The feminist movement (also known as the Women's Movement, Women's Liberation, or Women's Lib) refers to a series of campaigns for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women's suffrage, sexual harassment and sexual violence. The movement's priorities vary among nations and communities and range from opposition to female genital cutting in one country or to the glass ceiling in another.
The movement began in the western world in the late 18th century and has gone through three waves: the first wave was oriented around the station of middle or upper-class white women, and involved suffrage and political equality. Second-wave feminism attempted to further combat social and cultural inequalities. Third-wave feminism (c.1980-c.1990) (cited from Open Boundaries University text book),] includes renewed campaigning for women’s greater influence in politics.
The history of feminist movements has been divided into three "waves" by feminist scholars. Each deals with different aspects of the same feminist issues.
The history, events, and structure of the feminist movement is closely related to the individuals at the time, specific protests that took place, and the broader transformations taking place in American culture. The feminist movement worked and continues to work against the status quo in American society. According to bell hooks, "Feminism is a struggle against sexist oppression. Therefore, it is necessarily a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels, as well as a commitment to reorganizing society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion and material desires."
The first wave refers to the feminist movement of the 18th through early 20th centuries, which dealt mainly with the women's suffrage. Writers such as Virginia Woolf are associated with the ideas of the first wave of feminism. In her book A Room of One's Own, Woolf "describes how men socially and psychically dominate women". The argument of the book is that "women are simultaneously victims of themselves as well as victims of men and are upholders of society by acting as mirrors to men". She recognizes the social constructs that restrict women in society and uses literature to contextualize it for other women.
The term "first-wave" was coined retrospectively after the term second-wave feminism began to be used to describe a newer feminist movement that focused as much on fighting social and cultural inequalities as further political inequalities.
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal rights . Feminism is mainly focused on women's issues, but because feminism seeks gender equality, some feminists argue that men's liberation is therefore a necessary part of feminism, and that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles. Feminists—that is, persons practicing feminism—may be persons of either sex.
Feminist theory emerged from these feminist movements and includes general theories and theories about the origins of inequality, and, in some cases, about the social construction of sex and gender, in a variety of disciplines. Feminist activists have campaigned for women's rights—such as in contract, property, and voting—while also promoting women's rights to bodily integrity and autonomy and reproductive rights. They have opposed domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. In economics, they have advocated for workplace rights, including equal pay and opportunities for careers and to start businesses. Some of the earlier forms of feminism have been criticized for being geared towards white, middle-class, educated perspectives. This led to the creation of ethnically-specific or multiculturalist forms of feminism.
In Britain, the Suffragettes campaigned for the women's vote, which was eventually granted − to some women in 1918 and to all in 1928 − as much because of the part played by British women during the First World War, as of the efforts of the Suffragists. In the United States leaders of this movement included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who each campaigned for the abolition of slavery prior to championing women's right to vote. Other important leaders include Lucy Stone, Olympia Brown, and Helen Pitts. American first-wave feminism involved a wide range of women, some belonging to conservative Christian groups (such as Frances Willard and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union), others resembling the diversity and radicalism of much of second-wave feminism (such as Stanton, Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and the National Woman Suffrage Association, of which Stanton was president). In the United States, first-wave feminism is considered to have ended with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1919) granting women the right to vote.
The second wave (1960s-1980s) was concerned with gender inequality in laws and culture. It built on what had been achieved in the first wave, and began adapting the ideas to America. Simone de Beauvoir is associated with this wave because of her idea of women as "the other". This idea was touched on in the writing of Woolf, and was adapted to apply not only to the gender roles of women in the household or at work, but also their sexuality. Beauvoir set the tone for later feminist theory.
The second wave of feminist activity began in the early 1960s and lasted through the late 1980s. What helped trigger this second wave was the book written by Betty Friedan.
"The key event that marked the reemergence of this movement in the postwar era was the surprise popularity of Betty Friedan's 1963 book The Feminine Mystique. Writing as a housewife and mother (though she had had a long story of political activism, as well), Friedan described the problem with no name the dissatisfaction of educated, middle class wives and mothers like herself who, looking at their nice homes and families, wondered guiltily if that was all there was to life was not new; the vague sense of dissatifaction plaguing housewives was a staple topic for women's magazines in the 1950s. But Friedan, instead of blaming individual women for failing to adapt to women's proper role, blamed the role itself and the society that created it" (Norton, Mary Beth, A people A Nation pg 865. 2005 Houghton Mifflin Company New York.)
During this time feminists campaigned against cultural and political inequalities, which they saw as inextricably linked. The movement encouraged women to understand aspects of their own personal lives as deeply politicized, and reflective of a sexist structure of power. If first-wave feminism focused upon absolute rights such as suffrage, second-wave feminism was largely concerned with other issues of equality, such as the end to discrimination. The feminist activist and author Carol Hanisch coined the slogan "The Personal is Political" which became synonymous with the second wave.
In the early 1990s, a movement, now termed the third wave of feminism, arose in response to the perceived failures of the second wave feminism. In addition to being a response to the backlash against initiatives and movements created by second-wave feminism, the third wave was less reactive, and had a greater focus on developing the different achievements of women in America. The feminist movement as such grew during the third wave, to incorporate a greater number of women who may not have previously identified with the dynamics and goals that were established at the start of the movement. Though criticized as merely a continuation of the second wave, the third wave made its own unique contributions.
Feminist leaders rooted in the second wave like Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Chela Sandoval, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and many other feminists of color, called for a new subjectivity in feminist voice. They sought to negotiate prominent space within feminist thought for consideration of race related subjectivities. This focus on the intersection between race and gender remained prominent through the Hill-Thomas hearings, but began to shift with the Freedom Ride 1992. This drive to register voters in poor minority communities was surrounded with rhetoric that focused on rallying young feminists. For many, the rallying of the young is the emphasis that has stuck within third wave feminism.