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Feminism has been one of the most influential movements throughout history for many reasons, spreading, expanding, and evolving through its three waves. In the first wave, feminist fought for basic human rights, for example in custody battles for children and the right to vote in national elections.In the second wave, feminists stood for reproductive and sexual rights. They also fought for rights in the workplace and equal wages. This was also the first period of time that LGBT rights were highly promoted and publicised. During the third wave, feminists focused on breaking stereotypes and maintaining a woman’s well-being. Some hot topics during this time include rape culture, body positivity, and equal pay. Many powerful women use their fame to promote these causes and empower young women.Feminism is a movement that is still very necessary in today’s culture.Feminism is a movement, conducted by brave, determined women, that can be found all throughout history, starting at the beginning of time and continuing on today.
Since the beginning of time, oppression has been a major difficulty that women have faced. Oppression comes in many different forms and is has been pertinent throughout history. Women have faced battles all throughout the world, fighting men against arranged marriage, their right to vote, rape culture, and many, many more forms of despotism by men. Because of this, feminism is a necessary and essential movement which has shaped history and is still very relevant in today’s culture.
Feminism has been discovered in history to as far back as 428 BC, when Plato claimed to argue for “the total political and sexual equality of women, advocating that they be members of his highest class, … those who rule and fight.” (Jump ahead to the 14th century and one can find some of the first women and authors to denounce misogyny and recognize the mistreatment of women. Some of these early feminist writers were Christine de Pizan, Simone de Beauvoir, and Hannah Woolley. These authors were prominent in the 16th and 17th centuries; however, one of the most important 17th century writers was Margaret Cavendish. (Dorey-Stein, 2015).
Margaret Lucas Cavendish is has been admired by feminists throughout history for her passion and perseverance for women’s equality in a time period where this was not a very popular opinion. Cavendish’s book CCXI Sociable Letters is portrayed as a series of letters as if they were written by real, normal women. Some of the topics that were covered by Margaret Lucas Cavendish were marriage, war, politics, medicine, gambling, and religion. (McGinn, 2012). Her ideals became more widely accepted during the 18th century, particularly during the enlightenment. Their beliefs were revolutionary, though many other who expressed their similar views were severely punished or murdered.
Misogyny may be the most wrongly perceived hate crime the world has ever seen. Yes, we think of a hate crime being racially or homophobically driven; however, hate crimes against women have been occurring. One example of this was the Salem witch trials. These women were clearly discriminated against for the simple fact that they’re women. One of the first things people may notice is that 23 were killed, 14 women, 5 children, and 4 men. The men were killed for the sole fact of “not disagreeing with the women.” More children ended up dead than men. (Dorey-Stein, 2015). Another hate crime towards women was the attempted assassination of Voltairine de Cleyre. Voltairine was an anarchists, know as “the first loving nihilist.” She was also an activist, proving her atheism and her avid feminism. On December 19, 1902, she was shot by Herman Helcher, who was earlier declared insane. She immediately forgave him and refused to press charges, as she stated, “ It would be an outrage against civilization if he were sent to jail for an act which was the product of a diseased brain.” (Hagan, 1993). Voltairine de Cleyre was one of the key women in the first-wave of feminism.
The first wave of feminism occurred during the 19th and early 20th century. During this time, feminist focused on legal issues, especially women’s suffrage and the right to vote. The beginning of the first-wave began with the French Revolution. This brought up many political, social, and economic problems. (Grant, 1993). The French Revolution was the first instance where women voiced their opinions collectively, which sparked a movement worldwide.
Mary Wollstonecraft, known as “the grandmother of British feminism,” also helped the first wave of feminism kick off. Her series of writings in the late 1700s, were some of the first of their kind. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman discussed the sexual desires and got their fair share of criticism. These writings also inspired many activist groups, such as the Suffragettes, who fought for the right to vote in European countries. (Stanley, 1983). Wollstonecraft’s works have inspired women throughout history to step up and fight for their rights.
The first wave of feminism focused primarily on labor laws, equal rights within marriage and with custody of children, and most notably: women’s suffrage. Women’s suffrage, or women’s right to vote is arguably the most relevant event to happen in women’s history. The women’s right movement in the first wave actually goes hand in hand with the anti-slavery movement. One of the first organizations to fight for voting rights for women and also people of color was the American Anti-Slavery Society. (Porter, 1992).
One of the first accomplishments during the first wave of feminism occurred in 1809. During this year, married women were granted the “privilege” to execute wills. In 1821, married women were allowed to own property in their own name if their spouse was unable and in 1833 the first co-educational university, Oberlin College, was founded. Then, in 1860, women were gained shared ownership of her their children. Fast forward to 1915, when women were allowed to join the American Medical Association and 1916 when the first birth control clinic was opened. (Dorey-Stein, 2015).
Some people who played crucial roles in the first-wave of feminism were Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Though they also fought for the abolition of slavery, one of their most notable accomplishments was the creation of the nineteenth amendment. (Anthony was arrested in 1872 for voting in the presidential election. Her case, where she refused to pay the $100 fine, was widely known and heard of. Here is where she gave her famous speech stating, “you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored.” (Hagan, 1993).
Stanton and Anthony the Women’s Loyal League, American Equal Rights Association, and the National Woman Suffrage Association. Through these organizations, they were able to reach a wide audience, giving, on average, 75 to 100 speeches per year. (Eisenstein, 2010). After Susan’s arrest in 1872, the two women, with their organizations behind them, teamed up with senator Aaron Sargent and proposed that congress be introduced to the Anthony Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Though Anthony didn’t live to see the 19th amendment passed, for she died in 1906 (and Stanton in 1902), the amendment was passed nationally in 1920. (Mitchinson, 2013). Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and many, many other brave women will go down as some of the most influential people during the first wave of feminism.
Of course, there were many influential women in the second wave of feminism as well. In the first wave, the main focus was women’s suffrage and legal rights, the second wave expanded the spectrum, focusing on sexuality, family structure, reproductive rights, violence, and rape. The second wave of feminism began in the early 1960s and lasted until the beginning of the 1980s. The main goal was to attempt to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. (The Learning Network, 2012).
This amendment was first proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul. The amendment proposed that “Men and women should have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subjects to its jurisdiction.” (The Learning Network, 2012). The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by congress in 1972, but was three states short of the 38 that were necessary for ratification.
Though this amendment did not pass, one that did succeed in congress was the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This act ensured that wages be high enough for the worker to be able to support themselves medically. It also stated that wages should not be based on gender, but on “skill, effort, and responsibility.” ( Gold, 2009). Another portion of an amendment that was passed in the second wave is Title Xl of the United States Education Amendment of 1972. This portion of the amendment focused on admittance of women into universities and made them just as eligible for federal aid. (Greenhouse, 2015).
These were revolutionary decisions, but perhaps the most important was the case of Roe vs. Wade. In 1973, the United States Supreme Court that the Due Process Clause within the 14th amendment protects women’s right to make their own religious or moral decision. Before Roe vs. Wade, in most states it was only legal to have an abortion if there was a police support proving rape or incest. The court ruled 7-2 that abortion was a fundamental right and women deserved their rights to their own bodies and privacy.
One of the most famous feminists of the second wave was Kate Millett. Kate is best known for her bestselling book Sexual Politics, where she discusses the political and social aspects to women’s oppression and misogyny. Millett often spoke out for lesbian and bisexual rights, getting mixed emotions for the public. She was often perceived as “manly” and “impersonal,” but was clearly strong-willed and hard-headed. She’s now 82 and continues to fight for gender equality. (Mitchinson, 2013).
Another key feminist during this time period was Shulamith Firestone. She authored the book The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, one of the most popular and influential feminist writings of all time. She co-founded the group New York Radical Women and founded many other groups, such as the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union.
The second wave of feminism was the first instance of LGBT women standing up for themselves and where these sexualities were first publicised and supported. Feminists in the 1970s and 1980s were highly sexualized and were known for being the first group of women to not be sexually submissive towards men. They were also very sexually aware and embraced their sexual desires, as opposed to being oppressed by them. (Hesford, 2015).
These ideals carried onto the third wave of feminism, as well. The difference between the second and third waves was the second wave’s political and economic changes versus the third wave’s hope to change stereotypes, media representations, and ideologies. (Levy, 2005).
One of the sole focuses of the third wave of feminism is to promote awareness of gender violence. One in three women have been assaulted by an intimate partner in their lifetime. (Zaytoun, 2016). Third wave feminists promote self-confidence and even self-defense in order to reduce the amount of violence against women.
Reproductive rights is one of the recurring themes throughout all waves. In the third wave, this goes hand-in-hand with rape culture. Rape culture shows the ways the society blames victims of sexual assault and how male violence is almost considered a norm in today’s world. Many times men who sexually assault women, particularly on college campuses, do not get in trouble or face a punishment. The reason why? Rape culture. (Greenhouse, 2015). Rape culture implies that the woman was at fault for the sexual assault because she had subjected herself to something such as drinking underage or wearing clothing that is too revealing. Women who report their rapes are often accused of being liars. (Medie, 2013). In order to rid our society of this plague, we must recognize and accept the very real and very big problems. Women are beginning to step up and tell their stories of oppression and are receiving both hate and support.
Another huge focus of third wave feminism is the government funding of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization supporting American women by providing them with reproductive health care. Though it is a very controversial topic, Planned Parenthood offers services such as physical exams, anemia testing, and flu vaccines, along with the sexual and reproductive health care as well.
The most publicised trial of the third wave is Casey vs. Planned Parenthood. In 1992, the Supreme Court reassured the decision of Roe vs. Wade. It ruled that the state could not ban abortions before the “viability” point and under any circumstances, a state could not deny a woman an abortion if crucial to her health. (Dorey-Stein, 2015.) This was a huge win for the liberals and feminists during the 1990s.
One of the most popular feminists of the third wave is, of course, Hillary Clinton. In 2016, Hillary Clinton changed history forever, being the first woman to come so close to being president of the United States of America. Her feminist values and beliefs were relevant during the election, as she stated, “We need to make equal pay and equal opportunity for women and girls a reality so women’s rights are human rights once and for all.” (Zaytoun, 2016).
Another very popular feminist figure in today’s pop culture is Beyonce. She is constantly writing songs about female empowerment and body positivity. Beyonce uses her huge audience to spread awareness awareness about the true meanings and beliefs that feminists have. She is an idol to millions of young girls and is empowering them is many different ways. Beyonce uses her daughter as an example of how to raise a strong, independent, determined daughter.
One question that many people still ask themselves is: why do we still need feminism today? Women can vote, a lady ran for president, what else could we want? Answer? A lot.
Well, one reason that we still need feminism in 2016 is the fact that women can’t walk down the street without being harassed. Thank you, kind sir, in the construction hat, but a catcall is not a compliment. Women must choose between beauty and brains, but who said a women can’t be intelligent and attractive? Not to mention the fact that women who are afraid to walk alone at night are advised to carry pepper spray or a rape whistle when walking across a college campus, but then are told that rape culture is a myth. We need feminism because, instead of teaching boys how to control their very normal sexual desires, we teach girls how to prevent it.
How about the fact that female genital mutilation still happens in multiple third world countries? Let’s not forget that young girls in Africa can’t afford feminine products like tampons or birth control and, on top of that, are being raped daily. (Nihinlola, 2016). Every day, nearly 40,000 girls under the age of 18 are being forced into arranged marriages, which nearly doubles the likeliness of domestic abuse. (Razack, 2004).
In America, nearly 80% of girls aged 16-18 experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. (Zaytoun, 2016). And those women who don’t work? Well that’s because they’re expected to be the stay-at-home parent. We still need feminism because there is a 23 percent pay gap (Greenhouse, 2015.), and people think that’s okay.
We need feminism because when a boy sleeps around, he is praised and congratulated, but when a girl does the same, she is called a “slut” or “whore.” In high schools, teenage girls are being subjected to extremely sexist dress codes because her shoulders may be “distracting” to a boy, who is being taught at that exact moment that sexual harassment will never be his own fault. We need feminism because girls are taught that they aren’t pretty unless they conform to the unrealistic body standards that society pushes onto them from the time that they’re old enough to know that they’re a girl.
Feminism is not a dirty word. It is simply the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. Many, many people today believe that feminism is a plague to society, but here is what they do not know: women have faced the battles of sexism all over the world, all throughout history. We have triumphed, we have failed, and we have changed the world. We have faced oppression in every form- from women’s suffrage, to reproductive rights, to equal pay, and everything in between. Feminism is a necessary and essential movement which has shaped history and is still so very relevant in today’s culture.
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