A Brief History of Feminism

Aoife Zuckerman, Contributor

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If you were to search the internet for “feminism” and look at the definition you would see this: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes” but the fact of the matter is that while that definition is sufficient and explains the basic ideology of feminism, it’s difficult explain a word like feminism in one sentence. There are many misconceptions surrounding the term. People believe that feminists are people who believe women are better than men; to the contrary, the term for this ideology in misandry. Others believe that women are being treated the same as men and always have been and therefore see no need for the feminist movement. A third group believes that men are better than women and always will be, the term coined for this is misogyny. Going back in time, the feminist movement has a rather long and interesting history. Historians agree than the feminist movement can we divided into four distinct waves. The First Wave began in 1848 and focused on women having basic rights such as the right to vote, and because of this, was closely tied to the suffragette movement.  The Second Wave is identified as beginning in 1960. This movement was focused on more issues, including the Vietnam War. The Third Wave began in the mid 1990s and focused on equality in all walks of life. The Fourth Wave began in 2012 and is focused many more issues than any previous wave.


The first wave on feminism began on July 19th, 1848. The Seneca Falls Convention commenced, led by Mary Ann McClintock, Lucretia Mott, Jane Hunt, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton wrote the Declaration of “Sentiments and Grievances” (sometimes also referred to as the “Seneca Falls Declaration”) which explained the movement’s philosophy, opinions, and tactics moving forward. Other notable participants of the Seneca Falls Convention were Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, both former slaves who were preaching equality at the time. Stanton went on to create the National Woman Suffrage Association (commonly referred to as NWSA) with Susan B. Anthony in 1869. However, many women, including Anthony, did not believe that women of color deserved the right to vote. This blatant racism taints the reputation of the suffragette movement, and caused the NWSA to lose credibility in the eyes of many. In 1913, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns formed the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, and their tactics were a key part in the passing of the nineteenth amendment that guarantees women the right to vote.


The Second Wave of feminism that occurred between 1960 and 1990 was connected with anti-war protests as well as women’s rights. They campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, which stated the civil rights may not be declined on the basis on one’s sex. The ERA was passed by the US Senate on March 22, 1972, but did not get the three-fourths approval required and was never ratified. Feminists during the Second Wave also protested the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City because they found the idea of judging women based on their appearance to be oppressive and wrong. While the Second Wave is certainly important, was not as noticed as the first wave because of the many different political lobbies occurring at the time. However, the second wave was very important because it was one of the first times the difference between sex and gender was discussed and it as also a wave led by women of varying economic classes.


The Third Wave transpired between 1990 and 2012. This wave was led by people of all economic classes, most of whom were well educated. However, they as thankful as they were for previous activists, they did not necessarily share their views. The women of the third wave were typically younger than those of the First and Second Waves and dressed in the way that earlier feminists had deemed oppressive,wearing things like high-heels. Additionally, these women worked to appropriate derogatory terms in an effort to undermine sexists. This wave of feminism also worked to explain different genders and that not all people define themselves as men or women and worked hard to keep reproductive rights that were gained during the Second Wave.


The Fourth Wave, which began in 2012, works to address more issues than any wave before. Currently, the feminist movement is talking about rape, domestic abuse, and reproductive rights but also discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Our current wave of feminism works to establish equality between all economic levels, sexualities, religions, and ethnicities.


Works Cited
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