What is feminismWhat is feminism

Feminism The belief inequality of men and women in terms of social, political and economic rights is described as feminism. It involves all the movements and campaigns that aim at establishing equal rights and legal protection for women. Throughout history, women have been treated as second class citizens. They were denied basic human rights and always fell victim to domestic violence. This injustice and discrimination couldn’t be tolerated. Someone had to come up with the idea of equality of sexes to put an end to this. This is what happened in history. What were the main events that brought the idea of feminism?. Who finally raised their voice and started this feminism movement? How and when it started? What were the results of this movement? This article contains a detailed answer to all these questions.


Feminism has its roots in early eras of civilization and the first evidence of it is found in the 6th century BCE when Roman women organized a protest against Oppian Law, which restricted women’s excess to expensive goods. Upon this, the Roman consul, Marcus Porcius Cato asserted, “As soon as they begin to be your equals, they will have become your superiors”. The law was; however, repealed. Since then, only a few voices spoke in support of women until the 15th century, when a French writer, Christine de Pisan wrote, “The book of the city of ladies “ and denounced misogyny. Later, a Venetian writer, Laura Cereta published Epistolae Familiares and highlighted women’s complaints including denial of education and marital oppression. Similarly, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Mary Astell did their work in the 16th century. The word feminism was still not known when in the 17th century, writers like Anne Bradstreet and Francois Poulain de la Barre wrote so much about the inferior position of women in a society that they became known as protofeminist. Feminists have divided the history of feminism into three waves. The first wave occurring in the 19th and early 20th century, primarily concerned with women’s right to vote. The second wave, extending from the 1960s to 1970s, associated with women’s liberation movement and the third wave, starting in the 1990s and referring to the continuation of and reaction of second-wave feminism.

First-wave feminism

It refers to the extended period of the mid 19th and early 20th century mainly began in the US and Britain. Initially, it focused on the promotion of equal property rights and opposed ownership of wives by their husbands. However, the most prominent achievement during this time was women’s suffrage. In 1848, abolitionists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott campaigned for women’s right to vote. These suffragettes slowly started achieving their purpose when New Zealand, in 1893 became the first-ever country to grant women the right to vote. The UK, on the other hand, gave limited suffrage to women over the age of thirty who owned houses, through the Representation Act of people 1819. However, keeping in mind the participation of the women of the US during World War I, this suffrage was extended to the women of all states, above the age of 21, through the nineteenth amendment in the US constitution. With voting rights achieved, this amendment marked the end of first-wave feminism in the US.

Second Wave Feminism

Starting in the 1960s, second-wave feminism concerned mainly with issues of equality and social and economic justice. The publication of, “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan that discussed “the problem that has no name” and The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir gave a detailed description of women’s oppression, arguing that the women are confined to domestic tasks of homemaking and child-rearing. They further argued that in this way, women tend to lose their identity These arguments were effective in accelerating the idea of feminism as well as forming the basis of second-wave feminism. By this time, the word “women’s liberation “ became to coexist with “feminism”, referring mainly to women’s movement. The second wavers highlighted innumerable issues of women in society including denial of education, domestic violence and access to abortions. The movements began to claim success. For example, Equal Pay Act of 1963 ended gender pay gap, a commission was set up on the status of women which granted women pay maternity leave, access to education as well as good child care. Women’s Educational Equity Act of 1972 gave women a greater degree of educational Equality. The reforms like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the outlaw of marital rape by all states were all notable achievements of second wavers While the second wave had huge success on securing the social and political rights of women, it, however, had some setbacks. When the women’s movement first started in the 1960s, it largely contained three main groups. The university students, the professional women and the other people of the same class. Their presence in the movement meant the concentration of movement’s demands into their specific cause, which is a demand for social equality. Also, the Feminine Mystique, though was written to represent women of all races, it ended up representing the white women or we can say working women. The concerns of black women were never mentioned. The mainstream movement campaigned greatly to get equal treatment in all working place and worked hard to eradicate discrimination by asking the government to pass and implement anti-discrimination laws. However, this was not something black women wanted. Here, they again felt neglected and not properly represented. This gave birth to confusion among these classes, making black women realize that they had totally different problems and thus totally different priorities. This caused them to separate themselves from feminists to be known as “womanists” adopted a rather radical shift in patriarchal society It should be remembered that womanists had the same primary purpose as feminists, which is a fight for gender equality. Alice Walker, who first coined the name womanist in 1983 explained, “womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” The only difference is that the womanists adopt a supportive attitude towards men in their struggle to end oppression and racism while feminists generally consider men as their enemy. In 1969, the National Organization for Women attempted to dissolve the difference between the groups but they could not seem to agree on the same grounds. Due to differences among feminist groups, the women’s movement failed in many ways. One of these failures is that there were still classes of women who were left unrepresented. Thus, the third wave feminism started.

Third Wave Feminism

This wave of feminism is considered to be the most individualistic wave of feminism. It emerged out of the realization that women are of many colors, nationalities and cultural backgrounds and that the rights of all of them need to be a safeguard. Although the demands of first and third wavers had been achieved successfully, third wavers felt the need to break further stereotypes about women and to change the way media portrays women as well as the language that is being used for women. Third wavers were concerned with labels like a slut, bitch and cunt that used to oppress and degrade women in a patriarchal society. They embraced these terms, flaunted with them and used them as tools of liberation. An example of this is the book Bitch: In praise of difficult women published by Elizabeth Wetzel in 1999. Unlike previous waves of feminism, that was more inclined towards white women, this wave of feminism aimed to be intersectional. Intersectionality is defined as the interconnected nature of the different categories including race, class, gender and other defining characteristics. It analyzed the difference in the treatment and oppression between different classes of women. For example black and white both women face oppression but black women have to face a greater form of oppression comparatively. By including discussions over such topics, third wavers made movement more inclusive, representing women of all classes, races, nationalities, and religions. Third wavers realized that there was a need to add queer and other identities who were previously considered as an embarrassment by second wavers. The discussions over the topics of sexuality, gender and body image became a source of empowering trans persons, who finally came up as trans feminists. In this way, transfeminism was brought into the mainstream and the problems of trans persons were highlighted for the first time in history. Apart from this, third-wave feminists made an attempt in redefining what it really means to be a “women”. Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues” was effective in reinforcing the idea. People like Queen Latifah tried to remove misconceptions about women being passive and shy by displaying them as strong and powerful. The Riot grrrl movement was also important in this regard, which, combined with punk rock served as an inspiration for musical movement in which women could express themselves in the same way as men. Despite all these efforts, women artists still faced constant discrimination. A group of “guerrilla girls” came in response which comprised of women artists who exposed female stereotypes and fought against discrimination. As expected, third-wave feminists faced critics. As the movement began to find its voice, many writers started arguing that the movement is no longer effective. These writers, by 2000 declared the wave to be broken. It was also argued that the sexualized behavior of women like wearing revealing clothes and pole dancing was not a part of feminism and had nothing to do with gender equality.

Fourth Wave Feminism

Fourth wave feminism is the only wave of feminism that has arisen in the technology age. It started in 2012 with its prime focus on issues such as sexual assault awareness, body shaming, and rape culture. Other aims of the movement were breaking glass ceilings, reproductive rights, end of discrimination in working places and intersectionality. The most significant part of fourth-wave feminism is the “Me too movement” which was started in 2006 in the US to give voice to victims of sexual assault. However, it was in 2017 that it gained widespread attention, when the real face of Harvey Weinstein, a film mogul was revealed that he had been harassing women of industries for years. As soon as the news got viral, several women from around the world used the platform of social media to share their stories of sexual assault by using hashtag #Metoo. This act proved to be helpful in breaking the power of men in politics, entertainment and news media. The “time’s up” movement, another achievement of the fourth wave, brought cases of sexual assault to people’s notice through high profile celebrities who demanded a change in the attitude of males towards them in their industries. Empowered by the availability of social media, fourth-wave feminism is seen to emerge in different eras. It can be said that this wave of feminism has emerged with high hopes, passion and demanding change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.