Patrick Eng
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Week 30 - What I Need to Know About Feminism


Feminism is complicated. Not in terms of ideology, but in classification. You can see that in action through the various waves of feminism over the decades that seemed to have started in the roots of racism and evolved over time to become a whole melting pot of splinter movements, working for basic human rights for women.

So while the wave metaphor helps us understand the past epochs of feminism, it might not be the best tool anymore to understand the current atmosphere, and in fact, might be a misleading image now.

It helped people understand that the various movements peaked and receded, only to rise again later. But now that no longer works. So while it can help us understand the past and how feminism developed, it probably won't be a common phrase used in the future.

Note that all these movements are movements in the United States.

The First Wave of Feminism - Suffrage

Between 1848 and 1920, women marched, protested, and spoke about their right to vote. This first wave, fighting for their right to vote, was seen to be the first step in the direction of all other rights, at least according to Susan B. Anthony.

A key moment in this wave was the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York. In a church, 200 men and women met to talk about the current rights of women, from religious to civil. Because the key players to this convention were two abolitionists,  Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, there was a strong tie between the suffrage and abolitionist movements.

Unfortunately, even with these strong abolitionist ties, this first feminist wave was specifically designed for white women and granting them their right to vote.

The spark for that flame was lit when black men were given the right to vote in 1870 (the 15th amendment) before white women were. Assuming we can ignore the racism part for a second, we can then see that this movement also worked towards education, employment, and property owning equality for "all" women.

A large part of the feminist movement is somewhat left out here and will become a larger star later - reproductive rights. During this first wave, Margaret Sanger, the future founder of Planned Parenthood, opened the first birth control clinic in 1916 in New York. She was soon arrested due to New York's ban of contraceptives.

Finally, in 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed, granting voting rights to women of all races. While it legally gave women, including black, the right to vote, it was not made easy in many cases, especially in the South.

With this grand achievement though, the first feminist wave began to recede and die out. While various groups continued to fight for equality, the large portion of the movement faded away.

The Second Wave of Feminism - Social Equality

In 1963, the second wave of feminism began its upward climb due to the release and distribution of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. In this book, Friedan addresses the societal expectations of women, i.e., belonging in the home, and the world that refused to let them use their actual gifts.

The Feminine Mystique wasn't very new in its ideology though. Instead, it was revolutionary in its reach - selling 3 million copies and giving middle-class white women in America something to be angry about. This book brought the second-wavers together and helped them arrive at the peak of the wave, fighting for social equality using the newfound cultural momentum.

Notable achievements in the Second Wave include:

  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963

  • Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965

  • Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972

  • Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972

  • Row v. Wade in 1973

In the end, the main driving force behind the second wave was social rights for women and changing the way people, particularly men, viewed women. And while the second wave tried to work more with women of color, it didn't do it too well.

The second wave was working for the societal equality of white women, and women of color seemed to be an afterthought. These women specifically were fighting for the end of forced sterilizations, along with the acceptance of contraception and abortion.

A popular protest during the second wave was for the Miss America pageant in 1968 due to its objectifying and patriarchal view of women. A trademark sign of protest was to throw away signs of objectification, in this case, bras.

After these protests though, began to be seen a certain way, and not a flattering one at that. The most popular image being a man-hating, bitter, hairy-legged, lonely woman. And this image is still being associated with feminists today.

The Third Wave of Feminism - The Power of Girls

1991 had its own version of Harvey Weinstein, or I guess 2017 had its own version of Clarence Thomas. This supreme court case brought to light sexual harassment in the workplace and encouraged a whole slew of complaints thereafter. This supreme court case allowed a larger conversation to happen, both concerning harassment as well as the general overrepresentation of men in leadership roles.

One year later, 27 women were elected into the Senate and House of Representative, dubbing 1992 the year of the woman.

Whereas the first wave focused on political rights and the second wave of social rights, this third wave of feminism didn't seem to have a strong central goal or cultural momentum. At least not to the degree that the first two waves had.

This third wave, besides bringing sexual harassment into the light, also focused on the power of girls, not women. Third-wave feminists wanted the term girl to be empowering and edgy, but also something that looked like the proper role of women - i.e., makeup, high heels, general girliness, etc.

They specifically wanted to show a feminist that was the opposite how second wave feminists were viewed (loud, hairy, man-hating, etc.). They embraced the patriarchal view of women because they themselves found beauty in it and stated that the rejection of girliness was inherently misogynistic.

The Fourth Wave of Feminism - #MeToo #TimesUp

We're all familiar with today's movements, like the Women's March, #MeToo, Time's Up, Slut Walks, and so many more. And while the fourth wave still fights the sexual harassment that was made mainstream by the third wave, it does so differently.

The difference here is that it shares something in common with the second wave, reach. Meaning, the digital battleground has entered the fray and is allowing the feminist movement to be stronger than it ever was.

And while the fourth wave of feminism means something different for everyone, there still seem to be a few grounding pillars, like:

  • Digitally driven

  • Body positive

  • Trans-inclusive

Some even call it misandrist (man-hating), but that's nothing new since the first wave of feminism. At least the way that feminists today are being misandrist is in an ironic way, to both show they aren't serious but also showing how the inequalities still exist.

This fourth wave of feminism has allowed women to keep men in power who harassed them responsible for their actions, or at least some of them.

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Feminism can be scary, but only if you don't try to understand it first. So, here are six quick things that define feminism at its core.

1. Political, economic, and social equality

It's a simple idea, equality. Most people probably aren't opposed to women having the same rights as men, getting paid as much as men, and just being able to operate at the same level as men. But the fact that we have feminist movements in general shows that not as many people are for equality as you might think. Also, this isn't a superiority thing (men are not better than women and women are not better than men).

2. Feminists don't hate men

If feminists are fighting against misogyny, then they can't be misandrist. Doing so would undermine their entire movement and put a big fat "hypocrite" stamp on the whole thing. A feminist that hates men isn't a feminist.

3. Turns out, you don't have to be a woman to be a feminist

Since feminism is the idea that women should be treated on equal footing, it crosses any and all borders. It doesn't matter what race, religion, or sexual orientation you are, what matters is your belief of equality.

4. Similar to above, feminism is also a man's issue

Forcing women into a sensitive and emotional mold and men into a stoic and strong mold only makes fake men and women. Men and women aren't opposing forces. Women are strong, men are emotional - let them embrace both sides without being shunned.

5. The Wage Gap is Real

Many people believe there is no wage gap, and even when confronted with research, state that it’s because the sample data is pulling from women in lower-paying positions, less education, etc., and is thus is just a myth. But what if there was still a wage gap between men and women in the same role, with the same education, and equal years of experience? It's not as big as the well-known 80% rule, but the fact that a gap still exists shows that there is still a problem.

6. Similar to #1, if you believe in equality for all, you're a feminist

Simple as that.

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Too Long; Didn't Read

Feminism has spanned multiple decades since the first wave in 1848. In this first wave, feminists, or as they were called at this time suffragists, were fighting for women's right to vote. This first wave used racism to further their purpose, but eventually earned their right to vote as Americans.

The second wave then campaigned for social rights, think equal pay, contraception, education, and abortion. These second wave feminists were trying to change the idea that men had of women as being more able bodied and equal contributors of society, not cooks and housewives.

Third wave feminists took a different approach by embracing the patriarchal view of women, but using that image as something empowering and forceful. This embrace was in contrast to the second wave feminists who tried to break down the image of feminism that was established then. This wave also had its time of sexual abuse scandals and worked to show the overrepresentation of men in prominent leadership roles.

And finally, in the fourth wave, we have continued protests over wages, reproductive rights, sexual harassment, and everything in between. The difference now though is that a lot of it is being handled and distributed online, reaching audiences the size of which no other wave has been able to accomplish. This wave includes various genders, body types, and is digitally driven.

When it comes to feminist fundamentals though, it's easy to boil it down to a few basic ideas:

  • It's all about social, political, and economic equality

  • It's not a superiority thing

  • Feminism is not man-hating

  • Anyone can be a feminist

If you think women should be treated equally as men politically, economically, and socially, then you're a feminist.

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Patrick Eng