To some people, feminism is a powerful word that sparks confidence in the womxn and allies that wish to fight for equality. To others, feminism is a word that sours the mouth and infers a political and societal battle of hatred and spite. Regardless of connotation, the feminist movement has shifted and changed quite a bit since it’s start in the early 1800s. Bare with me as I try to break down its evolution as best I can.
How did it start?
The first wave of feminism started from women wanting to be part of male society. They could not vote, could not own land, and they were not even considered to be the owners of their own bodies. They were property, something that their husbands, fathers, and brothers could pass around and sell like cattle. That sounds awful, right? Women in the 19th century had had enough – and began voicing their desires to be considered as humans. They wanted civil rights and the opportunity for education instead of just washing dishes and raising babies. This is where feminist pioneers like Mary Wollstonecraft and Susan B. Anthony come in and challenge the norms of life in the late 1800s and early 1900s, fighting back against male oppression and paving the way for the women of the next generations.
There was an issue with this movement though, as only married white women gained any kind of real consideration. People of color were still treated terribly and women of color basically did not exist in the eyes of the law.
Women are people too?!
The second wave came in the 1960s: this was the era of free love, when drugs were abundant and apparently there were no civil rights for anybody – but the guys in charge. One of the important figures to come out of this movement was Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique, and one of the women who helped to kickstart this second wave. Her book argued that women wanted a life outside the home: it broke down the established traditional gender roles and urged women to rectify their unhappy lives by creating a new norm for women. The Feminine Mystique came after the publishings of French thinker Simone de Beauvoir outlined how women were looked at in society. Though Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex was released quite a few years before the second wave exploded, she is considered to be another one of the most important figures of this wave.
Literature was not the only thing to come out of the second wave – as women were beginning to view themselves differently for the first time since the late 1800s, and were fed up with the treatment they had received so far. They fought the system with political protests and speaking out against the civil prejudices that they were plagued with. Women were given more access to contraceptives, The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963 which said that women could not be paid less than men just because of their gender, and women were pushing back against sexism. Yet, white women were still the only real benefactors of this movement. Women of color were still treated as less than human – and did not get access to the same things that white, middle class women were.
So tell me what you want, what you really really want.
The third wave of feminism was sparked in the early 1990s by Anita Hill. She testified to congress that she was sexually harassed by then Supreme Court nominee Clarance Thomas in a case that caused another uproar by women. Thomas’ swearing in started the fire that demanded more women in power, more females taking jobs in the political world and more women requiring to be considered equal to men. This wave really sees women claiming their autonomy and their sexuality in ways they never were able to do before.
Yet, this third wave is where we get into those people who really hate the feminist movement. There was some backlash during the second wave, women speaking out and saying that the woman’s place was in the home taking care of the family. These anti-feminists based their beliefs on tradition and religious interpretations. As the third wave comes around, the anti-feminists are back and louder than ever, fearful of shifts in expectation.
Where are we now?
No one really knows where we are now. That’s not completely true though, as experts believe we currently reside in a mix of feminisms that muddy the waters about what kind of movement is currently going on, a confusion that is particularly felt in the US. Ideas, challenges, and desires from the past waves are adopted into today’s environment. In the past few years we’ve seen a resurgence of the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement that continues to call out sexual abusers and harassers. We’ve also seen women own their sexualities and push back against societal norms that say women should be more conservative and cover their bodies. However, there has been no collective movement as we proceed into the 2020s and unless something huge happens in the next few years it seems that we may just stay in this limbo. Yet it’s not really limbo at all as a new generation of feminists and allies are helping change the way the women are viewed.
As much ground as womxn have made in the past 20 years alone, there is still so much farther to go in regards to the fight for equality. Women of color, transwomen, nonbinary pals, and disabled bodies all need the same support and opportunity to voice their needs the same way feminists have for all these years. – EC
Emmy is a senior at Boston University studying Film & Television Production and Studies with a concentration in English. She has spent the last three semesters as the Executive Producer for Boston University’s televised pop culture game show, Pop Showdown!, where she fell in love with media production. She also works as an Audio Engineer for BUTV10’s live broadcast of BU Men’s and Women’s Basketball, as well as assists on several other productions for the television station. When she’s not working, she enjoys flexing her writer’s brain for skits and sketches to entertain her friends.