What Is Feminism?
Your ultimate guide to what is feminism, types of feminism, history, and more
Not all women enjoy the same rights and freedom as men across the globe. As they say one can do better only if they know better. So educating ourselves on what is feminism, its history, and why it is relevant is a good place to start.
The meaning of feminism will be different for different people depending on their fights, struggles, background, and learning. Here we are trying to start with the basics so that one can develop their own definition of what feminism means to them.
Definition of Feminism
According to Cambridge Dictionary,
Feminism is the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state
To explain this further what it means is keeping the anatomic and biological difference between men and women aside, human beings whether a man or a woman should have equal say in all affairs including but not limited to work, opportunity, participation in society, representation in all sectors, and accessibility to resources.
It is a common mistake that when feminists talk about equality, it is met with an argument stating men and women are not the same. Here, it is important to u understand that equality is not equal to sameness. We are not talking about physical capability but equality in all spheres of life.
Women need not do the heavy lifting to deserve equality.
History Of Feminism
The history of feminism is intertwined with political history. The fight of women for civil rights, equality of education, opportunity, economic equality, and even right over their body and fertility are part of this history.
We will be explaining the history of feminism through the wave metaphor. Here, we are trying to simplify history through the first, second, third, and fourth waves. But you should understand that the history involving struggle, resistance, and fight is more complex and messy. Here we are chronologically arranging them for a better understanding.
First Wave Feminism
First Wave feminism is a political feminist movement that lasted from 1848 to 1920. Till then women were being treated as the inferior sex so the goal of this movement was for women to be treated as human beings with equality in all spheres of life.
In late 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published Revolutionary Vindication of the Right of Women. This was followed by The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.
In a church in New York, 200 women gathered to discuss the grievances and issues faced by women in their times. They came up with 12 resolutions about the social, civil, and religious rights of women. Reproductory rights and the right to vote were important topics of discussion.
Despite the fact that women of color contributed immensely, the movement established itself as a movement for white women. Though the movement was racist it questioned the right to education, employment, and reproductive rights.
After years of suffrage, march, protests, and women facing arrests in 1920 congress passed the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote. In spite of the amendment granting women of all races to vote, it was still difficult for black women to vote.
Second Wave Feminism
Second-wave feminism is accounted for from the 1960s to 70's. Feminists and activists got inspired by the civil rights movement and protests in Vietnam. Discussions and questions on the gender role, and what factors are holding women back were raised during this time.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963, and talks based on Queer theory were all happening during this time giving birth to Liberal, Radical and Cultural Feminism. The goal of second-wave feminism was to encourage women to take up work in men-dominated spaces and to reduce crimes based on gender.
Third Wave Feminism
Third-wave feminism began in 1991 with the Anita Hill Case of 1991 and the riot of the grrrl group of 1990. There is a lot of confusion on the goals and duration of third-wave feminism as is a diffused wave with no major social events or reforms that drew public attention other than the Anita Hill case and "Year of the Women" in 1992.
The beginning of this wave was marked when Anita Hill testified in the supreme court against supreme court nominee Clarence Thomas in accounts of sexual harassment. Though Thomas walked free, it sparked thoughts, discussions, and grievances on sexual misconduct at the workplace.
Also the usual scenario of seeing lesser women as you climb the ladder of power was changed by the "year of the women" when 24 women won the house of representatives and three seats in the Senate. Along with fights for trans right this wave also gave birth to intersectional feminism.
One major difference between second and third-wave feminism is that, while second-wave feminists declared the fights were for women, third-wave feminism liked being girls. They broke the stereotyping of feminists as loud, hairy, braless women. In fact they bought a fearless and empowering aura to the word girl.
Fourth Wave Feminism
The fourth wave of feminism began in 2012 emphasizing equal pay, women empowerment, body shaming, sexual harassment, rape culture, and more. This wave took feminism digitally through social media, news, publications, etc.
The fourth-wave feminists not only talked about the physical and mental well-being of women and girls but also men and boys.
The year 2006 witnessed the #metoo movement in the US supporting sexual violence survivors, especially women of color. In 2017 #metoo regained traction when victims started posting on sexual harassment experiences fueled by film Mogul Harvey Weinstein's allegations and conviction. This wave helped in holding men in power responsible and accountable for their actions.
Types Of Feminism
The basic ideology of feminism remains the same. Here we are discussing the four most popular types of feminism.
The concept of feminism known to most is derived from radical feminism. Radical feminists believe in erasing the concept of gender and believe that sexism is deeply rooted in our present society which is preventing equal opportunity for women.
The proof of this is our traditional family system where most men are the earning members of the family, hence also possess power and financial independence whereas women stay at home to nurture the family.
They support technologies that allow women to grow and nurture babies without their constant presence allowing them to concentrate on their careers which according to some is an extreme form of feminism.
Socialist feminists believe that capitalism has exploited women more than it has men. Capitalist men in power are more willing to share resources with men of lower stature than women. Hence money and power are accumulated with one gender.
This is also one of the main reasons for the pay gap between men and women in the same job roles. Socialist feminism aims to eradicate this and bring about equal financial independence for women.
Cultural Feminists believe women are superior to men on account of their biological, and behavioral differences. They back their argument by stating that women are kinder and more empathetic than men, hence if women are in places of power this world would be a better place for all.
When Radical feminism died out, many feminists joined the cultural feminism movement.
Intersectional feminism is the new buzzword in the media world but feminists have been explaining the relevance of intersectionality for over a decade. Intersectional feminism throws light on the different magnitude at which women from different classes, races, and sexual identity faces discirmination.
One cannot compare the discrimination faced by white women to that of black lesbian women as she is at a disadvantage in not just her gender but also her sexual orientation and race. Intersectional feminism addresses privileges enjoyed by certain communities or groups of women and advocates equal rights for all women irrespective of their identities.
Liberal feminism, eco-feminism, trans feminism, and separatist feminism are a few honorable mentions on this list. Diversity in ideologies and voices makes feminism stronger than ever.