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The History of Feminism

To understand feminism and its origins one has to go back to one of the first instances where women banded together. On March 8, 1917 was a cold winter day, Tens of thousands of women had taken to the street with slogans like “Bread!” and “Down with the Tsar!”. Women had assumed the role of starting the Revolution and had demonstrated their power, they had shown the Tsarist Monarchy that they had had enough and now will not stop until their demands were fulfilled. 8th March was officially adopted as Women’s Day in the USSR after Lenin had consolidated power in the October Revolution, telling the world that gone are the days of subjugation of one gender by the other.

Feminism normatively, is the belief that women are economically, politically, socially and culturally entitled to equal rights and respect as those of men. Descriptively, it can be defined as Women currently being oppressed or disadvantaged with respect to rights of men and this oppression being illegitimate or unjustified. Both provide valid justification as to why the stimulation of activity is required to work towards achieving this change. Feminism is embedded in History, through different phases, popularly classified into 4 waves. These take place in the Late 19th Century-Early 20th Century, throughout the 20th century, throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century.

1st Wave of feminism

Broadly, the 1st wave of feminism was focused on rights to property and the political right to vote. It originated in the western hemisphere of the world, and was broadly set there till its effects spread out towards the whole world. One of earliest and most prominent reference to support Feminism or at least Proto Feminism can be found in Engles’ book, Principles of Communism, in which Engles advocates for an equal society in which “the community of women” would be emancipated from its traditional roles which relegate them to being nothing more than property.

The first attempt at establishing feminism was at the Seneca Falls Convention, the first woman's rights convention also known for launching the suffrage movement and subsequently the ‘1st wave’. Many abolitionists including Elizabeth Stanton, Martha Wright and Mary McClintock attended the event. The declaration of sentiments voted upon here declared that God created all men and women equally, and justified these as self-evident. They put forward the rights of pursuit to happiness, life, liberty are inalienable. Out of the 300 present, only 100 signed this with many withdrawing soon after and citing public oppression towards them as the reason.

After this declaration was made public, many nations began seeing a rise in suffragettes, with many women understanding the need for rights and respect. New Zealand, Australia, Latvia, The USSR, Finland and Denmark were among the first nations to give women equal voting rights. US states began giving rights in local elections and the UK gave rights to women above 30 years of age. In 1920, the 19th amendment was passed in the USA giving equal voting rights to women. Along with the participation of women in WW1, this was seen as a global symbol for change.

2nd Wave of Feminism

The 2nd wave was a wave originating in the post-war era of 1960 and spreading into the early 1980s. It talked about issues more relevant to equal respect in terms of objectification, sexual harassment, equal pay and abolishment of ‘feminine’ jobs. It also focussed on mixed education and the right to abortion alongside birth control.

Post World War 2, fueled by the civil rights movement, women began seeking jobs as their male counterparts became unemployed, giving rise to the issue of unequal pay. However, shifting into the 1960s, they were fired and placed into stereotypically feminine jobs. It was then that Frieden’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’ , became a literary marvel as millions of women around the world in Europe and the Americas began to relate to the discontent and prejudice of social household norms and traditions highlighted upon. Issues like education, sexual harassment, birth control all came into the limelight. During President Kennedy’s administration, many women were given high ranking positions, the equal pay act was passed and abortion was made legal. Sexual harassment was critisiced. Until 1975, rape was considered legal as women were a ‘possession’ to their male counterparts. However, by the early 1980’s several shelters and female organizations formed coalitions to help women who had become victims to such inhumane acts.

In Europe, private issues were made public, ranging from labour division in the household, objectification, pageants, sexual abuse and violence. These liberationist movements originated in the United Kingdom, spreading, as strong groups were formed in Spain, Greece and Portugal. Co-education emerged as boys’ colleges were merged with girls’ colleges to provide better infrastructure.

The 3rd Wave of feminism

The 3rd wave of feminism originated in the 1990’s and gave birth to ‘modern’ feminism. It focussed on rights to women aside from white-straight women on the basis of race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender, and sexuality. It is also widely regarded as the wave that introduced feminism into popular ‘pop’ culture all around the world.

The Third Wave was greatly focused on reproductive rights for women. Post the 1990s, countries all over the world had mass movements to promote female rights, changes in many laws across the world that could be considered anti-feministic were abolished or modified. The third wave was essentially the 'push' required for young women all over the world to propagate their rights and values. In conclusion, it raised the question among all discriminated and prejudiced women, ‘ain’t i a woman ?’

The 4th Wave of Feminism ( Our Era )

4th wave feminism is the wave that is currently embedded in society. It is focussed on the use of internet tools, open sexuality, equal work and pay. It extends support to boys and men who were stuck in the trap of typical ‘masculinity’/ ‘toxic masculinity’ and continued to fight for open expression of emotion.

4th wave feminism finds its roots in neoliberalism and corporatism which is why it often ends up lionising symbolic victories over actual victories for women and minorities. It tries use rhetoric, “Twitter feuds” and “Girlboss Capitalism” to fight for equality of the sexes or even subjugation of the other sex as some sort of justice. This wave has produced rather strange notions such as “We need more Female CEOs” while completely ignoring the condition of women in the Global South.

Feminism has evolved during the waves, from equality between men and women, to women of different types, from masculinity and feminine behaviour and constraints and also to society’s action and society’s value of women. With that, The Alpha Theory wishes you a happy International Women’s Today.

Author : Nehal Singhal Co - Author : Amey Parekh

Editor : Aadi Sardesai

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1 Comment

shaurya mahajan
shaurya mahajan
Mar 10, 2021

Really good !!!!

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