Ever since the first wave of feminism came into existence, there has been a lot of misconceptions and pre formed judgments about the word and the movement itself. Every once in a while, you might have come across the statement that “feminists are just a bunch of angry women”. Well then, let me assure you that yes, they are and they have every right to be angry. They are angry that even in this day and in this time, they have to explain why their rights and demands are valid. Since the first wave of the movement, there hasn’t been much change in the mindset of the people. Feminists still get ridiculed for their opinion and are detested by majority for stating the same.
Talking about the misconceptions around feminism, it is important to understand that feminism in not just a fight of women. It’s a fight of all oppressed genders. Only when we understand that gender is not binary, we will be able to get over this misconception. Feminism is the movement against gender oppressions. Among many other things, feminism strives to fight against oppressions like patriarchy, sexism, sexual violence, transphobia, body shaming, and homophobia. Feminism demands rights and equality. It strives for the decimation of the gender hierarchy and believes in the freedom of choice.
To understand the anger behind the movement, it is significant that we learn how this movement began and how feminists had to fight for their rights one step at a time.
Wave of feminism – world
First wave (1848 – 1920): years before the Seneca fall convention, from where the suffrage movement began, Mary Wollstonecraft stood up for gender equality. She was the foremother of the movement. Her first publication was on the education of daughters. Her ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ still echoes in feminism.
The first wave of feminism officially began with the Seneca fall convention of 1848. Around 200 women came together in upstate New York. The whole event was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They discussed various rights of women and later passed 12 resolutions calling for equal rights, which included the right to vote. In 1920, Congress passed the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.
It is important to note that despite their fight for equality, the movement was not devoid of racism. The first wave was basically for the suffrage of white women. Women of color still didn’t have the right to vote. Black women were conveniently sidelined in the movement.
Second Wave (1963-1980s): In 1963 Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique became a phenomenon. In her book she talked about the systemic sexism. While the first wave focused on the political rights, the second wave was focused on the social equality. Issues of rape, reproductive rights, domestic violence and workplace safety were the forefront of the movement. In 1968, women protested against the Miss America pageant for its patriarchal treatment of objectifying women.
Third Wave (1990s): the third wave of feminism was much more inclusive than the previous waves. Women of color and other marginalized sections were included in this wave. In the Early 1990s, women started working in positions of power. This phase also tended to involve fighting against workplace sexual harassment.
The third wave activism also brought forward the rights of trans persons. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to describe the ways in which different forms of oppression intersect. Judith Butler, asserted that gender and sex are separate and that gender is performative. Their combined effort became a fundamental part of the third wave activism.
The third wave also propagated into the media. It was deeply influenced by the girl group ‘riot grrrl’. They embraced make-ups, high heels and high-femme girliness.
Phases of feminism – India
Pre- independence: similar to Mary Wollstonecraft, India also has a number of foremothers to the movement. Savitri Bai Phule was a significant figure in removing prejudices against women’s education in the country. She founded the first school for women in 1848. She fought against a lot of injustices towards women, including opening care centre for rape victims and stood against the practice of shaving the heads of widows.
The pre independence phase also saw the involvement of many refined men. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a pioneer in uprooting evil customs like sati and child marriage. His efforts paid of with sati being made illegal and punishable against law in 1829. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, was another scholar who fought for widow remarriage. Owing to his effort, the Hindu widow remarriage act was introduced in 1856.
As the struggle against colonialism intensified, thousands of women, including Sarojini Naidu, Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay actively took part in the freedom struggle. Sarojini Naidu was elected President of Indian National Congress in 1925. Under the leadership of Lado Rani Zutshi and Parvati, the daughter of Lala Lajpat Rai, five thousand women took out a procession at Lahore as civil disobedience movement.
The pre independence phase also saw the foundation of a number of women organizations like Women’s India Association (WIA), National Council of Women in India (NCWI) and All India Women’s Conference (AIWC). Saraladevi set up the Bharat StreeMahamandal.
Post-independence: Women’s movement in the post-independence period focused on issues such as dowry, violence against women, women’s work, price rise, land rights, political participation of women, etc. post-independence, a number of franchise and civic rights of women were introduced in the Indian constitution like The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 etc.
The 1980s saw a rise in many significant women’s organizations like SEWA, National Commission of Women (New Delhi), National Council of Women (Pune), Joint Women’s Program (Delhi), Kali for Women (Delhi) and several others. An anti-rape campaign was also launched in 1980.
The efforts by Indira Jaising in bringing out the domestic violence act (2005) has been instrumental. Another trailblazing step in women’s movement was the introduction of ‘women’s studies’ in universities. The rise of #MeToo movement is being considered by many as a starting point of another wave of feminism all over the world.
This is the inspirational journey of feminism since the last 3 centuries. One wave, one phase at a time, feminists have been claiming the rights that was rightly theirs.
We can give all the explanations about feminism and clear all the doubts but there are certain things that everyone should keep in mind regardless of their opinion on the movement. You cannot say “I respect women, but I do not support feminism”. Do not kid yourself and others with this statement. If you do not support their right to live without oppression, you do not respect them, Period.