The Waves of Feminism

Jess Schot

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              Humans have a deep and entrenched history with discrimination. Yet, a brief glance at history shows that those who are oppressed have almost always united to rise against the oppressor. This is evident in the 19th century Western women who experienced a lifetime of unjust discrimination in a patriarchy that refused them natural liberties such as the right to vote, the right to own property, and ultimately the right to determine their own future.

 

           Thus commenced the feminist movement: a movement born and rooted in strong and determined women who had enough optimism to believe that a better and more equal world was possible. Little did the early feminists know that their fight would carry on for more than one hundred years after they had etched their marks in the campaign that they had built with the very hands that had been subject to the perennial role of serving others.

 

           Feminism has spanned recent history in a way no other movement ever has. Its fluctuations in popularity are commonly referred to as ‘waves of feminism.’ It is heavily debated as to when, why, and how each separate wave mustered itself into existence. Even so, the four waves are all distinct in their aims and hopes.

 

           The first wave of feminism is commonly correlated to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1849. First-wavers not only fought for the women’s vote, but were also closely linked to The Civil Rights Movement. Though the 15th amendment passed by Congress in 1870 would give American black men the right to vote, American women would not be heard in politics until 1920, with the adoption of the 19th amendment.   

 

           The second wave of feminism rose in the 1960s, as the rise of communist and socialist ideas also gave way to the rise of feminist ideas. Second-wavers predominantly fought for reproductive rights and brought awareness to sexuality and gender roles. Furthermore, the second wave did much to not only critique the patriarchy’s oppression of women, but also the capitalist system. It is also important to note that the second wave of feminism harboured a widespread rejection of traditionally feminine objects such as high heels and lipstick, which were deemed forms of female oppression from the male patriarchy.

 

           Interestingly enough, in a habit not uncommon to large social movements, the third wave in the 1990s saw the reclaiming of feminine products that had once been rejected by their feminist predecessors. Along with the reclaiming of femininity came the reclaiming of words such as ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ that had been used as derogatory terms to degrade women. The third wave came in a flood of powerful and passionate women who continued to combat a world of sexism. In an effort to distance themselves from the much disliked second-wavers, and in search for a more inclusive movement, women of the third wave were reluctant to label themselves as ‘feminists.’ Many people believe that the third-wave is the very wave that we are experiencing today. However, many others would say the contrary.

 

          The late 2000s to early 2010s introduced us to the wave that many would argue we are experiencing today. The fourth wave has risen immensely in the past few years with pop-culture icons such as Beyoncé declaring their alliance. In an ever more connected world, it seems fitting that the fourth-wave not only lives in the streets and in ardent conversations over lunchroom tables, but also breathes and thrives in the virtual realm of the Internet. The fourth wave is argued the most intersectional of all the waves. It strives not only to bring equality for women and men, but seeks equality for all people no matter their gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, or ability. It is truly a movement for all.

 

           Thereupon it is evident that the meaning of being a feminist has changed and morphed over the years. Yet, one common denominator persists; feminism is a movement driven by the belief of justice for all and determination no matter the opposition they face.

 

           There are many who say that gender inequality is nonexistent today. However, feminists point to issues such as the wage gap, the objectification of women, gender roles, and among many others to refute these critiques. Moreover, a large group of people question and debate more inclusive names, such as egalitarianism or equalism. However, feminists believe that this bears the same issue that the saying of “All Lives Matter,” in response to Black Lives Matter does, in that it undermines the movement itself. What is more, feminism was founded by and for women, but evolved into a movement for the people.

 

Despite a conflicting and fluctuating history, feminists continue to stand together for their campaign of love, acceptance, and determination — one that they justifiably say will end only when inequality is an absurd notion of the past.

 

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