Feminist Movements: First, Second, and Third Wave of Feminism

The feminist movement refers to a series of social movements and political campaigns for radical and liberal reforms on women’s issues created by the inequality between men and women. These mostly refer to three major feminist movements; the first wave, second wave, and third wave of feminism. In the CSS examination, every time a question about these three feminism waves is given that highlights its importance in CSS Gender Studies. So here I am going to discuss an overview of these three waves of feminism.

A Short History of Feminism

Women have been fighting for equality for well over 100 years now. The history of this struggle is often described in the context of ‘waves. The following is a very brief sense of the key elements in these waves of activism:

Three Waves of Feminism

In the following lines, you will get to know about these three major feminist movements.

First  Wave of Feminism: Votes for Women

First-wave feminism arose in the context of industrial society and liberal politics but is connected to both the liberal women’s rights movement and early socialist feminism in the late 1911 and early 20th century in the United States and Europe. Concerned with access and equal opportunities for women, the first wave continued to influence feminism in both Western and Easter societies throughout the 20th century.

During World War 1, members of the National Women’s Party (NWP) protested outside the White House with confrontational banners accusing the government of undemocratic practices. Germany had already granted women suffrage, but the United States-the proponent of freedom and democracy for all-had yet to enfranchise half of its citizens.

Germany has established an “Equal, universal, secret direct franchise,” and the senate has denied equal universal suffrage to America, Which is more of a Democracy, Germany or America?

The banner created an outrage, the police received orders to arrest the picketers, and onlookers destroyed the banner (Campbell, 1989).

Comparing Germany to the United States was treachery. However, the picketers did receive some sympathy after all, well-dressed, and well-educated. White, middle-class women were going to jail. This was no way to treat ladies.

The demonstrators knew what they were doing: Dressed in their Sunday best, they offered resistance to the police and thus both appalled and appealed to the public. They personified White, middle-class femininity while engaging in very unfeminine and less-than-bourgeois practices.

The action was inspired by radical agitator Alice Paul (1885-1977), who introduced militant tactics to the NWP: parades, marches, picketing (mainly the White House) as well as watch fires to burn President Wilson’s speeches (Campbell, 1989).

Alice Paul’s tactics were confrontational but also clever, and they were a thorn in the side of President Wilson, who much preferred the less radical tactics of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

Parliaments have stopped laughing at woman suffrage, and politicians have begun to dodge it. It is the inevitable premonition of coming to victory.

The first wave of feminism in the United States was characterized by diverse forms of intervention that have continued to inspire later feminist movements.

But despite the activist talents of Alice Paul, the organizational skills of Carrie Chapman Cart, president of NAWSA, and the splendid oratory of Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919), also a former president of NA WSA, it was a long struggle before women won the vote in 1920.

The struggle went as far back as the Seneca Falls Convention in New York in 1848, during which more than 300 men and women assembled for the nation’s first women’s rights convention.

The Seneca Falls Declaration was outlined by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, claiming the natural equity of women and outlining the political strategy of equal access and opportunity. This declaration gave rise to the suffrage movement.

I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end. -Alice Paul (1885-1977)

In the early stages, the first wave of feminism in the United States was interwoven with other reform movements, such as abolition and temperance, and initially closely involved women of the working classes.

However, It was also supported by Black women abolitionists, such as Maria Stewart (1803-1879), Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), and Frances E. W. Harper (1825-1911), who agitated for the rights of women of color.

When women’s rights activists gradually realized that disenfranchisement severely hampered reformatory efforts, they became determined to rectify this obvious injustice.

Still, for women to gain the vote was a highly controversial issue. Even well-meaning skeptics feared that it would mean a setback for men of color, who were also at that time campaigning for enfranchisement, not to mention southerners’ fears that the thousands of illiterate women of color would also claim their rights.

This tendency was only reinforced by the counterstrikes of both the abolitionist movement and the working unions to also keep women involved in these movements. Furthermore, the Civil War in the United States and, later on, both World War I and World War II meant a severe backlash for women’s rights, is the focus then became demands of national unity and patriotism.

Second  Wave of Feminism: The Personal is Political

The second wave of feminism emerged in the 1960s to 1970s in postwar Western welfare societies, when other “oppressed” groups such as Blacks and homosexuals were being defined and the New Left was on the rise.

Second-wave feminism is closely linked to the radical voices of women’s empowerment and differential rights and, during the 1980s to 1990s, also to a crucial differentiation of second-wave feminism itself, initiated by women of color and third-world women. We end our discussion with the third feminist wave, from the mid-1990s onward, springing from the.

The term second-wave feminism refers mostly to the radical feminism of the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

We start our presentation of second-wave feminism with the first harbinger of a new Feminism and the most publicized event in the United States: the protests associated with the Miss America Pageants in 1968 and 1969.

Inspired by the tactics of the more activist parts of liberal feminism, radical second-wave feminists also used performance to shed light on what was now termed “women’s oppression.”

The Redstockings, the New York Radical Feminists, and other significant feminist groups joined the 1969 protest to show how women in pageant competitions were paraded like cattle, highlighting the underlying assumption that the way women look is more important than what they do.

Radical second-wave feminism cannot, however, be discussed separately from other movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It grew out of leftist movements in postwar Western societies, among them the student protests, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the lesbian and gay movements, and, in the United States, the civil rights and Black power movements.

These movements criticized “capitalism” and “imperialism” and focused on the notion.

And interests of “oppressed” groups: the working classes, Blacks, and in principle, also women and homosexuals. In the New Left, however, women found themselves reduced to servicing the revolution, cut off from real influence, and thus, once again, exposed to sexism.

This was now understood as separate oppression experienced by women in addition to racism, “classicism,” and was later renamed “heterosexism.”

As a consequence, they formed women-only “rap” groups or consciousness-raising groups, through which they sought to empower women both collectively and individually using techniques of sharing and contesting, explained in “The BITCH Manifesto”.

The Redstockings was one of the influential but short-lived radical feminist groups of 1960 to 1970s and produced many of the expressions that have become household words in the United States: “Sisterhood is powerful,” “consciousness-raising.” “The personal is political,” “the politics of housework,” the “pro-woman line,” and so on. Key to this branch of feminism was a strong belief that women could collectively empower one another.

Third  Wave of Feminism: Transversal Politics

Third-wave feminism manifests itself in “grrl” rhetoric, which seeks to overcome the theoretical question of equity or difference and the political question of evolution or revolution, while it challenges the notion of “universal womanhood” and embraces ambiguity, diversity, and multiplicity in transversal theory and politics.

Lipstick feminism, girlie feminism, riot grrl feminism, cybergirl feminism, trans-feminism, or just grrl feminism-feminism is alive and kicking. Boxed with the privileges that first- and second-wave feminists fought for, third-wave feminists generally see themselves as capable, strong, and assertive social agents: “The Third Wave is buoyed by the confidence of having more opportunities and less sexism”.

Young feminists now reclaim the term “girl” in a bid to attract another generation, while engaging in a new, more self-assertive-event aggressive but also more playful and less pompous kind of feminism.

Karen McNaughton is only one of many who have been empowered by the new grrl rhetoric, which originated among girls-only punk bands such as 16 Gender Communication Theories and Analyses.

Third-wave feminists are motivated by the need to develop a feminist theory and politics that honor contradictory experiences and deconstruct categorical thinking.

In To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism, editor Rebecca Walker described the difficulty that younger feminists experience when forced to think in categories, which divide people into “Us” and “Them,” or when forced to inhabit particular identities as women or feminists.

Third-wave feminism is also inspired by and bound to a generation of the new global world order characterized by the fall of communism, new threats of religious and ethnic fundamentalism, and the dual risks and promises of new info and biotechnologies.

Another significant perspective that has contributed to third-wave feminism is Donna Haraway’s “cyborg” which has also inspired the development of cyberfeminism.

What makes this perspective unique is Haraway’s appropriation of technology and her posthuman acknowledgment of the interaction between humans and nonhumans, which blurs the distinctions between humans, animals, and machines.

Third-wave feminism is tied up with the effects of globalization and the complex redistribution of power, which challenge feminist theory and politics.

Summary of three Waves of Feminism

A summary of these waves of  Feminism is given below:

First Wave

Feminists focused their struggles primarily on gaining legal rights such as the right to vote (women’s suffrage) and property rights. The first known publications by women that referred to a demand for equality between men and women were published in the 15th century, but what is referred to as first-wave feminism began in earnest in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

This wave of feminism ended when women made some legal gains in North America and when some women won the right to vote between 1917 and 1920. In Canada, Aboriginal women living on reserves would not win the right to vote until 1960.

Second Wave 

Feminists focused on a broad range of issues in the 1960s, 70’s, and early 80s including discrimination in workplaces and broader society. Some of the key struggles were affirmative action, pay equity, rape, domestic violence, pornography and sexism in the media, and reproductive choice.

The fight for reproductive choice included a fight to have information about, and access to, birth control (selling or promoting birth control was illegal in Canada until 1969) as well as the struggle to decriminalize abortion.

In 1988 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s abortion law noting that it fundamentally violated a women’s right to liberty and personal autonomy as guaranteed in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The National Action Committee on the Status of Women was set up following the Canadian Royal Commission on the Status of Women to advocate for women’s equality and became an important focal point for feminist action in Canada during the 1970s and 80s.

Third Wave

Feminism emerged in the 1990s in part as a response to the backlash from the gains 2nd wave feminists had made in the 1970s and 80s.

While women made significant gains during the second wave of feminism, equality was still a distant dream. Race and Class became important issues for reflection and action within the movement.

A movement that had been dominated by white, mostly middle-class, women. This wave of feminism is not galvanized around one or two key struggles, such as the right to vote or reproductive choice, as was the case in both the 1st and 2nd waves.

Even the term feminist is not universally adopted but is often rejected by new activists. While the movement seems less galvanized in this current wave there is no doubt that the fight for women’s equality is far from over.

Mobilizing and organizing across age, race, class and our differences as women remains our challenge in continuing the fight for equality for women.

So, these are a complete overview of the three waves of Feminism. If you have any feedback please mention it in the comment section below.

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