A Brief History of Feminism

Feminism is defined as social activism aimed towards women’s rights and gender equality. Women have fought for decades, nay centuries, for the rights they currently enjoy. In the year 1920 women in the United States got the right to vote after a suffrage movement that lasted for a century and a half in the history of the country. Even in modern times, many women in some parts of the world have only recently gotten many basic rights. Women in Saudi Arabia weren’t allowed to drive till 2018.

There is a big misconception that feminism is a recent movement of the last century but in reality, the first wave of modern feminism originated in the mid 19th century. The first wave of feminism started in 1848 when a crowd of women and men stood up for equal rights at the Seneca Falls Convention, which was the first major women’s rights convention in modern history. During this era women were fighting for the right to vote. After all, if men of colour were getting the right to vote, why not women as well, of all colours and races? Some of the prominent activists during this wave were Sojourner Truth and Frances E.W Harper, who were exceptionally notable women of colour.

The second wave of feminism began in the 1960s and till the 1980s. The terms “feminist” and “feminism” came into existence during this wave. A major event during this wave was the publication of The Feminine Mystique, a book written by Betty Friedan, which spoke about the unfair standards of women’s roles in homemaking and child care alongside expectations of work. The book led to heavy debates about women’s roles in the workplace and at home, with the book having supporters and critics in both the sexes. In 1973, feminists rejoiced when the United States Supreme court passed a ruling allowing women to have the right to abortion. Unfortunately, decades after this ruling, many women in current times still do not have the right to an abortion, even in some American states. The second wave also fought against racism. Women of colour voiced out to stop the sterilization of people of colour and of people with disabilities. Women protested against traditional beauty pageants saying women were more than just “objects of beauty” that was decided by the patriarchy. 

Now there is a slight confusion regarding the third wave. There are 2 views, one being the third wave ended and the other being the third wave is still ongoing. Both groups agree that the third wave started in the 1990s. A prominent act of the third wave were the acts of “grrrl groups”. The third wave’s “grrls” walked onto the international stage as strong and powerful individuals, shunning victimization and defining feminine beauty for themselves as individuals rather than as objects of a sexist patriarchy. Activists of the second wave wanted to be referred to as women as they considered themselves full-grown mature adult women. On the other hand activists of the third wave preferred the term girls as they embraced it and wanted to make it powerful. Some say that the third wave has not yet ended so there is an ongoing debate on whether a fourth wave exists or whether the third wave continues.

Feminism has come a long way since its beginning in the late 19th century. But, to this day, women are still fighting to have true equality between both the sexes. What’s unfortunate is that some of the rights that women fought so hard to achieve are being attempted to be taken away once again, such as the right to abortion, views on beauty pageants and the dreadful beauty standards created by patriarchy. The fight for equal rights is still ongoing and will still be a long while till it’s achieved its complete arc.

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