were now becoming familiar with feminism because of these bands and because of social media. Not only did it spread through social media and music but it also spread through films, movies, and television shows. In these shows, females were the higher power and were strong and independent. “Movies and television shows impacted the narrative of the Third Wave, such as Thelma and Louise, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 30 Rock, and Parks, and Recreation. Strong female feminist characters became more common when adolescent girls became a powerful demographic in media and a generation of girls grew up in a completely different feminist environment than their mothers.”

Feminism Today

There is no permanent fourth wave but feminists have been anticipating it since 1986. “As such, the fourth wave’s beginnings are often loosely pegged to around 2008, when Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were firmly entrenched in the cultural fabric and feminist blogs like Jezebel and Feministing were spreading across the web. By 2013, the idea that we had entered the fourth wave was widespread enough that it was getting written up in The Guardian. “What’s happening now feels like something new again,” wrote Kira Cochrane.” The fourth wave does not have one specific meaning, it means different things to different people. The goals of the fourth wave is, “queer, sex-positive, trans-inclusive, body-positive, and digitally driven.”

Over the decades, feminists have been trying to reach different goals and have made major accomplishments. In the first wave, women got the right to vote. It took some hard work but they eventually got to where they needed to be to get the nineteenth amendment in 1920. In the second wave, women were looked at differently. People were starting to notice that women can do what men do. They were getting better jobs and they were also getting better pay. They got the Equal Pay Act passed. In the third wave, women were more powerful and independent. There were movies and TV shows about female empowerment. Girl bands were formed and they also spread the word. The fourth wave is still in the works. Although the fourth wave is not an actual thing yet, feminists already have a plan for it. “And now the fourth wave has begun to hold our culture’s most powerful men accountable for their behavior. It has begun a radical critique of the systems of power that allow predators to target women with impunity. 

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