The Many Waves of Feminism

Jazzy Nguyen, Staff Writer

In the last ninety years, the most prominent aspects of American Society have undergone drastic changes—one of those prominent aspects being gender. While feminism is a concept that first emerged in different times and places across history, it wasn’t until the mid 19th century that efforts for women’s rights combined into a single push for equality.

The first wave emerged as a result of a press for women’s suffrage. Almost a hundred years after the US Constitution was signed and men were given the right to vote, women began fighting for their own franchise.

The rhetoric used during the first wave of feminism was an unfortunate reflection of the attitude of the time. White women used the current racial views as leverage for women’s suffrage. There was a common question during the time of who society wanted to view as superior, white women, or colored men.  Susan B. Anthony, major advocate for women’s suffrage famously said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”  

It wasn’t until after World War II that the second wave of feminism began to take shape. The war gave women a golden opportunity to join the workforce and begin to take on “untraditional” jobs. People realized that women were truly capable of doing more than simply minding the house and raising the kids. This was the prime starting point of the movement centered around leveling the social and economic playing fields. Once society recognized the importance of the female voice, women began working tirelessly to legalize abortion, gain more divorce rights and fight the seemingly endless battle for equality.

The second wave came to a close after the passage of Title IX, which states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

This means that education programs or federally funded activities cannot exclude a person from participating because of their sex. Title IX represented a significant step towards ensuring  requires all public schools to give anyone of any sex an equal opportunity to play in school sports, as well as a fair division of equipment and accessibility.

The third wave of feminism began as a result of the uncompleted goals of the second wave. It addressed the question of the division of labor between men and women and helped break the standard gender roles. This wave helped dissolve the overtly stereotypical constructs of what qualified as feminine. Women began using derogatory terms as new labels of pride. This wave introduced the term “girl power,” and began to portray women as powerful and assertive, versus the previous passive, weak and virginal.  

The fourth wave emerged in 2012 and focused primarily on sexual harassment, body shaming, the LGBTQ+ community, and rape culture. The newest wave was prompted by a series of high-profile crimes regarding sexual harassment. With the new developments, out came a movement referred to as the #metoo movement. According to the New York Times, around 201 powerful men were forced to face the music when allegations of sexual harassment surfaced.  

A defining aspect of the fourth wave is the controversy of how it is represented. With the newest rebirth of feminism comes an even newer take on the cause. As of late, there are around 19 prominent types of feminism that focus on different aspects of society.  Each different branch of feminism leans towards a separate ideology, which spreads out the collective effort of the masses. The clash of the contrasting views ultimately dilutes the message of equality. What is required for the movement to solidify is simple; unity.