the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Tarapi Pyo ’24
At its core, feminism is a belief in the political, economic, and cultural equality of women. The movement is typically categorized into four waves, each with its distinct time period. The metaphor of ‘waves’ describes how the feminist movement surges at the beginning of its phases and then peaks in the forms of concrete accomplishments.
First-wave feminism dates back to 1848 in the famous Seneca Falls Convention. Abolitionists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott radically declared in their Declaration of Sentiments that “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.” First-wave feminism focused on property rights and the right to vote. The movement reached its peak in 1920 when the 19th amendment legally granted American women the right to vote. A lengthy and difficult struggle filled with decades of protests finally accomplished its mission.
In the 1960s, second-wave feminism emerged and focused on issues of equality and discrimination. The second wave was inspired by the civil rights movement, which fought for equal rights under the law for Black Americans. Likewise, to how first-wave feminism eventually peaked, second-wave feminism achieved its greatest victory in 1973 when the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the historic Roe v. Wade case. Second-wave feminism also had other amazing accomplishments like the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which hoped to achieve greater equality for women. Second-wave feminism eventually diffused in the 1980s.
Then, in the 1990s, third-wave feminism emerged as a backlash to its predecessors’ perceived prioritization of white, upper-class women. Women’s rights activists in the 90s hoped for a movement that continued the work of their predecessors while addressing relevant issues of their time. Third-wave feminism hoped to be more inclusive when it came to race and gender, encouraging women to express their sexuality and individuality. One significant achievement of third-wave feminism was the Violence Against Women Act of 1995 which improved justice for women who faced abuse. Third-wave feminism ended in the 2010s.
Finally, fourth-wave feminism came onto the scene as a present-day intersectional movement. The movement aimed to improve every part of women’s lives, including reproductive rights, workplace culture, and caregiving. It focuses on sexual harassment, body shaming, and rape culture. At a time when the internet had become integrated into all aspects of day-to-day life, fourth-wave feminism successfully utilized social media. With access to message boards, blogs, and social media apps, the internet allowed fourth-wave feminists to participate in the movement. Feminists are now enabled to share their stories online about sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual violence, the objectification of women, and sexism in the workplace.
However, a strong backlash has been rampant against feminism and its ideas. Opponents believed that women have no barriers present day. They think that feminism entails women wanting special treatment at the expense of men. Furthermore, some people view feminism as a supremacist movement that is getting more radicalized. They claim that feminism is not needed in a modern world where men and women are already equal. This begs the question if feminism is still relevant today. Feminism has splintered off into many different areas and differs in various parts of the world. Feminism is a very much alive movement and is something that society fights for. As long as oppression is alive, feminism will exist. There are tangible barriers to what women need and want based on their gender. If women continue to be undervalued in a way that disregards their true value as human beings, feminism will continue to be a necessary struggle to help uplift one-half of the gender population, the female population, to the same level as their counterpart, the male population.