The Ups and Downs of Feminine Empowerment

March 8th is International Women’s Day, which celebrates women’s achievements in the economy, politics and society, as well as the progress and importance of gender equality globally.

This day was developed during the labour movements in the 1900s. The first International Women’s Day took place on March 19, 1911, in some European countries.

This day was made possible because of the battles fought by many women to ensure equal gender rights for future generations. As a result, there are four distinctive waves of feminism, where each brought something different to fight for and furthered  the feminist cause. Allow me to elaborate on these waves. 

The first wave of feminism:

The first wave started with the Seneca Convention in 1848. Men and women united to fight for women’s right to vote, but the government did not approve of this initiative. Many women protested against this rigidity, and some even took the fight to the streets. These women were called the “suffragettes.”

Then, WW1 erupted, and women entered the labour force to participate in the war effort. Their effort paid off in 1893 when New Zealand gave women the right to vote. In 1918, the UK followed, and it was the same for Canada in 1918. However, it was not until 1940 that Quebec gave women the right to vote. In the United States, the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, as it was believed to be a reward for their war effort.

However, the suffragettes did not believe that women should be equal to men in all spheres. They only fought for the right to vote. Most still believed it was the women’s role to care for their husbands and children at the house. Not to mention, it was mainly White women from the middle class that fought for this right.

The second wave of feminism:

Women’s issues paused during WW2. Women were pushed back into their homes after the war. Some women were frustrated about being sent home, and some were fairly happy. As such, the divorce rates increased: women wanted more freedom, and men wanted women to stay home. The fertility rate declined; women started to have fewer children. Consequently, the number of women working outside the house began to increase. However, women continued to be in female ghettos of teaching and nursing due to their lack of representation. They continued to face low wages, and the gender pay gap grew more significant in 1965. Discrimination was frequent at work.

When women grew tired of these conditions they picked up the feminist movement where it was left off. The second wave happened as the Civil rights movement was emerging in the 1960s-1970s. During that period, women called to obtain the same rights as others. This wave was not reserved for White middle-class married women, but for all women. Many feminists, such as Betty Friedman and Gloria Steinem, arose in this period. Betty Friedman is the author of Feminine Mystique, which denounces the gender norms of staying home and caring for children.

Issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence and rape were brought forth. John F. Kennedy put the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) to recommend advice on women’s status in the United States. However, not much was done, and only the Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963.

There were two currents in the feminist movement:

–   The liberal approach was the idea of liberty for all and amendments to the US constitution.

–   The radical approach paid more attention to patriarchy and how the patriarchal model brought oppression to women. Many women were involved in other movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement. 

Women began accessing abortion and contraception, and the right to divorce rose. Women’s role was not simply reclused to caring for the children; the man should also participate. They fought for the issue of single mothers, sexual violence against women and double standards in sexuality. These were common problems for all women. It had to be politically addressed.

However, some radical feminists believed that the whole issue of heterosexuality was challenging because women were dependent on men to have intercourse. To be sexually independent, they would need to be lesbians. This was known as lesbian separatism. It divided the feminist movement because not everyone was a lesbian.

The third wave of feminism:

Even if the second-wave feminism was more open-minded, it was still limited to White, educated women. The third wave of feminism, in the 80s-90s, brought forth the struggle for women in minorities. There is not one experience on how to be a woman, but multiple. Each of them has a different experience on how to be a woman.

It was brought forward by the daughter of the second-wave feminists. It is blurry and unclear because each person fought for their own issues. It recognizes many ways in which women are oppressed, and each person can have multiple identities: a mother, a wife, a daughter, etc..

The “grrrls” came along as well. It was a rock movement that believed women were not objects for men, but should be feminine for themselves. This global trend included women from different ethnicities, sexual orientations and classes. Grrrls also believed in re-appropriating words such as “bitch” and “slut” because it gave men too much power.  

The fourth wave feminism:

This wave is not official, but it focuses on empowering women through Internet tools and addresses the problem of intersectionality. This wave also allows women to share their personal experiences of sexual abuse and objectification of women. However, it is still a recent wave because it supposedly started in 2012.

Women’s rights are still not respected in many countries. Protests are happening, and things are slowly changing, but it can take a long time, as it happened for women in the Western world.




By Alicia Harvey

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