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Waves of feminism

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Have you wondered what people mean when they mention the waves of feminism?

Can we honor the women before us even though they were flawed? Does some symbolism evolve over time?

Snappy Dragon discusses the waves of feminism in this YouTube video. She also discusses using fashion to make a flashy statement.

Many prominent women's rights activists participated in this march including Gloria Steinem, Pauli Murray and Betty Friedan.

Read more here and here

Excerpt from NOW website:

The next year NOW organized over 100,000 people to march on Washington in 95-degree heat, in a sea of purple, gold and white banners (reflecting the suffragist colors), to press for an extension of the time limit on ratifying the ERA. Having won the extension, NOW activists organized a record 90,000 people to march on Chicago, again urging Illinois’ ratification, in the 1980 Mother’s Day March for ERA.

I encourage you to read this article and offer us feedback as to whether you think the authors accurately described the various waves of feminism in the comments:

Here's a few excerpts from the article:

The first wave: 1848 to 1920

[the good part] People have been suggesting things along the line of “Hmmm, are women maybe human beings?” for all of history. First-wave feminism refers to the West’s first sustained political movement dedicated to achieving political equality for women: the suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And as the movement developed, it began to turn to the question of reproductive rights. In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the US, in defiance of a New York state law that forbade the distribution of contraception. In 1920, Congress passed the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was the grand legislative achievement of the first wave.

[the bad part] But despite the immense work of women of color for the women’s movement, the movement of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony eventually established itself as a movement specifically for white women, one that used racial animus as fuel for its work.

The second wave: 1963 to the 1980s

[the good part] Prominent feminist thinkers include Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir. The second wave spoke against the systemic sexism that taught women that their place was in the home and that if they were unhappy as housewives, it was only because they were broken and perverse. The second wave had a unifying goal: not just political equality, which the first-wavers had fought for, but social equality. “The personal is political,” said the second-wavers. The second wave won some major legislative and legal victories: The Equal Pay Act of 1963 theoretically outlawed the gender pay gap; a series of landmark Supreme Court cases through the ’60s and ’70s gave married and unmarried women the right to use birth control; Title IX gave women the right to educational equality; and in 1973, Roe v. Wade guaranteed women reproductive freedom. The second wave worked on getting women the right to hold credit cards under their own names and to apply for mortgages. It worked to outlaw marital rape, to raise awareness about domestic violence and build shelters for women fleeing rape and domestic violence. It worked to name and legislate against sexual harassment in the workplace. The second wave cared deeply about the casual, systemic sexism ingrained into society [the bad part] Black women increasingly found themselves alienated from the central platforms of the mainstream women’s movement. Women who had to work to support themselves experienced their oppression very differently from women who were socially discouraged from working. And while black women and white women both advocated for reproductive freedom, black women wanted to fight not just for the right to contraception and abortions but also to stop the forced sterilization of people of color and people with disabilities

The third wave: 1991(?) to ????

Generally, the beginning of the third wave is pegged to two things: the Anita Hill case in 1991, and the emergence of the riot grrrl groups in the music scene of the early 1990s. Early third-wave activism tended to involve fighting against workplace sexual harassment and working to increase the number of women in positions of power. Intellectually, it was rooted in the work of theorists of the ’80s: Kimberlé Crenshaw, a scholar of gender and critical race theory who coined the term intersectionality to describe the ways in which different forms of oppression intersect; and Judith Butler, who argued that gender and sex are separate and that gender is performative. Crenshaw and Butler’s combined influence would become foundational to the third wave’s embrace of the fight for trans rights as a fundamental part of intersectional feminism. "We need to figure out how bullshit like racism, able-bodieism, ageism, speciesism, classism, thinism, sexism, anti-semitism and heterosexism figures in our own lives,” wrote Bikini Kill lead singer Kathleen Hanna in the Riot Grrrl Manifesto in 1991. ... Third-wavers embraced the word girl; they wanted to make it empowering, even threatening — hence grrrl. The third wave would go on to embrace all kinds of ideas and language and aesthetics that the second wave had worked to reject: makeup and high heels and high-femme girliness. In part, it was born out of a belief that the rejection of girliness was in itself misogynistic: girliness, third-wavers argued, was not inherently less valuable than masculinity or androgyny.

The present day: a fourth wave?

As #MeToo and Time’s Up pick up momentum, the Women’s March floods Washington with pussy hats every year, and a record number of women prepare to run for office, it’s beginning to seem that the long-heralded fourth wave might actually be here. The trending hashtag #YesAllWomen after the UC Santa Barbara shooting was a fourth-wave campaign, and so was the trending hashtag #StandWithWendy when Wendy Davis filibustered a Texas abortion law. Arguably, the SlutWalks that began in 2011 — in protest of the idea that the way to prevent rape is for women to “stop dressing like sluts” — are fourth-wave campaigns. Like all of feminism, the fourth wave is not a monolith. It means different things to different people. Fourth-wave feminism is queer, sex-positive, trans-inclusive, body-positive, and digitally driven. And now the fourth wave has begun to hold our culture’s most powerful men accountable for their behavior. It has begun a radical critique of the systems of power that allow predators to target women with impunity.

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1 Comment

Susan Aertker
Susan Aertker
May 15, 2022

That was a great article. I'm interested to hear what other people think about it.

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