The terms first-wave, second wave and so forth pop up in feministic conversation and you may be confused by what it all means. Here is a quick summary and where the future lies in the fourth and even fifth wave.
The struggle of the suffragettes defined the beginning of the first modern feminist movement with a women’s right convention held in New York in 1848, with women gathering together to demand the right to vote- with many media outlets and influencers of the time calling the women ‘radical’ for presenting a Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, which stipulated women’s right to vote. This first wave of feminism was about women’s political economy and representation in government, with the movement ending in America around 1920, with women given the right to vote.
With the Second World War and women going into the workforce only to have to return to their homes when men arrived back home, women sparked a new fight. Cue the iconic Rosie the Riveter that has been inspiring women for decades to realise that we can do it.
The second wave moved the focus from legal and political inequalities to honing in on social and cultural inequalities, with many women arguing that they were confined to social constructs! While women were becoming more education, their only role was to get married and have children.(which we are totally against, choice is all part of feminism) A slogan coined by Carol Hanisch, “the personal is political”, defined the second wave of feminism with women’s private lives being discussed because of the way they reflected gender inequality.
What was addressed: education, careers, the workplace, reproductive rights and the right to choose to have women.
Beginning in the early 90s, this wave was a reaction to second wave feminism with individuals defining themselves as more global and multicultural with the inclusion of elements for many different movements including anti-racism, transgender, queer theory, politics and womanism. The aim? To combat against stereotypes and media portrayals of women that acted as confining societal barriers. With the perception that women are of many colours, ethnicities, religious groups and cultural background, the third wave also aimed to go beyond the “white” ideas of feminism. Many feminist scholars argue that it was a way of allowing women to bring in their own “micro-politics” and identities within the movement, with individuals around the world not necessarily fighting for the same rights and beyond. While there is debate on the premise of the movement, the ideals are intrinsically linked to that before it: addressing inequality whether legal, social, political or cultural. There is also links to fighting for sexuality as well as the sexual rights for women. From a post-structuralism perspective, the movement looked at the way artificial constructs and language from the media and institutions play a role in power of gender.
While the campaign for women’s liberation never went away, a new swell built up and continues the work of women from the first-wave of feminism through to the third. Cue women like Beyonce and Lena Dunham- with a further transformation of what feminism is defined as and what many argue could be confusing part of the movement- is it sexual liberation or confining women to a sexual patriarchy? (We personally think it is liberation) The conversation has been sparked once again internationally with individuals such as Malala and other women fighting every day against inequality. Aiming to bring education, health, wellbeing and rights on a global scale. There are many movements and bodies including UN Women and Chime for Change that work towards achieving goals with an inundation of information and opinions, a large volume of which are still negative.
Beyond this however citizen feminists are bringing the fight back to the street and allowing it to flourish online. And that is just it: technology has been at the forefront of this wave, with social media campaigns, virality of different opinions and popular culture such as Beyonce’s 2014 VMA performance starting conversation around the movement. Technological tools are allowing for women and men to build strong reactive movements online. This feminism has been argued to be defined by inclusion, humour and pragmatism. The Internet has gained a callout culture against negative coverage in media and popular culture however it is important to note that this is a double edge sword with feminist are also being subjected to negative comments and opinions.
Some argue a fifth wave has begun to emerge with different ideals and while this may once again transform elements of feminism; there is one common goal which each wave. To give women and men everywhere equal opportunity in political, legal, social and cultural discourse no matter their self-identity.