I used to be too embarrassed to voice that I am a feminist. I am usually met with comments like, “I’m not a feminist because I love the men in my life,” or “Feminists are too bold and power-hungry, they can get jobs like everyone else.” This reaction could stem from living in the south. However, I notice this commonality in most places I visit. This is a rationality that you cannot advocate for both men and women; you have to choose one or the other. Others assume that feminists want to attain social and political ‘superiority’ over men. What we have been wanting for hundreds of years is simply equality. Any oppositional opinion is a form of misogyny.
What enforces this aversion to equal rights is partly due to a lack of education. Much like the history of slavery and civil rights, the feminism movement is not taught in full to students in the United States. I remember taking plenty of hours to study the details of the Vietnam War. However, they dedicated half of a class period to cover seventy years of women’s suffrage. I memorized too many names of white men to count, while I had no clue when the fight for gender equality began. Here is a summary of the entirety of the feminism movement in four waves, Vox reveals in their research. Hopefully, this education will be mandatory for students to study in their future history classes.
The first wave
The first wave began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention in the United States. They create a document called “The Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances” with only women allowed in attendance. This could seem overbearing to those opposed, but they simply reflected the treatment they received. Women were not allowed in the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitutional Convention, and countless other events. Twelve resolutions, “eleven unanimously,” passed during those two days. These ideals would not begin to come to fruition until 72 years later. The end of the first wave came when the 19th amendment passed. Many people fought back against this convention, but yearly conventions began in full swing. Women’s rights advocacy became a unified movement for the first time.
The second wave
Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, began the second wave. She bashes the ideals of a woman’s ‘place’ as a housewife while revealing the objectified expectations of women: your value is to create life. People still believe that men do not need to stay at home with the children, but women should drop their professional endeavors without question. Although, we attained political rights: Title IX, the ability to use birth control, and Roe V. Wade. Women can have credit cards and mortgages without a man’s last name. However, these seem like primitive rights to grant. In response, the 1980s Reagan era convinced the public of feminists being egocentric. They are inherently ‘discontent’ with their responsibilities. These overpowering views set our feminist timeline back to an archaic state. The consequences stem from an older, sexist generation who took part in creating a degrading political climate. All without representation.
“Why should anyone raise an eyebrow because a latter-day Einstein’s wife expects her husband to put aside that lifeless theory of relativity and help her with the work that is supposed to be the essence of life itself: diaper the baby and don’t forget to rinse the soiled diaper in the toilet paper before putting it in the diaper pail, and then wax the kitchen floor.”
– The Feminine Mystique
The third wave
The Anita Hill case in 1991 started the third wave. Anita Hill accused (current) Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Unlike the #MeToo movement, she was met with disbelief by an overwhelming 70% of individuals, The New York Times reveals. Hill explained that most of the public had “no idea” what her case detailed. The American people “didn’t even realize that sexual harassment was something that was actionable, that they could file a complaint about.” In their minds, sexual harassment was emotional turmoil. It should not be given the same value as a lawful offense. And it surely should not determine whether an individual should lead or not. As we are all too familiar with, ‘boys will be boys.’
This case also led to women attaining more leadership roles in the workplace, Britannica analyzed. The intolerance of representation began to turn away with severe action. In the second wave, feminists fought to simply enter the working world. Working outside of the home was a jump during that time. However, third wave feminists looked past just representation. They believed in becoming “high-achieving” professionals. In addition, they questioned the system that created the stereotypical gender roles. They began to “redefine” what a woman should be. Not by society’s standards, but their own.
The fourth wave
And here we are, enduring our current fight towards gender equality. The capabilities of social media, the #MeToo movement and the increasing representation of women in politics keep pushing the movement forward. Sure, there is constant pushback when the term ‘feminist’ is used. Because of this history, I have learned I do not have any reason to stay silent when promoting equality. The only way to de-stigmatize the movement is to talk about it even more.
When I look at the past, I recognize three key behaviors in opposition: denial, ridicule, and hatred. These generational characteristics come from systemic patriarchal values unfamiliar with resistance. The #NotAllMen response to 97% of women being harassed is an example of their defense. I also believe they fear what feminists are capable of. When met with challenges, we use all the strength and dignity we can muster without ceasing. We meet their decrees with fierce determination. The constant social and political adversity can take a toll on us, but we are all the better for it.