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The Evolution of Feminism

3791 words (15 pages) Essay in Sociology

08/02/20 Sociology Reference this

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Feminism has become a crucial aspect in today’s society and has developed into an important area of discussion. Many women and men have their own standpoints on the theory and utilize those to define what feminism is and whether it has been a success, or a failure. But, in doing so, it is important to ask questions like; how has feminism evolved as an intellectual concept or theory? What are the similarities and differences between various strains of feminism? Why do these differences have an impact on whether feminism has achieved its goals? These are all common questions that stem from such discussions. I believe that feminism evolved as society did from a positivist era to a post-positivist era. As women were taking a stand against patriarchy and winning countless campaigns, they were being further integrated into society, thus reserving rights to voice. After being secluded to the domestic spheres and often put on the back burner for centuries, women are now in a powerful position to define their success as they please and not how men or society order them to do so. To bring light to this argument, I will first look at what feminism encompasses and what are its attributes. Then, I will address the evolution of feminism and it’s three representational waves, including the successes of each wave which eventually led to where we are today. And finally, I will compare and contrast the different ideologies and goals throughout the history of the movement, paying particular attention to the shift in goals as women became more educated and integrated in society. Feminism is alive and well and it is important to recognize where its successes were rooted and how it came to be what it is today.

The expression feminism itself is associated with many sub-categories and is made up of various ideologies including; liberal feminism, socialist feminism and postmodern feminism, all of which I will discuss later in this paper. Although it is easily assumed that one single movement cannot be made up of such diversity, it is crucial to understand that all of the strains of feminism are built around the core concept of ending women’s oppression, which connects them all. S. Sabbarwal writes, “Simply put, feminism can be defined as the doctrine advancing the view that women are systematically disadvantaged and are advocating a collective or individual struggle for equality.” [1] Each strain of feminism whether it is right winged, left winged or somewhere in between has one goal. That is to ensure equality for women, and to put an end to the traditional patriarchal division of power. Although, the early stages of feminism were characterized as primarily small groups fighting for change, it has been seen today, that feminism has spread globally and is supported by both men and women as a strong and powerful theory. Evidence proves that “the feminist movement has been integral in achieving vital gains for women across a spectrum of personal and political domains.” [2] Those who participated in early public feminist rallies and who often suffered severe consequences for their protest, were heroes and paved the way for the movement. Now that I have unlocked briefly what feminism is and how, although comprised of diverse thought, it is built off of one main goal, I would like to continue to further your understandings of its evolution.

Feminism began in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century as a very narrow intellectual movement known as first wave feminism. It can be justifiably defined as this due to its placement in history. During the nineteenth and twentieth century, women were oppressed by men due to patriarchy and their access to higher education was scarce and limited. This was partially due to the patriarch favoring men and the perception of women “as social housekeepers in the worlds that men build.”[3] which concluded with the lack of opportunity for women. Although, middle-class white women had the resources, and intellectual understandings to go publicly about their feminist ideas. These women took advantage of their position and united to magnify their protests against unjust systems. The predominant issue for this feminist era was that their civil rights were not being upheld. This is what mobilized the feminist movement in their pursuit of equality among sexes “through legislation, the courts, and lobbying.” [4] Although there were many feminist accomplishments and steps in the right direction during this time, I believe the most memorable, significant and recognizable work was winning the right of vote for women. Although the right of vote was not immediately obtained by the Suffragettes, the power of feminists was proved by the “steady persistence of the movement and its record of almost continuous achievement.” [5] A very important part of the Suffragette movement was that they were not met with positive reception. They endured a very horrific campaign. Because they were not being heard, they needed to find ways to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it had to be by means of forceful and unsatisfactory methods. To prove this, it was seen in the United Kingdom that “Between 1906 and 1910, the suffragettes followed three main lines of militant action: deliberately seeking arrest and imprisonment, heckling cabinet ministers and opposing government candidates at by-elections” [6] as they were not being heard. Although these actions taken by British suffragettes increased public recognition and people were beginning to take them seriously, it also characterized a hardship for the women involved. Women participating in public rallies were subject to inhumane practices including the “liberal government introducing forcible feedings,” [7] in response to the Suffragettes starvation methods. Women had to endure horrendous suffering but the misery they bore did not show for nothing, it inspired many and multiplied the number of feminist supporters. By inspiring vast amounts of followers, the suffragettes were able to gain traction, and laws were eventually implemented including women in the electoral system. In addition to the right to vote, women won many other portions of their civil rights as humans and continued to fight for the inequalities that had yet to be solved. Recognizing that inequalities still existed, this is what characterized the second wave of feminism. As countless women were being exposed to new ideas and growing their knowledge and position in society, they were also broadening the feminist movement.

Building off of the accomplishments of feminist foremothers, second wave feminism saw a climb in a new direction. More and more women were demanding the rights to be included in decisions and the sharing of ideas. Now, as the movement gained more supporters and the groups intellectual thought flourished globally, women pushed forwards to include not only political inclusiveness and civil rights. Women were now furthering the movement by being “interested in getting to the roots of problems in society.” [8] This marked a new era were women were no longer wanting to use laws and government to mask patriarchy. Women sought to create a “shift of science to scholasticism,” [9] to undermine the traditional “repressive model of power,” [10] which can be concluded as the structure of patriarchy. History shows that women were often subject to ideas that they were only good for domestic work, that they had no value or agency in society and many other misconceptions based primarily on the fact that women are the ones who bear children so should be tied to domestic duties only. These were all stigmas placed on women from the beginning of time. However, now that women have won power and are agents of change, they are in a position to make further transformations in the world. Second wave feminism is characterized by the inclusion of all women. Not just white middle-class women as seen in first wave feminism. This was historical, as in first wave feminism, we see that not only were women oppressed, only a select class of women had the resources to take a stand. But now, even the minorities of an oppressed group, colored women, were being mobilized. As B. Thompson suggests, “By the late 1970’s, the progress made possible by autonomous and independent Asian, Latina, and Black feminist organizations opened a space for women of color to world in coalition across organizations with each other.”[11] This is very important because we see a shift of knowledge within the intellectual thought of supporters who are willing to further feminism and include all women. Keep in mind, by second wave feminism, feminists have already taken a stand against patriarchy and battled with legislative measures and political gains. Now women pursued to tackle patriarchy further by eliminating other issues within the private sphere. In addition, we see individual rights of the woman stressed through fights against violence in the home and reproductive rights. This was due to the value women were holding themselves to and understanding that “it is not equality that women should want, but liberation.”[12] This is exactly what women during this point of the evolution of feminism wanted. They wanted to have the freedom to be the deciding factor for themselves, not men, not social institutions and surely not race. Although to this day, we still see conflict surrounding these issues, the thought of liberation came from this period. Since then, women have been battling against it with full force demonstrating boldness, poise and control. This is encompassed in A. Kinser writings where she recalls, “Confidence, independence, and working outside the home were all modelled for me by my mother and were self-cultivated since she was a girl.”[13] This is a clear example of what kind of women are coming out of feminism and its achievements in gaining more value for the oppressed group.

Another vital evolving period in the history of feminism is the third wave, which is arguably where the world is today. This wave stems from issues first and second wave feminist did not solve. Issues like language and symbols being wrongfully used and associated to women. Many women, regardless of age, sexual orientation, race, etc., have been subject to the misuse of many terms in a negative way, demeaning their character, importance and uniqueness. These symbols are often derogatory terms like the common slur “slut” or using “queer” to belittle a lesbian woman. Feminists of this wave “focus on differences and to challenge universalizing generalization about women.” [14] We also the LGBQT+ community merging into this wave as feminists are broadening the movement and seeking to end unjust treatment towards the queer community as well. Women are getting educated, thanks to first and second wave feminists, and are developing their understandings and recreating knowledge their way.

Now that I have explored all three evolving points of feminism, I with further the discussion of the development of feminism by comparing and contrasting the ideologies associated with each wave, which demonstrates the importance in the shift of knowledge between each movement. The first wave was a very narrow beginning and was characterized by liberal feminism. Feminists in this time period were highly oppressed, lacked power and knowledge which led them to identify the most obvious forms of oppression, the lack of basic human rights. As these women were a product of their environment, they sought solutions to their problems in the government institutions who controlled society at the time. They were “seeking to implement legislatively various proposals guaranteeing women the same rights and freedoms available to men in our society.” [15] After winning basic rights, like the right to vote, women found themselves being more accepted into society and having more opportunity for things like, pursuing education. As more women became involved in the movement and improved intellectual thought, there was a shift from a narrow beginning to a widened view. This is where we see a socialist feminist approach emerge where they are seeking to end class based oppression as well as the inclusion of all women, even marginalized ones. This is illustrated by women seeking equal opportunity in the work force, equal wages, the end of sex inequality, the pursuit for full integration of women into society and the inclusion of all women, no matter what their skin color or race is, into society. Women are beginning to understand and embrace that “knowledge, so far from being the ‘mirror’ of nature’, is particular to the discourse(s) in which it is produced.”[16] They are overcoming the boundaries placed on them by the ‘law of nature’. Women are advocating for the concept of having the agency to be the deciding factor in regards to where they are placed in society, who they should marry and who they want to marry, being met with equal opportunity in whatever career they should choose. This socialist approach really flourishes the movement as more and more women are accepted within the movement. This is where we see post-modern feminism emerge. As women are now in positions where they have the ability to control their lives, postmodern feminists seek to eliminate all universal negative language, symbols, and dialogue around women, that contribute to them being categorized as inferior. Reforming traditional views on women was what B. Skeggs defines as “a challenge to empiricism and positivism.”[17] This is where we see the crumbling of traditional thought that women are naturally unequal. The evolution of feminism and the ideologies associated with the movement represent that “women everywhere were making progress in fighting for fundamental rights over their lives and bodies, which was something that their ancestors

To prove the success of the movement, I would like to share some differences in today’s society that would have never been seen in traditional societies. As mentioned at the ending of first wave feminism and the beginning of second wave, I explained that the movement kept expanding as women were becoming more educated. J. Hart writes, “Today, more women than ever before are active participants in higher education.” [18]and integrated in society as well as challenging the isolation to the domestic sphere. Since feminist movement emerged, women “have crusaded for the promotion of a whole range of issues from custody and care of infants, rights of property, access to higher education and profession and divorce, to equal pay and affirmative action for women workers.”[19] This proves that despite the odds of patriarchy, women have won the rights to their lives.

To conclude, the theory of feminism has one of the most fascinating and intricate histories which was characterized by the evolution of knowledge and society itself. Feminism started as a very narrow ideology and then flourish into a well-rounded movement. By discussing the movements development in regard to first, second and third wave feminism, and identifying the ideologies associated with each wave, I have illustrated this for you. The success of the movement comes from the history of feminism itself. It was the liberalist feminists who won civil rights for women, the socialist feminists who tackled class-based oppression and the inclusion of marginalized women, and then the postmodern feminists who are attempting to erase patriarchy, all negative symbols and/or words associated to women and reconstruct society to mirror equality. The movement would not have been successful and well-rounded without each wave paving the way for the next. Feminism was, and continues to be, one of the most revolutionary movements and remains supported by women and men across the world.

Bibliography

  • Almeder, Robert. “Liberal Feminism and Academic Feminism,” Public Affairs Quarterly vol. 8, no. 4. (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1995): 300.
  • Charter, Mollie Lazar & Cristina Mogro-Wilson. “Feminist attitudes and ideologies: an examination of a Northeastern US MSW program,”Social Work Education vol. 37, no. 2. (United Kingdom: Routledge, 2018): 139.
  • Griffiths, Morwenna. “Making a difference: Feminism, Post-Modernism and the Methodology of Educational Research,” British Educational Research Journal vol. 21, no. 2. (United: Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd., April 1995): 226.
  • Hart, Jeni. “Women and Feminism in higher Education Scholarship: An Analysis of Three Core Journals,” The Journal of Higher Education vol. 77, no. 1. (United States: Ohio State University Press, January 2006): 40.
  • Hoffman, John and Paul Graham. “Introduction to Political Theory”. (Harlow: Pearson, 2006), 239.
  • Kachuk, Beatrice. “Feminist Social Theories: Themese and Variations.” In Sharmila Rege (ed.), Sociology of Gender: The Challenge of Feminist Sociological Knowledge. New Dheli: sage.
  • Kinser, Amber E. “Negotiating Spaces For/through Third-Wave Feminism,” NWSA Journal vol. 16, no. 3. (Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 2004): 126.
  • Lance, Keith Curry. “Strategy Choices of the British Women’s Social and Political Union,” Social Science Quarterly vol. 60, no. 1. (Texas: University of Texas Press, 1979): 52.
  • Mayhall, Laura E. Nym. “Defining Militancy: Radical Protest, the Constitutional Idiom, and Women’s Suffrage in Britain, 1908-1909,” Journal of British Studies vol. 39, no. 3. (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000): 341.
  • Nachescu, Viochita. “Radical Feminism and the Nation: History and Space in the Political Imagination of Second-Wave Feminism,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism vol. 3, no. 1. (Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 2009): 30.
  • Nachescu, Viochita. “Radical Feminism and the Nation: History and Space in Political Imagination of Second-Wave Feminism,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism vol. 3, no. 1. (United States: Michigan State University Press, 2009): 31.
  • Ray, P. Orman. “The World-Wide Woman Suffrage Movement”, Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law Third Series vol. 1, no. 3. (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1919): 220.
  • Sabbarwal, Sherry. “The Changing Face of Feminism: Dilemmas of the Feminist Academic,” Sociological Bulletin vol. 49, no. 2. (India: Indian Sociological Society, September 2000): 267-77
  • Sarachild, Kathie. “Consciousness-Raising: A Radical Weapon,” Feminist Revolution. (New York: Random House, 1975): 145.
  • Sawicki, Jana. “Foucault and Feminism: Toward a Politics of Difference.” Hypatia vol. 1, no., Motherhood and Sexuality (September 1986): 27, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1527-2001.1986.tb00835.x.
  • Skeggs, Beverley. “Postmodernism: What is All the Fuss About?” British Journal of Sociology of Education vol. 12, no. 2. (United Kingdom: Routledge, January 1991): 257.
  • Thompson, Becky. “Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism,” Feminist Studies vol. 28, no. 2. (Maryland: Feminist Studies, Inc, 2002): 340.
  • Vashisth, Akanska. “The Evolution of Feminism: Comparison of Adaptation and By-Product Concepts,” Journal of Human Behaviour in the Social Environment vol. 24, no. 3. (United States: Taylor & Francis LTD, April 2014): 270-271.
  • Weir, Allison. “Global Feminism and Transformative Identity Politics,” Hypatia vol. 23, no. 4. (April 2009): 113, https://doi-org.ezproxy.uleth.ca/10.1111/j.1527-2001.2008.tb01436.x

[1] Sherry, Sabbarwal, “The Changing Face of Feminism: Dilemmas of the Feminist Academic,” Sociological Bulletin vol. 49, no. 2 (India: Indian Sociological Society, September 2000): 267-77.

[2] Mollie Lazar Charter & Cristina Mogro-Wilson, “Feminist attitudes and ideologies: an examination of a Northeastern US MSW program,”Social Work Education vol. 37, no. 2 (United Kingdom: Routledge, 2018): 139.

 

 

[3] Beatrice Kachuk, “Feminist Social Theories: Themese and Variations.” In Sharmila Rege (ed.), Sociology of Gender: The Challenge of Feminist Sociological Knowledge. New Dheli: sage.

[4] Voichita Nachescu, “Radical Feminism and the Nation: History and Space in Political Imagination of Second-Wave Feminism,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism vol. 3, no. 1 (United States: Michigan State University Press, 2009): 31.

[5] P. Orman Ray, “The World-Wide Woman Suffrage Movement”, Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law Third Series vol. 1, no. 3 (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1919): 220.

[6] Keith Curry Lance, “Strategy Choices of the British Women’s Social and Political Union,” Social Science Quarterly vol. 60, no. 1 (Texas: University of Texas Press, 1979): 52.

[7] Laura E. Nym Mayhall, “Defining Militancy: Radical Protest, the Constitutional Idiom, and Women’s Suffrage in Britain, 1908-1909,” Journal of British Studies vol. 39, no. 3 (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000): 341.

[8] Kathie Sarachild, “Consciousness-Raising: A Radical Weapon,” Feminist Revolution (New York: Random House, 1975): 145.

[9] Viochita Nachescu, “Radical Feminism and the Nation: History and Space in the Political Imagination of Second-Wave Feminism,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism vol. 3, no. 1 (Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 2009): 30.

[10] Jana Sawicki, “Foucault and Feminism: Toward a Politics of Difference.” Hypatia vol. 1, no., Motherhood and Sexuality (September 1986): 27, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1527-2001.1986.tb00835.x. *****

[11] Becky Thompson, “Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism,” Feminist Studies vol. 28, no. 2, (Maryland: Feminist Studies, Inc, 2002): 340.

[12] John Hoffman and Paul Graham, “Introduction to Political Theory”, (Harlow: Pearson, 2006), 239.

[13] Amber E. Kinser, “Negotiating Spaces For/through Third-Wave Feminism,” NWSA Journal vol. 16, no. 3 (Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 2004): 126.

[14] Allison Weir, “Global Feminism and Transformative Identity Politics,” Hypatia vol. 23, no. 4 (April 2009): 113, https://doi-org.ezproxy.uleth.ca/10.1111/j.1527-2001.2008.tb01436.x

[15] Robert Almeder. “Liberal Feminism and Academic Feminism,” Public Affairs Quarterly vol. 8, no. 4 (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1995): 300.

[16] Morwenna Griffiths, “Making a difference: Feminism, Post-Modernism and the Methodology of Educational Research,” British Educational Research Journal vol. 21, no. 2 (United: Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd., April 1995): 226.

[17] Beverley Skeggs, “Postmodernism: What is All the Fuss About?” British Journal of Sociology of Education vol. 12, no. 2 (United Kingdom: Routledge, January 1991): 257.

[18] Jeni Hart, “Women and Feminism in higher Education Scholarship: An Analysis of Three Core Journals,” The Journal of Higher Education vol. 77, no. 1 (United States: Ohio State University Press, January 2006): 40.

[19] Akanksha Vashisth, “The Evolution of Feminism: Comparison of Adaptation and By-Product Concepts,” Journal of Human Behaviour in the Social Environment vol. 24, no. 3 (United States: Taylor & Francis LTD, April 2014): 270-271.

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