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Feminism is the philosophical, political, and ethical position that people should not be discriminated against because of their gender.
Feminism focuses on issues of women's and non-binary people's rights because they are the broad group that faces the most discrimination under patriarchy, and kyriarchy more generally. Classical feminist issues such as the gender wage gap and women's suffrage are still very much unsolved, even in the West.
Feminism promotes reassessing the value of that which is conventionally perceived as female and femme. For example, under the kyriarchal binary gender system women are associated with emotion (which is seen as a negative force to be tamed), while men are seen as logical and rational, by their very nature. In Western cultures, emotion is often dismissed out of hand, or held in disdain, and is largely ignored as a part of morality and ethics. Feminism questions both sides of this equation. It discusses how both assumptions are misplaced: Are women more emotionally driven by their very nature, or is it a social construct, and/or a self-fulfilling prophesy? If some people (regardless of gender) are indeed more emotional, or less able to control their emotions does that in any way impact on their status as human beings?
Importantly, feminism is not a monolith. It can be studied from the perspectives of the actual movements for equality or from the writings of both observer, commentator and participant addressing the underlying issues of why women, and non-binary people, have not been and are not seen as equal.
Waves of Feminism
In various ways and forms, feminism has always existed. Abigail Adams urged her husband, future second president John Adams, prior to the publication of the Declaration of Independence, to "remember the ladies" in the new code of laws they would be constructing.. Le Roman de Silence is a 13th century post-Arthurian romance (Arthurian romance being a genre of Medieval literature), with a female protagonist, heavily coded with subversive gender commentary. History records these and other examples not only of women fighting against patriarchal norms, but also commentary on and criticism of the same in a methodical manner, stretching back to antiquity. However, feminism as an organized movement is recognized as beginning in the mid-19th century. Since then, it has been viewed historically as coming in three waves.
First wave Feminism
Organized feminism is agreed to have begun with the Seneca Falls Convention, when the long tradition of women's political activism (in temperance, in abolition, and many other religious and moral social movements) led, over several days, to a Declaration of Sentiments which called for the right to vote, among other issues. The First Wave was heavily tied to both abolition and suffrage, and following the passage of the Suffrage Amendement, there was a period of quiescence in the inter-war period.
Second wave Feminism
Closely linked to the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Rights Movement, Second Wave Feminism arose out of the upheaval of the 1960s as many oppressed groups sought to overturn the status quo and establish more just roles for themselves in the United States. No social movement exists in a vacuum, and this is obvious for the Second Wave, which gave rise to numerous trends and schools of thought within feminism, including Radical Feminism, Marxist Feminism, and Lesbian Feminism, among others. If you hear an anti-feminist throwing out spurious stereotypes about feminism, they are probably based on minor events or the occasional snippet of ideology from this time period (calling all feminists radical, or talking about burning bras). Unlike the First Wave, the Second Wave wasn't followed by a lull or hiatus. Instead, it segued directly into the Third Wave.
Third wave Feminism
The beginning of the Third Wave is difficult to mark precisely, as feminist activism of the Second Wave never stopped. However, Rebecca Walker coined the term in an essay in 1992, and the early 90s is generally agreed to be when the Third Wave began. There were a number of spurs to the formalization of a new line of thought, among them the Anita Hill Trial during the Senate confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court of the United States under the first President Bush.
|The night after Thomas’s confirmation I ask the man I am intimate with what he thinks of the whole mess. His concern is primarily with Thomas’ propensity to demolish civil rights and opportunities for people of color. I launch into a tirade. “When will progressive black men prioritize my rights and well-being? When will they stop talking so damn much about ‘the race’ as if it revolved exclusively around them?” He tells me I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I scream “I need to know, are you with me or are you going to help them try to destroy me?”
As the days pass, I push myself to figure out what it means to be a part of the Third Wave of feminism. I begin to realize that I owe it to myself, to my little sister on the train, to all of the daughters yet to be born, to push beyond my rage and articulate an agenda.
I am not a postfeminism feminist. I am the Third Wave.
The Third Wave stands out from the Second in embracing the lessons of the 1960s, in its acceptance and exploration of different races, genders, sexualities, abilities, and more, in understanding that the world is complex, and the white, heterosexual feminism of the Second Wave is too limited. In short, one of the trends of the Third Wave is intersectionality, first defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989.
Feminism is a diverse movement, drawing from many social, political, and philosophical movements. Although feminists agree that women are the moral equals of men, and in an ideal world should be the legal, political, economic, and social equals to men, they can differ wildly as to the causes of inequality, the nature of inequality, and the solutions to inequality. Further, different strands of feminism may not disagree with one another, and instead only have different focuses (reproductive rights vs. racial intersecionality, for example). Some schools of thought under the umbrella of feminism include:
- Anarchist Feminism
- Black Feminism
- Chicana Feminism
- Cultural Feminism
- Difference Feminism
- French Feminism
- Individualist Feminism
- Lesbian Feminism
- Liberal Feminism
- Libertarian Feminism
- Multiracial Feminism
- Post-colonial Feminism
- Postmodern Feminism
- Post-structural Feminism
- Radical Feminism
- Separatist Feminism
- Socialist Feminism
- Standpoint Feminism
- Third world Feminism
- Women of all Red Nations
- 2014 brochure 'Tackling the gender pay gap in the European Union'
- Saudi Arabia: Women Can Vote, Starting in 2015
- Saudi Women Vote; Which Countries Still Don't Allow Women's Suffrage?
- Abigail Adams urges husband to "remember the ladies"
- 'Silence' at Wikipedia
- The Seneca Falls Convention at Wikipedia
- Declaration of Sentiments on Wikipedia
- The 19th amendment at Wikipedia
- Bra burnings in the 60s
- Centipedes, on Tumblr
- Becoming the Third Wave, by Rebecca Walker