Coming off our blog post last time about Judith Butler, queer studies, and feminist theory, it’s fitting to understand the history of feminism and how it has evolved through the centuries. People often have the misconception that all feminism is the same, remaining static throughout history. While there are certainly some similarities among the different “waves” of feminism, or movements, there are major differences that characterize the goals and methods utilized by each wave. Let’s go through each one of them, discussing the major figures and desires of each.
First Wave Feminism occurred during the late 19th century, characterized by the women’s suffrage movement, or yearning for the right to vote. You might recognize some of the popular names associated with this movement, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. However, it’s important to recognize that the women’s suffrage movement largely excluded women of color, such as Sojourner Truth. White women gained the right to vote in 1920 with the 19th amendment, but women of color wouldn’t gain such a privilege until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 45 years later!
Second Wave Feminism occurred primarily during the 1960s to the 1990s. It extended feminism to more issues such as domestic violence, reproductive rights (such as abortion), and pay equality. Again, class and race were viewed as secondary issues as the women of color still failed to access the forefront.
Third Wave Feminism rose from the mid 1990s, focusing on challenging female heteronormativity (remember, this means that heterosexuality is the preferred sexual orientation). Unlike the past two movements, it sought to celebrate different races, classes, and sexual orientations, sometimes even rejecting the idea of “feminism” itself since it became associated with negative stereotypes. This encompassing of differential identities and categories with gender such as race and class became known as “intersectionality”, describing the overlap that the Third Wave advocated for.
Fourth Wave Feminism has begun to emerge over the last decade. It’s defined by its action-based viral campaigns and protests. Think of things like the #MeToo movement that made progress into advancing to the headlines of our news. This wave seeks to extend the Third Wave, deconstructing gender norms and targeting the overall system of white male supremacy, which promotes the intersectional approaches described above, especially through digital activism.
There’s a lot more that can be said for each of these different waves, and I encourage you to explore the nuances between them all more! Check out some of the videos below if you want to learn more!