Feminism: A Look Back


Feminism entered its third wave with diverse women as its main priority

On Jan. 20, 2021, Kamala Harris was inaugurated as the first female vice president of the United States, making her the highest-ranking woman in American history.  Women’s rights movements across history have lead up to this moment. When looking back at the feminist movement, you can see the pieces fall into place for this historic time. 

Feminism is the belief in the political, economic, and cultural equality of women.  The movement is typically separated into three waves: first-wave feminism, which dealt with property rights and the right to vote; second-wave feminism, which focused on equality and anti-discrimination; and third-wave feminism, which started in the 1990s to act as backlash due to the first and second waves’ privileging of white, straight women. 

First-wave feminism focused mainly on getting women the right to vote. Slowly over the late-1800s and early 1900s women across the world gained the right to vote. New Zealand became the first sovereign country to give women the right to vote in 1893, Australia followed in 1902, and then Finland in 1906.  Women in the U.K. won a small victory in 1918, where women over thirty were allowed to vote.  

In the United States, the participation of women in World War 1 proved to many that women deserved more rights. The 19th amendment was ratified in 1920, allowing women to vote.  However, it did not extend this right to all women.  

Only white women were allowed to vote when the 19th amendment was ratified.  Even though suffragettes studied Native American communities to learn from their model of government that treated women as democratic actors, Indigenous women were left behind by the feminist movement and were not given the right to vote until 1962,  42 years after the ratification of the 19th amendment. Asian American women were not allowed to vote until the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed in 1952. Latinx women were technically allowed to vote in 1929, but only if they could pass a literacy test that prevented many of them from voting due to language differences.  It wasn’t until an extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1975 that prohibited discrimination against language minority citizens. Black women could not vote until the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Feminism has done a lot of great things but has also done some bad things. ”

During the Great Depression, many women entered the workforce due to the male breadwinners of the time losing their jobs. Women were forced to find “women’s work” in careers that were lower-paying but more stable, such as teaching, housework, and secretarial jobs. 

During World War 2, even more women began working, as well as join the military.  Women took up more jobs in typically male-dominated industries, leading to the creation of Rosie the Riveter, a feminist icon of the time.  This time period reinvigorated feminism, with equal pay at the head of their efforts, bringing about the Equal Pay Act of 1963 many years later.

The second wave of feminism took root in the sixties.  Feminist author Betty Friedan published her book The Feminine Mystique, which said that women were still told to and expected to go into roles in homemaking and childcare.  Many people at this time referred to feminism as the “women’s liberation” movement. Friedan, along with Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, which still exists today. The organization’s mission is “increasing women’s participation in the political process.”  They recruit, train, and support “pro-choice women candidates for elected and appointed offices at all levels of government.”   Steinem’s magazine, Ms. Magazine, was the first magazine to feature feminism on the cover in 1976.  

In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, which was meant to provide “legal equality of the sexes and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.” However, it was never ratified by the states, and thus not made into law. However, feminists celebrated a huge victory a year later with the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that guaranteed women the right to choose abortion. 

Many critics of the first and second waves of feminism argue that the benefits that the movement has created only really help college-educated, white, straight women. Historically, the movement has failed to address the struggles of women of color, LGBTQ+ women, immigrants, and religious minorities. Helping these disenfranchised women has been one of the main goals of third-wave feminism. 

One of third-wave feminism’s biggest campaigns took hold in 2017, the #Metoo movement. The hashtag shows one of third-wave feminism’s biggest adversaries: sexual assault and rape culture.  The #Metoo movement started to gain traction when the New York Times published an article in October 2017.  The article was a thorough investigation into the film producer Harvey Weinstein and the many sexual harassment cases filed against him.  The #Metoo movement provided survivors of sexual harassment and assault with a sense of solidarity. They felt like they had a space to share what had happened to them.  The movement brought forth allegations against other powerful, including Former President Donald Trump. 

On the first full day of Trump’s presidency, Jan 21, 2017, hundreds of people attended the Women’s March in Washington D.C. The march’s purpose was to protest the Trump administration and the threat it posed to reproductive, civil, and human rights. Over three million people around the world also held demonstrations.  

The evolution of the women’s rights movement has shown that every movement is capable of good and bad.  Feminism has done a lot of great things but has also done some bad things.  Feminism has accomplished many of its goals but has had a tendency to leave out women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and many other minorities. 

The election of the first female vice president of the United States is a huge victory for the feminist movement. Feminism has accomplished a lot.  The movement has gotten many things wrong, but also many things right. The election of Kamala Harris shows how far the movement has come and hopefully forecasts a bright future for feminism and women’s rights.