Depending on whom you ask, feminism can tend to receive a mix of responses ranging from an absolute necessity to a mere burden on society. No matter whom you ask, everybody will have a different belief on the use of feminism, with no clear answer in sight. However, to answer the question of feminism, one must look past the present to find the roots of its cause in American society.
As I’m sure you know, dear reader, America is not fully equal when it comes to gender; women are undoubtedly facing hard times with the recent battle over healthcare. Should the new healthcare plan go into effect, women would not be able to get the abortion or contraception services they deserve, Planned Parenthood would face mandatory defunding, and the quality of maternity care services would plummet due to the defunding of Medicare and Medicaid programs. All the while, these decisions were made under the guise of an overwhelming majority of men. If this isn’t an attack on women, then I don’t know what is, and this is what feminism is fighting against. However, this is not the first time feminism has been implemented in American history, although there have been different incarnations of it during three different periods.
The first wave of feminism began in 1848 with the women’s convention in Seneca Falls, NY under the guise of Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. On top of talking about the issues of slavery, temperance, and other business, the main focus of the convention was the equality of women to men and hoped to cement this equality by drafting the Declaration of Sentiments, which started with:
"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights."
After the Civil War ended, the message of gender equality began to encompass black women as well as white women. With the help of Susan B. Anthony, Stanton was able to form the American Equal Rights association in 1866, which aimed at granting universal suffrage in the wake of the Civil War. As American was expanding westward, the first territory (not yet state) to allow women to vote was Wyoming in 1869, but lost this ability when Wyoming was accepted into the Union in 1890. The first wave of feminism is marked to have come to a close in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment, tearing down voting restrictions based on gender.
The second wave of feminism was set primarily in the 1960’s to the 1980’s, and included more economical and social aspects than the first wave did. After the Second World War and in the midst of the Cold War, America was trying to create a new identity for itself, and the turbulent and volatile counterculture of the 1960’s provided an excellent opportunity for women to create new identities for themselves as well. In a poll taken by the Department of Labor, from the end of WWII in 1945 until 1960, women composed only around 30% of the workforce and were usually expected to stay in the home to do typically housewife duties. It was expected that women would cover the traditional roles held as in the past, but the late of 1950’s and 1960’s with the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War protests, Chicano and Asian-American movements, and the Stonewall riots gave the impression that things were changing for everyone, so why not women as well?
Notable feminists of the time such as Betty Friedan, and her famous book The Feminine Mystique published in 1963 sought to describe how the ideal American nuclear family poorly reflected the feelings of the woman and left her in a state of unhappiness. The publication of this book is believed to have brought about the second wave of feminism. In this period, many great victories were scored such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which banned sexual discrimination in employment), the organization of NOW (the National Organization of Women), the Supreme Court cases of Griswold vs. Connecticut in 1965and Roe Vs. Wade in 1970 which legalized birth control and abortion respectively, and numerous other pieces of legislation. However, the age also came with its own set of failures, the biggest and most notable one being the failed passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment to the Constitution that would bar any form of discrimination between the two genders. While it did pass the necessary votes needed in both the House and Senate, it failed to reach the necessary amount of approval from state legislatures and did not reach its extended deadline in 1982. The failure of passage for the ERA contributed in the end of the second wave of feminism.
The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s and continues to today and is focused primarily on the “micropolitics” of feminism as well as a looser context on what gender is. This third wave began in 1991 when Anita Hill accused U.S. Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment. Tried by the Senate, Thomas was found innocent after exhausting debate by a vote of 52-48 senators. In this current wave of feminism, new figures of female power came to rise such as Madonna, Queen Latifah, Oprah, Emma Watson, Lady Gaga, and many others and inspired a new generation with ideas of feminism and female empowerment. Yet, this third wave of feminism differs from the first two in that it is much more inclusive than the first two waves were in terms of race, and gender identity.
In comparison to the first two waves, which took place in the mid-19th century and the mid-20th century, much more attention has been paid to specific racial minorities and those who exhibit qualities that go beyond the two genders. The Internet has been a great help in sharing and spreading thoughts about feminism as well and has been utilized to a great extent; depending on who is creating the content, of course. During this period, there has been great marches and demonstrations to get the word out about feminism and gender equality. The most notable event of recent times came back in January of this year, the Women’s March on Washington. In response to the inauguration of Donald Trump, the march was organized to bring awareness to issues pertaining to women, the LGBT community, the environment and other topics. The march itself drew around 440,000 people to 500,000 people in Washington alone, with numerous other marches occurring in other parts of the country and the world. The message was clear, but left some other things muddled in the process.
With the three different waves of feminism in American history, it only begs the question on what the central premise of feminism is. Although different countries and different states have varying answers, the definition given by Oxford Dictionary states, as follows:
“The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”
To sum it up in its most basic sense, feminism is to grant women and other non-males an equal status to men under a patriarchal system. The message is not however, saying that women are superior to men or that men should be treated as lesser: despite some people thinking in this manner. No, the message of feminism is as clear as can be, to have women of all kinds no matter their race, age, background, or what have you, to be treated as equally as men. Obviously, some people do not share this notion, especially in more traditional and orthodox countries where women aren’t even allowed to drive cars, such as in Saudi Arabia.
Unfortunately, the plight of sexism and misogyny is still alive and well in the world today and far outreaches the borders of the United States. In many cultures domestic abuse and rape is not only pardoned, but unfortunately it is expected; in India alone, 92 women on average are raped daily. It is apparent that equality between the genders does not seem feasible in some of these countries, and seems more distant in eastern countries than it does in western countries. Yet, this is why feminism is so important.
Feminism is a lot more than simply griping on the Internet about how society sucks and how all men are chauvinists; it’s about the empowerment of women to lead wholesome fulfilling lives of their own. It’s telling the women of any society that whatever decision they want to make is completely up to them, it’s telling them that the only difference between being a housewife and being an engineer is how much it gives them individual joy. It’s not about forcing women into an occupation that the patriarchy deems fit, forcing women to become head scientists and engineers is no different than forcing them to stay in the home if women have no say in it. Feminism is about autonomy, and individual liberty where it is necessary; if a woman wants to take on a certain occupation then there should be no stopping her.
Proper female figures need to be in place in order to provide such inspiration since everybody needs somebody to look up to. This is why we have people such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, Beyonce, Scarlett Johansen, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Gloria Alvarez, Ellen Degenres, amongst many others. These are the kind of women figures who have come to define feminism as well as self-autonomy for just about everybody. Just as Stanton and Anthony came to symbolize the first wave, and Janis Joplin, and Betty Friedan came to define the second wave, we have our own figures nowadays who have helped us come to define what our current movement is all about. The premise of feminism is and should be equality amongst all forms of gender, across all planes of people, with no side being inferior or superior to the other.
So dear reader, the next time you watch a video of a SJW on YouTube bragging about how men are scum and how society is completely unfair, just remember that they have just as much to learn from feminism as you do.