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The Three Big Waves of Feminism First-Wave Feminism: Women’s Right to Vote In 1776, the then First Lady of the United States was the first to raise her about women’s rights, telling her husband to “remember the ladies” in his drafting of new laws, yet it took more than 100 years for men like John Adams to actually do so.
With the help of half a dozen determined, and in this case white upper-middle-class, women the first-wave feminism, which spans from the 19th century to the early 20th century, finally led to their goal after 72 years of protesting. The Nineteenth Amendment, which secured the rights for women to vote finally passed in 1920.
This grand victory brought other reforms along, including reforms in the educational system, in healthcare and in the workplace.
Second-Wave Feminism: Personal Means Political The First-Wave was significant to feminism as it established a safe footing from where women could start off. The second wave of feminism, however, was crucial to everything that followed after. This wave marked everything the early 1960’s to the late 1980’s. Of course feminism didn’t die out completely, in between the first and second wave feminism, as the media tried to make many people believe.
In fact feminism was still a topic among women; they just didn’t crowd at polling stations anymore.
Instead many small groups of women activists were fighting for birth control or the women peace movement. Then, during the Second World War women suddenly played a major role as work forces and could get a taste of independency. Though after the war, now that the men were back with their glorified heroism, it was expected of women to silently head back into the kitchen and act out their “natural” role as mother and wife, which has been pressed onto them from the very start.
Obviously that didn’t sit well with many of them. However before the the Women’s Liberation movement and before the Sexual Revolution in 1968, there have been the Civil Rights Movement and the antiwar movement. Those two were the first two major social movements to be displayed through television, as well as they were the forerunners of the following feminist movement. They showed that women, too, could become political. Women from Rosa Parks to Coretta Scott King made political protest seem necessary and encouraged many women all over America, regardless of race and ethnic background, to speak up for their rights.
It was the feminist movement’s turn then to get real personal and by getting real personal it didn’t get any less political. Women had enough of the sexual harassment and domestic violence going on behind doors, of being kept out of law and medical schools and thus being restricted to low paid jobs, of being confined not only in domestic but also in public spheres. To make it short: women had enough of being looked down at. With these problems the key demands of this movement were: “the right to safe and legal abortion, the right to accessible and affordable childcare, and the equal opportunities in education and employment”.
Another demand was more support of battered women’s shelters, and changes in custody and divorce law. This wave of feminism brought up the most of changes regarding women and laws. Affirmative Action rights for women were extended and acts like the Women’s Educational Equity Act, which allowed educational equality for women, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibited “sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy”, were passed. Amongst these acts a law passed in 1975 that required the U. S.
Military Academies to admit women, as well as marital rape was made illegal and the no-fault divorce legal. Even though the last two laws were not recognized by all states, it was still considered an enormous success. In the early 1980s the biggest strength of the second wave, the grand diversity of feminism and organisations, suddenly became its biggest weakness as the media started the so called “feminist sex wars” by pitting women, especially two of them, against each other, trying to destroy the image of sisterhood pointedly.
Even though the Women’s Liberation movement clearly refused to pick a leader, the media singled out Gloria Steinem as the leader of this movement. Gloria Steinem was a single and childless career woman, who compared marriage to prostitution and insisted that “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament”. On the other side there was the media’s darling Phyllis Schlafly, who almost single-handedly brought down the Equal Rights Amendment. Also known as the ERA, this mendment demanded that the “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied nor abridged by the United States or any state on the account of sex”. It was first introduced by Alice Paul in 1923, a woman truly ahead of her time, but didn’t get ratified by enough states to get legalized. Whether this happened because of Phyllis Schlafly herself or the way media presented the feminists of that time is debatable. In the end the ERA may not have gotten legalized and women were still oppressed, but sisterhood was very much alive and blooming.
In sisterhood women found strength and with this new found strength they started breaking the blockades which had been keeping them from climbing the career ladder and decided that it was long past time to start taking charge of their own lives. Third-Wave Feminism: Finally Diversity After ERA was defeated, a vast amount of media coverage over the supposed “death of feminism” appeared on the TV screen of Americans. Those who truly believed them were surely gobsmacked by the third wave of feminism which found its start in the mid-90’s.
Caused by the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and the evident spite and disdain the accuser, Anita Hill, was met with by the all-male jury, women decided that once men crossed one line too many. The most obvious difference between the third wave movement and its sisters the first and second wave movements was the embracement of diversity. With feminism becoming global it became available for women of any race as well as any social class, but also threw away the mass media’s “ugly braless bubblehead” stereotype of feminists with women like Pinkfloor stating: “”It’s possible to have a push-up bra and a brain at the same time. Being feminine and a feminist was no longer mutually exclusive and with the so-called “grrl” feminists, women started to show up as strong and empowering, while reclaiming everything feminine, from wearing high-heels to lipstick. The key demands of the Third Wave are much harder to pin point, as the range of issues grew by women not only concerning themselves with the gender oppression but with economic oppression and environmental issues as well.
However one crucial aspect was the deconstruction of categorical thinking and its endless attack on unrealistic beauty ideals set for women ever since television was invented. The third wave of feminism has not ended yet. It is history in the making, as new issues to deal with arise as soon as old ones are solved. The probably greatest achievement of these waves is the awareness of oppression they’ve spread, the feeling of community between women they created as well as turning feminism from an abstract thought into a widely accepted truth.