Bona fide Feminism: A relic of history or a need?

By | May 23, 2020
Feminism: A relic of history

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Bona fide Feminism | Overview

Feminism is a political and intellectual movement that started in the late 1900s and aimed at seeking equal rights and opportunities for women in economic, legal, and political arenas. The concept of equality has been a tumultuous affair in an age of progressive developments. The revisionist, if not the reactionary need the essential support of the modern liberal society, we claim to have conditioned all along.

Introduction

The Oxford Dictionary defines feminism as, “Advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex”. But feminism is much wider than what various dictionaries define it as. It is quite difficult to trace the roots of feminism. While some say that the roots are buried in ancient Greece, most of them, while discussing the origin of feminism, identify the movement with the three waves of feminism.

1. The First Wave

The issue of property and voting rights for women first came into the picture during the French and American Revolution in the late 18th century.  The first wave was mostly restricted to achieving suffrage and property rights for women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was realized that in order to bring about change for themselves, it was important to gain political power first.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first nation to give voting rights to women. Australia and Finland followed in 1902 and 1906 respectively. American first-wave feminism involved a wide range of women. Some, such as Frances Willard, belonged to conservative Christian groups such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Others, such as Matilda Joslyn Gage, were more radical, and expressed themselves within the National Woman Suffrage Association or individually.[1] The first wave ended with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919, which granted equal voting rights to the women.

2. The Second Wave

The second wave took a few leaps forward and sought to achieve gender equality and put an end to sexism in all forms. The liberation movement started in the 1960s and aimed at achieving legal and social rights for women. It introduced ideas and actions related to inequality and discrimination that were being faced by women. The second-wave slogan, ‘The Personal is Political,’ identified women’s cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked and encouraged women to understand how their personal lives reflected sexist power structures.

[2] The second wave feminism focused mainly on issues such as reproductive rights, workplace equality, and economic rights. The second wave was increasingly theoretical, based on a fusion of neo-Marxism and psycho-analytical theory, and began to associate the subjugation of women with broader critiques of patriarchy, capitalism, normative heterosexuality, and the woman’s role as wife and mother[3]

While the first wave of feminism was restricted to the involvement of middle class, Western and mostly white women, the second wave involved and was propelled by women of colour and developing countries as well.

It was during the second wave that much literature on Feminism was written and read by the women. Simone De Beauvoir, a political and social activist, and writer introduced the world to her ‘The Second Sex’ in 1949. It was ahead of its time and paved a way for modern feminism. Beauvoir, in her treatise, critiques patriarchy and subjugation of women.

In an interview, Beauvoir states, “I think that feminists, at least those I’m involved with, want to change not only women’s situation but also the world. That is, these are women who would like to see a certain dismantling of society and who think that if feminism were victorious, if the oppression of women were completely eliminated, well, society would be shaken to its foundation.

This cannot be accomplished without other kinds of action, for example, actions supporting class struggle and immigrants, in other words, all the actions one can imagine in favour of society. They must all be linked. So, it’s a matter not of women taking men’s place in this world, but of their being emancipated in such a way as to simultaneously change this world.”

Another writer and activist who is credited with sparking the second wave feminism is Betty Freidan. Her famous writings include ‘It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement’, ‘The Second Stage’, and ‘The Fountain of Age’. But the most important of her works are considered to be The Feminine Mystique (1963).

She coined the term feminine mystique to describe the societal assumption that women could find fulfillment through housework, marriage, sexual passivity, and child-rearing alone[4], and described the dissatisfaction the American women experienced after World War-II. Despite the criticism that the book received, the book left a huge impact on women to think about their limited roles and status in the society.

3. The Third Wave

The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s and its origin is credited to the emergence of Riot Grrrl punk subculture in Washington and the Anita Hill case in 1991. Anita Hill testified of being sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court nominee, at work. Clarence Thomas was sent to the Supreme Court, but a discussion was sparked on a national level about the overrepresentation of men.

The following year, 1992, would be dubbed “the Year of the Woman” after 24 women won seats in the House of Representatives and three more won seats in the Senate.[5] The third wave feminism rejects limits and definitions. Most third-wavers refuse to identify as ‘feminists’ and reject the word that they find limiting and exclusionary.[6] The third wave feminism is not limited to Western, middle class, and white women. It embraces women of different cultures, classes, colours, and sexual orientations.

4. The Fourth Wave

The fourth wave is believed to be originated in 2012 when the interest in feminism sparked again on the internet. According to Kira Cochrane, a British journalist and writer, the fourth wave is ‘defined by technology’. Women have taken their concerns to social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. It not only provides them with a safe space to express themselves but also encourages other women to open up to the world. The fourth wavers, through their hashtag activism, have successfully launched online movements. These movements include Everyday Sexism Project, #YesAllWomen, Free The Nipple, the 2018 Women’s March, and the #MeToo movement.

Anti-feminism

Recently, in 2014, a social media trend grabbed the attention of the feminists and the media when a number of women used social media to declare that they didn’t advocate feminism. This type of anti-feminism isn’t new. Even in the 19th century, plenty of women were against the feminist movement.

The reasoning behind anti-feminism could be defined by using a quote from Simone De Beauvoir’s treatise, The Second Sex, which reads as: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” The basic reasoning behind the anti-feminism movements could be rooted in the defined and damaged gender roles in society. The women against feminists have assumed that the feminist movement aims to achieve a superior position in society and is the cause behind misandry.

The same view has been held by the majority of men who easily disregard feminism as a movement to take over men. This view held by men is deeply rooted in their fear and misunderstanding of the movement and especially towards empowered women. Some are unwilling to face the changes in tradition, culture, and power dynamics that are sure to follow an equality-based movement.

Others are concerned about a supposed “feminist takeover”, through which women are planning to overthrow and dominate men.[7] There are two questions that anti-feminists need to ask themselves. Firstly, are they opposed to the equality of men and women? And if no, do they think we have achieved gender equality?

Why do we still need feminism?

The Shaheen Bagh protests that gained popularity and support from all over the world was and still is one of its kind. It was so because the women of all age groups took charge of the movement and abandoned their daily life roles. The protest was not only an act of resistance against the Citizenship Amendment Act but also against the deep-rooted patriarchy in Indian society.

In January 2019 alone, women in nearly 90 countries took to the streets demanding equal pay, reproductive rights, and the end of violence.[8] The pro-democracy protests that took place in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Colombia in 2019 witnessed women taking charge. The fourth wave feminism has become a global movement. It has encouraged women from different classes, ethnicities, and sexual orientations to come forward and fight for their rights.

Feminism is needed today more than ever. It is needed today not just to achieve equality of genders but also gender equity.The Women, Business and the Law report[9] by the World Bank found out that gender discrimination still existed in 187 countries. According to WFP Gender Policy and Strategy, “gender inequality is a major cause and effect of hunger and poverty: it is estimated that 60 per cent of chronically hungry people are women and girls.”

Every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18. Child marriage happens across countries, cultures, and regions.[10] The World Economic Forum predicts that with the current rate of progress, it will take 202 years to close this gap. The rewards of closing the gap promptly are vast, both for women, society, and the economy as a whole. It is estimated that the elimination of the participation and wage gap in the labour market would result in the addition of $28 trillion (USD) to the world economy within just a few years.[11]

Conclusion

Feminism has considerably contributed to the societal change and upliftment of women. It has helped women secure property and suffrage rights. It has also been instrumental in bringing important issues to the table, such as education, reproductive rights, and physical autonomy. If it weren’t for the past movements, the world would have been in shambles and women, in chains. The world still needs feminism and will continue to need it, until the gap disappears from numbers as well as from our society and mindsets.


[1] History and Theory of Feminism, (May 20, 2020). Visit Here

[2] Betty Friedan: The Three Waves of Feminism, Ohio Humanities, (May 20, 2020), Visit Here

[3] Martha Rampton, Four Waves of Feminism, Pacific University Oregon, (May 20, 2020), Visit Here

[4] The Feminine Mystique, Encyclopedia Britannica, (May 20, 2020), Visit Here

[5] Constance Grady, The waves of feminism, and why people keep fighting over them, explained, Vox, (May 20, 2020 ), Visit Here

[6] Martha Rampton, Four Waves of Feminism, Pacific University Oregon, (May 20, 2020),  Visit Here

[7] Why We Need Feminism? , CORO, (May 20, 2020), Visit Here

[8] Protests across India’s ‘Shaheen Baghs’ are part of a global fourth-wave feminist uprising, (May 20, 2020), Visit Here

[9] Women, Business and the Law, The World Bank, (May 20, 2020), Visit Here

[10] Child marriage around the world, Girls not brides, (May 20, 2020) Visit Here

[11] Why We Need Feminism? , CORO, (May 20, 2020), Visit Here


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