fem·i·nism

ˈfeməˌnizəm

noun

  1. the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes: socially, politically, economically.

When you look at this definition of the highly debated topic of feminism or simply being considered a feminist, what are your thoughts? Are you met with the repugnant urge of other people shutting you down on debates of the gender wage gap? Are you the type of person to fiercely defend your stance on reproductive rights? Are you a person who will loudly and proudly own the "feminist" title?

OR do you often feel reluctant to answer the question if you are a feminist? Maybe you are half a feminist? Does this ever make you wonder what exactly it is that makes you hold back, or what makes you want to scream it to the world? Well, feminism throughout history has vastly evolved, into much broader terms with a lot of positive AND negative connotations in today's world. But let me break down how we got to this point through the brief history of the three waves of feminism.

1. First Wave of Feminism

The first wave of feminism is most notably during the 19th century to the early 20th century, where women fought for their right to vote. Susan B. Anthony was the lead pioneer of the women's suffrage movement, which eventually led to the achievement of the 19th amendment being enacted. She is a prominent figure in the feminist culture.

Fighting for women's right to vote was the primary reason for the cause. Other reasons being the right to not be considered property by their husbands, but instead as an equal individual to men as well as the ability to receive an education. Some may even argue that feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of "The Vindication on the Rights of Women", was the mother of feminism. In her writing, she describes how men are not superior to women, but how men have had formal education, where women lacked the opportunity to a formal education.

*Fun Fact - Mary Wollstonecraft was the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.*

2. Second Wave of Feminism

The second wave of feminism can be seen during the start of the 1960s. The focus of the second wave of feminism focused on the issues of reproductive rights, sexuality, women in the workforce, violence against women, and the Equal Rights Amendment. With more women being able to plan their families with the official introduction of birth control in the 1970s, women had the opportunity to focus on the other areas of their lives before the thought of having children. This lead to many women joining the workforce (aside from economic reasons).

There has also been the debate of the gender wage gap, which is still up for debate today (don't worry though, I won't get into the complexities of that issue at this time). Women also took a stand against domestic violence and rape at home and sexual assault in the workplace. During the second wave of feminism no longer by law would they accept this treatment. Shelters for women who have been victims of domestic violence grew, and the rights granted to women by law on cases of sexual assault at work was then in their favor - for the first time. Women simply wanted full equality as men and no discrimination. Second wave of feminism lasted until the 1980s.

*Fun fact - birth control was approved by the FDA in the 1960s, but were not obtained until the 1970s*

3. Third Wave of Feminism

The third and final wave of feminism is what period we are in currently. It is believed to have started during the mid-1990's to present day. This take on the movement still advocates for the very same freedoms, dignity, respect, and equality as shown in the previous decades. This era of feminism has more of a focus of continuing those issues while bringing more attention to general ideas of gender, gender roles, and trying to be inclusive.

With more women AND men being considered feminists, we are seeing more diversity. Straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gendered, cis-gendered and many others in the LGBTQ movement are searching the new attention to the roles in which people take on in the feminist movement. Not only does feminism help women, it surprisingly has helped men in regard to the stereotypes they may face in life.

For example, when men and women are going through divorces with children, full-custody of the child 9 times out of 10 goes to the woman. Now, this is not the case in every situation, but it hurts the father of the child losing custody. This is due to the fact that he is not a woman and does not have what they think are "motherly" qualities. Feminism in this aspect truly shows how equality is needed for both men and women.

Also, the need to be inclusive with including all women of all backgrounds, even minorities. There has been a long-standing criticism of the movement in not truly representing ALL women of minorities, which they are now trying to gain support for. Unlike previous generations in aiming for social justice, this wave of feminism is more so focused on the learning of what the role is of the individual in feminism from many different walks of life.

So what's with the term?

You would think that given the history of the progress of the feminist movement in the United States, you would be shouting from the rooftops that you indeed are a feminist! But for many, it's still not so easy. While I do believe that people should definitely realize that being considered a feminist is not about man-hating, or being superior to men, there are some people that are skeptical of the movement being for the equality of ALL people, men AND women.

It also goes a long with the lack of inclusiveness of minorities as mentioned before. If individuals from other backgrounds do not feel included in the movement, how can they consider themselves a feminist? Even more outrageous is many not wanting to be considered a feminist in fear of being labeled gay or "butch".

Some also think that there are certain roles men and women are supposed to play and have different ideas of what a feminist should be. During World War I while husbands were sent to war, women had to step up and work the men's jobs in factories contributing to the war efforts. Once the men returned home, women were forced out of the jobs and back "into the kitchen". Some women believed that the power and new found potential they had outside of the home gave them the drive and wish to gain a place in the world.

Other women had felt that in order for their families and husbands to achieve success, the women should stay at home to tend to the children and do house chores; something that they would argue would be a feminist thing to do. This was also seen in World War II with the enlistment of some women in the armed forces. The divide between those believing the enlistment of women was acceptable or again, if their duties should be at home was highly debated.

We actually can still see these types of opinions today. With the many different ideas of what it means to be a feminist, the plethora of definitions of feminism, and the history/evolution of feminism, it is understandable to be unsure of the true definition of feminism. If you claim you are one, it is up to you to decide what you stand for. However, just remember what the many women generations before us endured... all for us to have the rights we have in America today. So what does feminism mean to you? Still afraid of the label? I'll let you make that decision.