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The Feminist Evolution

By Joi Bass

Here’s a question, Dreamlettes: what do Oprah Winfrey, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Walters, Alice Walker and Ruth Bader Ginsberg all have in common?

Aside from being trailblazing women who helped pave the way for millions of women with the same dreams and aspirations, they have been very active in the Feminist Movement.

Although things might look equal on the outside, feminism has become even more prevalent in today’s society; the fight for women’s rights and equality still lives on.

With every movement there is a story, there is a purpose and there is an end goal that the movement wants to accomplish. This is the evolution of Feminism.

What is Feminism? defines feminism as the belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. The goal of feminism is to challenge the systemic inequalities women face everyday.

Feminism is broken into three waves. These waves span all the way from the Women’s Suffragist Movement to the #MeTooMovement.

How it all Started

The early stages of feminism dates back to Ancient Greece. The History Channel states that the philosopher Plato advocated for women’s rights in his classic novel Republic. Plato believed that women possessed “natural capacities” equal to men for governing and defending.

Plato’s opinions inspired countless historical figures to not only speak out against their local governments for their misogynistic ways, but they also wrote pieces of literature that vigorously fought for women’s rights.

During the 19th century, the United States saw its first signs of feminism on the rise. Abigail Adams, the First Lady to President John Adams, was one of the first pillars of the feminist movement. The History Channel reports that the First Lady saw access to education, property and the ballot as critical to women’s equality.

The First Lady wrote several letters to her husband warning him, “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice.”

The rebellion that Abigail Adams threatened in her letters began in the 19th century. During that time, according to the History Channel, the calls for freedom among women joined with voices demanding an end to slavery.

First Wave Feminism

The first wave of feminism begins with the Women’s Suffrage Movement and The Seneca Falls Convention.

The Seneca Falls Convention, which was originally known as the Women’s Rights Convention, was held from July 19-20, 1848 at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. The purpose of the convention was to fight for the social, civil and religious rights of women.

During the convention, abolitionists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott famously proclaimed in their Declaration of Sentiments that “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.” The feminists also demanded their right to vote during the meeting, this demand became a controversial topic during the meeting.

Before the United States passed the 19th Amendment in 1920—which gave women the right to vote—countries like New Zealand, Australia, Finland and the United Kingdom passed legislation that ensured women’s right to vote.

In the United States, women’s participation in World War I proved to many that they were deserving of equal representation. In addition, the work of suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt helped with the passage of the 19th Amendment. Although women were able to have their rights to vote secured, feminist still had work to do, and the second wave of feminism began.

Women and Work

Before the second wave of feminism began in the 1960s, women made significant steps during The Great Depression and World War II. When the stock market crashed in 1929 and the Great Depression began in 1930, women began entering the workplace in great numbers.

After many male breadwinners lost their jobs, women were forced to find jobs that were classified as “women’s work” in lower paying, but stable, careers like housework, teaching and secretarial roles.

During World War II, women stepped up in even greater numbers. Women began actively participating in the military or found work in industries reserved for men. This is what made Rosie the Riveter a feminist icon.

After proving themselves during the hardest times in American history, women sought greater participation in the workplace with equal pay. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 became one of the first to confront this issue that is still relevant to this day.

Second Wave Feminism

During the 1950s and 1960s, cultural obstacles still remained. Gender roles were very prevalent and many believed that a woman’s role in society was to be a homemaker and take care of their children. However, inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, women sought to create more change.

When “The Feminine Mystique” was published in 1963, Betty Friedan, who later created the National Organization for Women (NOW), argued that women were still relegated to unfulfilling roles in homemaking and child care. This resulted in the Women’s Liberation Movement.

The Women’s Liberation Movement

The Women’s Liberation Movement gained momentum during the 1960s. Along with the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war movements, it was a time of tremendous change especially for women.

In spite of popular culture still glorifying the image of the woman known as the happy homemaker and taking care of the children, large numbers of women were going out to work each day. Many women worked at low paying jobs as teachers, nurses, waitresses, secretaries and factory workers.

However, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in education and employment which helped make it possible for women to work in more professional fields.

The Pill was also very influential during this wave of feminism. A century after Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood and created birth control pills, women wanted society to know that they had every right to make decisions that were right for their bodies. This is why Roe v. Wade in 1974 was a turning point in the feminist movement and ensured women the right to an abortion.

Third Wave Feminism

This wave of feminism is very crucial. This movement raised the question, who really benefits from feminism?

Research by the History Channel reports that critiques argue that the benefits of the feminist movement, especially during the second wave, are limited to white, college-educated women. Moreover, feminism has failed to address the concerns of women of color and other minorities.

#MeToo and Women’s Right Marches

In recent years, feminists have pointed to prominent cases of sexual assault as an example of the work that still needs to be done in combating misogyny and ensuring women equal rights.

Artwork by: Susanna Young Håkansson

The #MeToo movement gained traction in 2017, when the New York Times published an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. After the publication, many women came out with allegations against other powerful men.

On January 21, 2017 hundreds of thousands of people joined the Women's March on Washington in Washington D.C. The march was in protest of the new administration and the perceived threat it represented to the reproductive, civil and human rights. Three million people in cities around the world held demonstrations providing feminists with high profile platforms to advocate for women’s rights world wide.

Feminism Today

In a report done by USA Today, the majority of Americans believe that feminism has only benefited white women with a college education. About 6 out of 10 adults in the US say that the lives of Black and Hispanic women have not been affected by feminism to the same magnitude as white women.

Karla Holloway, a professor who has taught African American studies and women’s studies at Duke University, believes that the exclusion of Black women from the feminist movement is particularly painful because none of the work would’ve been possible without them.

After extensive research on the evolution of feminism, I have come across several experts who believe that 2020 has created a new important element to feminism.

With the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on communities around the world to the international protests of systematic racism and discrimination, these current events have taught us that we have a long way to go if we want to achieve equality.

United Nations Women did a piece about Intersectional Feminism. The article dives in depth to what this new type of feminism means and why it is important now. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor who coined the term in 1989, explained that intersectional feminism is “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate together.”

Crenshaw also states in her interview that “all inequality is not created equal.” An intersectional approach shows the way that people’s social identities can overlap, creating compounding experiences of discrimination.

Intersectional feminism centers the voices of those experiencing overlapping, concurrent forms of oppression in order to understand the depths of inequalities and the relationships among them in any given context.

I believe that right now is the perfect time to acknowledge that yes, the feminism movement hasn’t been perfect.

However,I believe that when people come together to address the flaws of this movement and give people the resources to acknowledge the oppression and inequality of minority communities, the feminist movement will evolve into a movement that is meant for all women regardless of the color of their skin. It will be a movement meant for all women.

Joi Bass is an editorial writer who specializes in social justice, mental health advocacy, online safety and the well-being of our youth. You can follow her on Instagram.

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