The Evolution of Feminism

The term ‘feminism’ has a long history — and a definitive meaning. A majority of famous women’s rights movements took place in America, such as the women’s suffrage movement, women’s liberation movement, and many other influential campaigns. But as the times and women’s roles have changed in many places around the globe, perspectives of current feminists have too. Along with these changes, a change in the meaning of feminism can be distinguished.


The 1848 Seneca Falls Convention is an extremely notable movement that took place in New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were the two main organizers who demanded social, civil, political, and religious rights for women in a declaration of sentiments at the convention. During this time period, the struggles for women to be seen anywhere close to men were much higher than it is now. Their lack of political opinion, equal educational rights and social mobility are just some of the major issues that emphasize their hardships. The struggle to gain political freedom and equality can be shown in Mott and Stanton’s statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.” Although this statement was made as a persuasive demand to give women voting rights throughout the United States, it is a great way to show their lack of rights.


During the time of the convention and all the way to the early 1900s, the term “feminism” was primarily associated with women’s suffrage- having the right to vote in political elections. This interpretation of feminism was largely associated with the “first wave of feminism” of this time period. Along the way, other terms such as “intersectional feminism” have evolved in order to bring awareness to how factors such as race, religion, and class can greatly influence the amount and type of discrimination a woman faces.


The famous speech in 1851, “Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth, highlights the importance of intersectional feminism before it was a commonly-known term. Her speech describes the struggles of Black women and men compared to White women. Although it describes the widespread discrimination of women in general, it gives a different perspective on how discrimination and sexism itself can be biased.


Along with this, the effects of World War I and II further created a drastic shift in the roles of women as well. As more men headed to war to fight, they left many jobs unoccupied, and subsequently, women started to take jobs that were not traditionally “for women.”This was a major turning point in feminist history as it allowed women to prove that they deserved equal voting representation and led to the creation of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt are the two influential women who worked together to create the 19th Amendment.


During this time period of women entering the workforce (during the 1940s to 1950s), Rosie the Riveter was the main feminist icon. She was an image on many posters throughout the U.S. stating “We can do it!” encouraging women across the country to take part in the workforce and provide financial stability for themselves and their families. Although many women finally could enter the workforce, their pay rate was predominantly lower than what men were getting paid. This led to the creation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.


Throughout the 1970s and 80s, feminism was known as “Women’s Liberation,” especially in 1971. This movement was diverse, and it was based in the United States with many women across the country joining in to fight for equal opportunities and freedom for women. It was also known as the “second wave of feminism.” During this time, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was passed in 1979 in order to end any form of sexism against women.


This fight for women’s equality continued all the way into the 2000s. The next era of current feminism is known as the “third wave of feminism.”


During the third wave of feminism, the concept of “intersectional feminism” returns. As feminism started advancing, many women of color have noticed that the benefits of the feminist movement mainly went towards White women and not minorities. This again brings Sojourner Truth’s speech into the spotlight, which stated this realization back in 1851.


Along with intersectional feminism, this era of feminism uses the media in order to spread awareness of existing sexism along with many movements of women protesting for rights around the world. Some of these protests include the ‘Gulabi Gang’ in India, where a group of women fights against domestic abuse, child marriages, rape, and many more. They wear pink and work as a group to find any victims of sexism and abuse the abuser in order to gain retaliation. This movement was initiated by Sampat Devi Pal when she attacked a husband who was beating his wife with a large stick. This movement is one among many others that still take place today.


Although women have gained more independence and rights in the 21st Century, many places, such as countries in South Asia, still have discriminatory acts against women. An influential feminist, Malala Yousafzai, who survived a gunshot attack in Pakistan, appeared at the UN in 2013 in order to continue her fight for educational rights for women.


The history of feminism is far much longer than anyone can write about, which is why it is such an important topic to discuss, especially in March, known as National Women’s history month. Many new discussions have been going on about feminism as some believe it is a controversial topic and others believe it’s not, but one thing for sure is that it is a valuable topic to know about. Even with how far feminism has gotten today, women still have to fight for fundamental rights in many places worldwide, further exemplifying the importance of remembering women and their sacrifices to gain recognition.