Feminism is a political ideology that advocates for women’s rights and aims to achieve equality for all sexes socially, economically, and politically. Even though feminism is ever-evolving to stay with the times, and there have been numerous sub-movements throughout the history of feminism, the movement can be divided into four waves.
Despite women having fought for their rights for as long as time has existed, the first wave of feminism was the first time the fight took shape as a major political movement in the western world. The first wave of feminism occurred in the late 19th to early 20th century and had fairly simple goals. The main aim of the wave was to achieve legal equality which included, but was not limited to, the right to vote and property rights. The largest criticism of this wave of feminism is that it was solely focused on white women and women of color weren’t considered.
Ironically, the term first-wave feminism wasn’t coined till second-wave feminism started. The term was first noted in a 1968 New York Times article by Martha Lear titled- The Second Feminist Wave: What do these women want? The second wave, which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, moved broadened from legal rights and discussed social issues including workplace discrimination, family, sexuality, and reproductive rights. The wave drew attention to the culture that perpetuates the patriarchy and spoke about issues concerning violence against women such as domestic violence and rape. Feminism was now divided into several sub-types. The popular few were as follows:
- Mainstream- Mainstream feminism, also known as liberal feminism, aims to achieve the goals of feminism through political and legal reforms in a liberal democracy.
- Radical- Radical feminism accounts for other aspects that affect a woman’s status in society such as race and class and calls for radical change by eliminating male dominance in all forms. They believed that men and women were not actually created the same.
- Cultural- Cultural feminism believes in a ‘female essence’ and aims to change the traits traditionally assigned to femininity. Like radical feminists, they believed that men and women were not actually created the same too.
Owing gratitude to second-wave feminists, women were recognized a lot more in society. The third wave of feminism took place from the early 1990s to the 2010s. Women were much freer to express their sexuality and femininity, to the disdain of several sub-movements from second-wave feminism that strongly rejected traditionally feminine roles. Kimberle Crenshaw, a gender and critical-race scholar, created the term ‘intersectionality’ in 1989. The term means that essentially one’s identity is formed by an intersection of different aspects of their life such as gender and race. In the light of this belief, the concept of intersectional feminism, the idea that other issues that affect women such as race and class are also feminist issues, gained supporters.
Technology and social media have played a major role in the fourth wave of feminism that focuses on inclusivity and intersectional feminism. With the #MeToo movement serving as a prime example, the fourth wave aims to bring forward voices of women that have long been shushed.
With the many ‘waves’ of feminism, one thing has stayed common since the dawn of time- women have always fought for an equal place in society and continue to do so.