Feminism for dummies

Ever wondered how the modern feminist movement became?

The feminist movement is very large and very complex. It spans not decades, but generations. It has been homegrown into the full-fledged entity it is now. Within feminism, factions radical and conservative have formed their own definitions and set of goals, and the arguably three or four waves have accomplished some aims, and sprouted others. The members of this movement have made great progress, though more remains to be seen.

Though it had what some would call a clear beginning at The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the origins have been lurking and waiting for centuries.

The first major step forward in an organized way was indeed Seneca Falls, but this was not solely focused on feminism, but also on civil/social/moral rights, with Frederick Douglass as the main advocate for the vote, and this was just the first wave.

All in all, there are four waves of feminism, each fighting to resolve different issues, and advocating for different rights. The first wave of feminism began in the 1840s, was focused on suffrage, and “thought to have ended with the passing of the 19th amendment” in the 1920’s.

The second wave began post-World War II. Those involved aimed to break the dichotomy between working men and stay at home mothers, give women reproductive rights, including access to contraception, and pushing sexuality into the spotlight. This wave began the still-present journey of trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment, written by Alice Paul in 1923, enacted.

The National Organization for Women was established, whose goal is stated as “to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men”, and addresses six core issues: abortion, reproductive health services access. violence against women, constitutional equality, promoting diversity/ending racism, lesbian rights, and economic justice.

According to Martha Rampton, the goals of the second wave have been achieved, including more women in leadership positions, abortion rights, access to the pill, more acceptance of female sexuality, feminism as a field in academia, women’s support groups, efforts for reform and a critique of patriarchy.

The backlash to this movement can still be seen today. The older generations thought the younger were tearing part the social fabric and destroying the way things were supposed to be. Women of the feminist movement began to be seen as male-hating, promiscuous, and morally degenerate.

The third wave began in the early 1990’s, rising from the pitfalls and missing issues of its predecessors. It focused much more on humans rights and non-exclusionary feminism. Mary scholars argue this waveended with the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. However, some argue that we are still in the third wave. An attempt to destablize the constructs of ‘universal womanhood’, and ‘body, gender, sexuality and heteronormativity.’

This wave also reclaimed many of the previous wave’s symbols of male oppression, including but not limited to lipstick, high heels, shorts skirts, and low cut necklines. It also focused on redefining and contextualizing gender and sexuality. There were more radical factions of third wave, self-named “riot grrls”, who were hardcore and tough, “eschewing victimization” and re-claiming slurs used against them.

Third wave feminism is also connected to anti-globalization as a world movement. The Globalization movement is part of the reason that there is an arguable fourth wave. The transition into the fourth wave came as a product of globalization and the increased prevalence of social media as a platform. Many young feminists (@lexi4prez, @orionnichole, @MattMcGorry, and @feministculture) use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to expand the audience they can reach on their own.

Conversely, anti-feminism (accounts like @meninisttweet) has also found a large following on these websites as well. Anti-Globalization as a movement opposes the homogenous ownership of the world’s labor industries for corporate profit, which ties heavily into capitalism, and therefore lies at odds with socialist feminism.

The backlash of this movement was a more intensely radicalized view of feminism. Added to the list of adjectives were unfeminine and having a victim complex. Arguably, the fourth wave is the backlash from the third wave. Though the issues are largely the same, with slightly more social awareness of the different kinds and ways women experience oppression, younger women have increasingly internalized misogyny and the patriarchal values of American society, and are afraid to even identify themselves as feminists though they may agree with the movement’s claims and/or goals.

The main factions of modern feminism include liberal, materialist/socialist, psychoanalytic, womanist, post-modernist, and radical feminism.

Liberal feminism works within the structure of mainstream society to integrate women into that structure. Materialist/Socialist feminism is not much off the mark of the liberal variety, but rather chooses to pursue these aims through material gain for women to improve their situations.

Radical feminism sprung out of the civil rights and peace movements in 1967-1968 and views the oppression of women as the most fundamental form of oppression, one that cuts across boundaries of race, culture, and economic class and focuses on social change. Post-modernist feminism generalizes that problems in society today effect everyone as a whole, not just women.

Psychoanalytic feminism by far constitutes the bulk of the rhetoric of the movement, and seeks to destruct and analyze society and the patriarchy through philosophy and Freudian theories.

Womanist feminism is coined by Alice Walker and addresses the racist and classist aspects of white feminism and actively opposes separatist ideologies and includes the word ‘man’ recognizing that Black men are an integral part of Black women’s lives as their children, lovers, and family members. It is mainly an advocate for colored women.

As far as impacts, the feminist movement has done much to change the social climate of the United States and abroad. Regardless of faction, the combined efforts of the individual movements have destabilized harmful concepts and constructs and provided a more equal place for women in the world, as well as safe places and protection for those still suffering from inequalities.

Women have become more participatory in politics and hold more positions as a result of the efforts of individuals and the overall change that has come from women advocating themselves and spreading their beliefs, enabling the next generations of girls to be raised with different ideals of their worth and potential.

The organizations that have sprung from this movement, such as N.O.W., Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, and the Welsh Assembly, have all impacted the environment of today’s politics and economics as well. The economy can be and is strengthened by the presence of women in the workforce: more workers stimulate more production and output, therefore increasing the nation’s GDP.

Households earn more as a consequence, and the overall consumption of the nation increases, therefore further increasing GDP. Feminism and the economic legislation it has pushed can account for a slight shrink in the pay gap between men and women, shrinking it by 20 cents since 1980; however, this is only comparative of white men and women, with ethnic women, excluding Asian, making a fraction even of a white woman’s salary.

No matter what faction is discussed, most would agree that women are economically disadvantaged and that this factor plays a role in the disenfranchisement and oppression of women everywhere. The conditions that an individual inherits from class have the power to shape their entire lives and all of the opportunities that that entails.

According to Pierre Bordieu, the habitus that an individual learns accounts for later life opportunities, and in the case of the lower class, limits these chances. It also has the power to limit all four forms of capital, be it economic, cultural, social, or symbolic, which further set women specifically back when the intersection between gender and class is considered.

The gender hegemony is the systematic setting apart of norms that the dominant group (men) establishes, and then uses to maintain dominance over the “inferior” group (women). This system is used in most every country and contributes to patriarchy. Angela Davis asserts that the intersection between race, gender, and class can combine to disadvantage all women, as oppression cannot be hierarchical or ranked because it is subjective.

The class lines have changed over time, but the oppression constituted by them has not. Feminism seeks to challenge and break down this oppression constituted by class, some by operating within the classes, others by redefining class structure or lines, or even others who propose that capitalism and its classes are the root of the problem and seek to do away with class altogether, much like Marxist theory advocates. Overall, the movement as a whole wants to rectify the issue of class and all the oppressions stemming from it.

UT Austin