Feminism: Genesis and its Four Stages

  1. The first wave in the late 19th-century was not the first appearance of feminist ideals, but it was the first real political movement in the Western world.
  2. In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published the revolutionary Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The first organized movement aimed at gaining rights for American women effectively began in July 1848 convention organized at Seneca Falls, New York.
  3. Attendees signed the Declaration of Sentiments affirmed women’s equality with men, and passed a dozen resolutions calling for various specific rights, including the right to vote. Reproductive rights also became an important issue for early feminists.
  4. First-wave feminism had a fairly simple goal: have society recognize that women are humans, not property.
  5. However, the women’s suffrage movement largely excluded and discriminated against women of colour. This exclusion would haunt feminism for years to come.
  6. Although the early women’s rights movement was linked to abolitionism, the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 angered some women’s rights leaders who resented Black men being granted suffrage before white women.
  7. Though ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 fulfilled the principal goal of feminism’s first wave — guaranteeing white women the right to vote — Black women and other women of colour faced continued obstacles until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was almost 30 years after New Zealand became the first country where women could vote.
  1. Second-wave feminism, from roughly the 1960s to the 1990s, encompassed far more issues such as pay equality, reproductive rights, female sexuality, and domestic violence.
  2. In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, which argued that women were chafing against the confines of their roles as wives and mothers. The book was a massive success, selling 3 million copies in three years and launching what became known as the second wave of feminism.
  3. Inspired by the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War, second-wave feminists called for a re-evaluation of traditional gender roles in society and an end to sexist discrimination.
  4. Feminism — or “women’s liberation” — gained strength as a political force in the 1970s, as Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.
  5. Three main types of feminism emerged:
  1. The third phase of the movement that began in the early 1990s focused on tackling problems that still existed, including sexual harassment in the workplace and a shortage of women in positions of power.
  2. Rebecca Walker, the mixed-race daughter of second-wave leader Alice Walker, announced the arrival of feminism’s “third wave” in 1992 while watching Anita Hill testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her accusations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
  3. That same year dubbed the “Year of the Woman,” saw an unprecedented number of women elected to Congress.
  4. Embracing the spirit of rebellion instead of reform, third-wave feminists encouraged women to express their sexuality and individuality.
  5. Many embraced a more traditionally feminine style of dress and grooming and even rejected the term “feminist” as a way of distancing themselves from their second-wave predecessors.
  6. “Riot grrl” groups like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy brought their brand of feminism into pop music, including songs that addressed issues of sexism, patriarchy, abuse, racism and rape.
  7. Third-wave feminism also sought to be more inclusive when it came to race and gender.
  8. The work of scholar and theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw on the concept of “intersectionality,” or how types of oppression (based on race, class, gender, etc.) can overlap, was particularly influential in this area.
  9. Third-wave feminists also drew on the work of gender theorist Judith Butler, including support for trans rights in this type of intersectional feminism.
  10. Third wavers sought to redefine femininity and sought to celebrate differences across race, class, and sexual orientations.
  11. While third-wave feminists support feminism, they reject many stereotypes of the feminine ideal, sometimes even rejecting the word “feminism” itself.
  12. This movement was a stark departure from the second wave and the development of intersectionality began to take form.
  13. Thanks to the institutional victories of second-wave feminism, women enjoyed more rights and power going into the 1990s.
  14. They were able to think about other aspects of their identity, welcoming individuality and rebellion. This was an era of reclaiming.
  15. Many women more freely expressed their sexuality in how they spoke, dressed, and acted. These sometimes bewildered 2nd-wave feminists, many of whom had resisted traditional femininity.
  16. While many ideas and mini-movements swirled around in this time, the one “rule” was that there weren’t rules. A woman should choose how she lived her life.
  17. While mainstream first and second-wave feminism had largely ignored or neglected racial disparities within gender, the Third wave paid more attention.
  18. When the internet became more commonplace, it was even easier to hear perspectives and ideas from feminists around the world. Feminism was expanding.
  1. Though fourth-wave feminism is relatively difficult to define — as some people argue it’s simply a continuation of the third wave — the emergence of the Internet has certainly led to a new brand of social media-fueled activism.
  2. Launched by Tarana Burke in 2007, the #MeToo movement took off in 2017 in the wake of revelations about the sexual misconduct of influential film producer Harvey Weinstein.
  3. In addition to holding powerful men accountable for their actions, fourth-wave feminists are turning their attention to the systems that allow such misconduct to occur.
  4. Like their predecessors in the feminist cause, they also continue to grapple with the concept of intersectionality, and how the movement can be inclusive and representative regardless of sexuality, race, class and gender.
  5. The fourth wave of feminism is seen as characterized by action-based viral campaigns, protests, and movements like #MeToo advancing from the fringes of society into the headlines of our everyday news.
  6. The fourth wave has also been characterized as “queer, sex-positive, trans-inclusive, body-positive, and digitally driven.” It seeks to further deconstruct gender norms.
  7. Some people think we’re still in the third wave of feminism since the fourth wave isn’t so much of a shift as the continued growth of the movement. However, with the MeToo movement and a resurgence of attacks on women’s rights, many believe we’re living in a new wave.
  8. Social media activism has propelled the movement firmly into the technological age.
  9. It builds on the third wave’s emphasis on inclusivity and asks hard questions about what empowerment, equality, and freedom mean.
  10. Fourth-wave feminism continues to reckon with intersectionality.
  11. Critics of “white feminism,” which ignores the unique struggles of women of colour, expose how non-white feminists and ideas have been — and continue to be — suppressed.
  12. Trans rights are a big part of the conversation, too. Feminism has often been an unwelcoming and hostile place for trans women and others who reject the gender binary. Many fourth-wave feminists are working to combat this exclusion.
  13. As with every wave before it (and any wave that comes after it), the fourth wave is complex. It encompasses many movements that both complement and clash with each other. This tension is unavoidable. While some types of feminism can have harmful impacts, having a variety of voices makes feminism more inclusive and successful.



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Shahid Hussain Raja

Shahid Hussain Raja

Retired Federal Secretary, Government of Pakistan/Author/Independent Consultant- Public Policy & Governance Reforms