Let’s Talk About Feminism in 2021
Updated: May 23, 2022
In honor of Women’s History Month, I felt it would be fitting to discuss feminism, and to do that, let’s dive into a brief history of feminism and the Western concept of waves that we are familiar with.
The first wave began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls convention, where around 200 women and other men rallied for women to have more opportunities, including the right to vote. While there were many accomplishments in the first wave like women’s suffrage, equal opportunities brought to education, and the creation of a clinic that provided birth control, the first wave pushed out women of color from a lot of those opportunities and demonstrations. I think it is important to point out this movement established itself as a white women’s movement and that after the 15th Amendment, when Black men could vote, it fueled white women to fight for their voting rights. Even after the 19th Amendment was passed, it was still hard for Black women to vote.
The second wave started in the 1960s where women fought for both political equality and social equality. Women were angry with the systemic sexism in society and came to realize how class, race, gender oppression, etc. are political and related. There were women who protested the Miss American pageant in 1968 and threw objects that objectified women such as bras, makeup, and Playboy copies into trash cans. This wave had many victories like the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title IX that guaranteed women educational equality, and the renowned 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling allowing women the right to have an abortion. The movement was also amidst other social movements and the second wave pulled in women of color. Despite the fact that Black and white women fought for their reproductive freedom, Black feminists also advocated for forced sterilization to be stopped within POC and people who have disabilities which is something the [mainstream] women’s movement did not prioritize. Sadly, the image of angry feminists that I mentioned earlier who hated men, as quoted by women in the New York Times, stuck. This ultimately led to the difference in the way the next wave of feminism emerged.
The third wave began in the 1990s with activism related to sexual harassment in the workplace and having more women in positions of power. In 1991, the Anita Hill case generated conversations about the overrepresentation of men in national and influential leadership roles like the Supreme Court. The third wave was also socially influenced by girl groups like the Riot Grrrls in music who completely embraced their femininity and were empowered by girly clothing, beauty products, high heels, and being called girls. This was different from the second-wavers who did not want to be called a girl or dress to show their girliness.
The third wave’s acceptance and embrace of being girly was a response to the anti-feminist backlash that said second-wave feminists were not wanted by men. This wave demonstrated that rejecting dressing/ being girly is misogynistic and that there was no point in stopping women from wearing high heels or doing the things that brought them joy because it showed their girliness. Intellectuals like Kimberle Crenshaw, who invented the word intersectionality, and Judith Butler combined their theories and their influence to be an essential part of this movement fighting for transgender rights and understanding intersectional feminism.
This leads to the fourth wave we are currently in. Feminism today is focused on issues like violence against women, homophobia, transphobia, unequal pay, unfair work conditions, equal representation in politics, and many more problems that persist in our society today. Given the recent events of the murder of Sarah Everard, women are understandably scared and frustrated by the violence against women. It brings into question how we can educate young people and adults to respect others and what are the next steps towards ensuring safety for women. I think social media and the internet, in general, have allowed more people to come together, share their experiences, and drive movements like #MeToo or other impactful projects as a way of spreading awareness.
Feminism was not inclusive of women of color or poor women in its history, and so this wave, our wave, can redefine the term to be inclusive to all and ensure that no one is left behind. We can fully understand feminism and women’s oppression in the circumstances of other marginalized groups and genders because the movement is a part of something larger, and conscious of oppression. Since we are currently in the fourth wave, I am excited to see the global impact of the movement, especially with the use of social media and the internet. I hope that the word feminism won't alienate anyone, seeing as this movement is to create gender equality and gender equity for everyone.
Hopefully, this article has been informative and motivates you to help continue this movement.
Below, I have provided some resources to learn more about how you can get involved and educate others.