Saturday, January 18, 2014

What is Feminism? Part 1: The Waves of History

Don't run, it's okay to learn about the history of feminism without you catching the "feminism" virus.   Historical feminism has been categorized into 3 waves.   I think it's important to note that not all players in the history of feminism claimed the term (as it was first suggested derogatorily) and in every era feminists have disagreed about the whys and hows of issues and activism. 

First Wave Feminism:  1800s - Early 1900s
Jane Austen could be considered a precursor to the feminist movement for her work in popularizing the social critique of limited choices available to women.  During this era industrialization and global politics came to the forefront and informed the movement.  The main goals were to create more opportunities for women and to gain suffrage.  In addition to fighting for the right to vote, they also fought for the right to an education, the right to work, the right to work safely, the right to the money they earned when they worked, the right to a divorce, and the right to not be property of their fathers or husbands or lose their children in marital conflicts.  First wave feminists were also very active in abolition and temperance.  This period is where women would be the "firsts": first female reporter, Nellie Bly; first female doctor, Elizabeth Blackwell; etc.   The right to vote was granted in the 19th amendment in 1920.  This period of feminism is probably taken for granted; most women who "hate feminism" would shudder at the thought to give up the rights gained during this period. 

Second Wave Feminism:  1960s - 1980s
This period was one of anti-war and civil rights movements, where I think the movement was being overshadowed and women became a little more radicalized to be heard.  This wave fought for equal pay, equal hiring opportunities, rights to contraception/abortions***, for divorce, a right to property in the case of a divorce, and the right to have marital rape be outlawed.  They established "women's studies" programs in academia.  They staged a counter-protest at the 1968 & 1969 Miss America Pageant where, "feminists parodied what they held to be a degrading "cattle parade" that reduced women to objects of beauty dominated by a patriarchy that sought to keep them in the home or in dull, low-paying jobs.(1)  Many militant and radicalized feminists looked down on women and mothers who were traditional and stayed home.  Four legal wins for the 2nd wave include the outlaw of marital rape, the pregnancy discrimination act of 1978, Title IX (1972), and Title VII (1964).  They failed to pass the  ERA amendment: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."  Opposition argued that this would eliminate the all male draft.  The STOP ERA leader "Schlafly defended traditional gender roles and would often heckle feminists by opening her speeches with quips like "I'd like to thank my husband for letting me be here tonight." (2)  They argued legal protection for women under the law would destroy the family and even eliminate the existence of single-sex bathrooms.  p.s.  traditional Mormons, here is the feminism you love to hate.  Many in the church associate the word feminist with negative connotations from this era as well as the Church's active campaign against the feminists ERA amendment. 

Third Wave Feminism:  1990s - ??
Third wave feminism is often seen as a response and push-back against some second-wave principles.  Sometimes they love lipstick, high-heels, cleavage which the first two waves identified with male oppression.  "Pinkfloor expressed this new position when she said; "It's possible to have a push-up bra and a brain at the same time."(3)  This wave focuses less on laws and politics and more on individual identity and choices - realizing there are many different backgrounds and many different ways to be a woman, it challenges the assumption there is a universal way to be a 'good woman.'  "It allows women to define feminism for themselves by incorporating their own identities into their belief system of what feminism is and what it can become."(4) This wave challenges stereotypes in the media, words used to describe gender, rape culture, gender expectations, body image issues, institutionalized patriarchy, etc.  This wave also attempts to avoid "us-vs.-them mentalities" thus often avoiding the label of feminist themselves.  Often described today feminism is the radical notion that women are people, too.

Historical Perspective
Throughout the history of the world, power had been held by those with the most strength.  World history is basically a story of one empire becoming stronger than another and defeating it.  Because strength = power, men did have all the power, decision making, access to education, etc. which consolidated their power.  Survival in past society was dependent upon using the strength of men:  it is true that men were the hunters, warriors, builders, farmers in the fields, etc.  Families needed the muscles of men to provide and protect them.  In today's society providing for oneself and protecting oneself is no longer dependent upon muscles and strength, but brains and talent.  The historically weak (women) are no longer kept from literacy and education, which are keys to success in today's world.  A woman no longer *needs* to stay at home and be the one cooking and cleaning to survive.  For the first time in history, success and survival are not dependent upon your role or your gender.  There has been a great equalization, and those in power will always be reluctant to give up their hold on it. 

What will the world look like in the future where more of the leaders of the business and political world are women?  I don't know but I look forward to it.  Based on some gender studies I read about in the book The Big Short about the global meltdown, females take less risks and have a buy-and-hold strategy.  So female-led investment banks didn't take during the financial crash because they never fell for the lies of easy money.  There would also be less wars and government shutdowns  (Women the Only Adults Left in Washington, TIME)  as women are more likely to reach across the aisle and negotiate. 

I think it's important to note that in the history of the world women have only been allowed to vote in (arguably) the most free country on the planet for less than 100 years.  For less than 100 years (and only in the most democratic countries) have women not been considered the property of men.  I get a little confused when people talk about how feminism is bad and we don't need feminism.  Does gender inequality and sexism still exist?

Have you seen the latest RAINN statistics, 97% of rapists are never prosecuted?  That the Stubenville rapists were defended by everyone in town?  That teenage sexual assault is written off as a prank?  Are women starving themselves with eating disorders because of body image issues?  Are women equally and fairly represented in media?  Do they continue to be objectified by others (ex. porn) and ourselves? Could we attempt to get more momentum for family friendly employment policies?

Pause for a moment.  Have I said anything about how they hate men?  How they think they are stupid and worthless?  That men and women are the same?  Sure, some feminist thinkers despise men and motherhood.  Some feminist thinkers love men and motherhood.  Some feminist thinkers are vegans and some eat Paleo.  Some feminists thinkers support gay marriage, some don't.  Some feminist thinkers are man-loving stay-at-home mothers who honor womanhood and cherish motherhood (hi! that's me!).

Keep that in mind as you read in part 2 about Modern American & Global Feminism.

Read more:
What are the Three Waves of Feminism?, Ehow
Feminism, New World Encyclopedia
353 Feminist Glossary
(2) ERA, Wikipedia
(4) Being Feminist Blog
(1)(3) The Three Waves of Feminism, 

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