Feminism – the combination of ideologies and movements that strive for social, economical, and political equality for all genders. Many of the organized feminist movements deal with the rights and interests of women. The movements’ ideal is to have equal rights between men and women and to overcome patriarchal systems and gender oppression.
A feminist is a supporter of these ideologies and movements to create equality for all genders. Well-known feminists throughout history include Abigail Adams, Mary Wallstonecraft, Phillis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. These women “began to challenge their assigned social roles… [and] advocated for the rights of women” (Foss, Domenico, and Foss 47).
The word feminism is often linked to femininity or being female. These terms are related, but they have very different meanings. Feminists argue that femininity is both culturally and socially constructed. Being female is described as the biology of sexual differences in humans. Feminism is the social movements to provide equality to all genders. Feminists, those who advocate for feminism, do not need to be female or feminine despite the name (Belsey and Moore 117-122)
Feminists campaigned and continue to campaign for issues such as women’s suffrage, equality for women in the workplace, reproductive rights (contraceptives and abortion), education for women, economic equality (equal opportunity for payment and credit), and many others. Many advocates present difficult concerns like sexual harassment, gendered violence, and domestic violence.
Feminist theories desire to analyze the cause of gender inequality. As noted in our class lecture, common feminist theories are the Liberal Feminist Theory, which aims for the same political liberty across all genders, the Marxist Feminist Theory (Materialist Feminism) which strives for the same economic liberty across all genders, and the Radical Feminist Theory, which states that sex, reproduction, and care are simultaneously empowering and oppressing for women. The Socialist Feminist Theory joins the Marxist and Radical Theories.
People demonstrate support of feminism in a variety of ways. Those who identify as feminists may identify in every aspect of their lives, or they may identify in only certain situations. Advocating for feminism could consist of voting for more rights for women, lobbying for feminist movements, or even small acts showing the strength of women as individuals.
History has presented three waves of feminism over the past two centuries.
The first wave of feminism advocated for women to become a part of the “public sphere.” Women’s suffrage was a huge accomplishment for this movement (Foss, Domenico and Foss 47).
The second wave of feminism centered on the campaigning of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This amendment supported equality of the sexes under law. The ERA never became a law, but many of the suggestions for equal rights made throughout the campaign became laws in some states. Women gained more reproductive rights (available birth control) and more freedom to dress as they pleased during this wave (Foss, Domenico and Foss 48).
The second wave also introduced the relationship between sexuality, gender, and identity. Women felt much more freedom to define themselves and their gender based on their performativity , culture, and race. This also led to feminists questioning the definition of femininity (Foss, Domenico and Foss 49).
The third wave of feminism , also known as “grrl power, riot grrl feminism, lipstick feminism, transfeminism, and cybergrrl feminism” created significant change in the
“natural” roles of women (Foss, Domenico and Foss 49). During this time, women continued to explore the issues of sexuality, gender, identity, and performance.
Judith Butler, author of Gender Troubles, self-identifies as a third wave feminist. She argues that gender is a process and it is never achieved, but it is an act that is repeated. Butler encourages us to search our gendered identity and to share our stories (Butler 198-199).
Feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman identifies more with the second wave of feminism. Gilman supports the strong, independent woman through her novel Herland. Gilman describes the strength of women through the female inhabitants of Herland, who have lived without men for 2000 years, and how they find it strange that men think of women as weaker. The people of Herland do not understand why women would not work or why they would need protecting (Gilman 79). All feminists advocate in different ways, and Gilman promotes feminism through her novel with the idea that women don’t need men. Gilman shows that women are strong individuals on their own.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland. Mineola: Dover Publications Inc., 1998. Print.
Moi Toril. “Feminist, Female, Feminine.” The Femninist Reader: Essays in Gender and the Politics of Literary Criticism. Ed. Catherine Belsey and Jane Moore. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1989. 117-132. Print.
Foss, Sonja K., Mary E. Domenico and Karen A. Foss. Gender Stories: Negotiating Identity in a Binary World. Long Grove: Waveland Press Inc., 2013. Print.