I’ve known a few women who’ve said, “I would never get married. I wouldn’t be a good feminist if I did.” What does it mean to be a ‘good feminist?’ Do we even want to be feminists, especially when feminists are frequently derided as man-haters? How did it come to this? I always thought feminism was about gender equality. From an uneducated standpoint I understood it to be a movement designed to create equal opportunities for women within work, politics, home and social life, but it seems to have become so much more than this. Feminism means different things to different people. I’m no expert on the subject, but I’d like to think I am a feminist even though I’ve never read a book on the matter. So I decided to try and educate myself – and here is what I understand:
Feminism is described as coming in waves. Specifically, three waves – but some would argue there are actually four. The First Wave of feminism involved the movement’s birth in the late nineteenth century. Its main goal at that point was to create opportunities for women, and the main form this came in was with the suffragettes, who aimed to attain votes for women and create a place for women in politics. The First Wave of feminism was quite basic compared with the ideology of feminism today. Although it encouraged equality for white women in regards to the vote and a place in politics, this was as far as the First Wave went. Issues with other minority groups and other aspects of equality weren’t even in their minds, let alone highlighted or fought for.
The Second Wave began in the 1960s and lasted up until the 1990s. The focus was on anti-war and civil rights, with the emphasis on cisgender women only. Women vocalised their desire for control and respect for their bodies, reproductive rights, and sexual freedom This wave was a more radical one because it moved from the First Wave’s sphere of women’s place in politics, to questioning social/cultural norms and the dominance of the patriarchy. It drew in women of different backgrounds, classes and sexualities. Thus, this wave found connections with many other social movements, such as Black Power. It became more theoretical than the first movement, turning into a combination of neo-Marxism and psychoanalysis that also highlighted the difference between biological sex and gender. It was during this movement that women were seen shedding items they viewed as oppressive such as bras, make-up, and high heels. This wave of feminism never really disappeared and remains to this day in the world of academia, often in the form of Women’s Studies or Gender Studies, where it is still creating more theories on gender, sexuality, culture and so forth.
The Third Wave was seen to reclaim perceived oppressive articles that the first and second wave had tried to abolish. This wave wanted to show strong, independent women, able to make choices of their own. Its point was that you can wear a push-up bra and have a brain. The power of the internet made it easier for this wave of feminists to cross gender boundaries and develop thought and experimentation. Many Third Wave feminists don’t fully identify with this term and thus many subsections have been formed such as ego-cultural feminists, the radicals, the electoral, ecofeminists, and the rest. It is a global movement that covers more than just gender, identity and sexuality. Creating a dynamic look at the world, it centres on equality with ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, etc; this is known as intersectional feminism.
A Fourth Wave is thought to be on the horizon. It is felt by many, younger, would-be feminists, that the word “feminism” is unhelpful, not just because of its radical past, but also because it implies that gender is a binary. Its dialog is about more than just women’s struggles, but its context within the world and oppression of other groups, such as racism, ageism, classism, ableism and homophobia. It is seen to be trying to combine the lessons learned from the Second and Third Wave, while incorporating relevance for these millennials that advances in technology has created. With the world becoming so small through gadgets and social media, experiences and understanding of different backgrounds has created dialogue that was almost impossible to achieve pre-social media.
In a way, attitudes towards women and their place in the world has change drastically for the better. Many of their initial aims have been achieved; although this has created new challenges. Race, gender and sexual orientation are hot topics, widely discussed and debated. We still live in an intolerant and ignorant world where these groups are neglected and abused. But my point is that we are aware of the problem.
I want to be a good feminist, but I also want more from feminism than just equality for women.
Now informed, I still want to be a feminist. I enjoy listening to The Guilty Feminist Podcast and participating in their Facebook Page. They acknowledge how fallible we are regardless of our good intentions. It’s a safe place to listen and discuss insecurities and fears as a 21st century feminist. It’s a great place to develop self, but to still laugh at yourself.
As someone with a physical disability, I feel underrepresented. Third and Fourth Wave feminism is supposed to address issues related to disabled equalities, but I’m not aware of any movement or discussion relating to this. I’m sad to admit that I had to look up the word ableism when writing this piece. I didn’t know disability inequality had an “ism”. I know many people have worked hard to increase awareness of disability and challenged people’s attitudes. But these people aren’t widely known. We’ve all heard of feminists, but I’m not aware of a definable group known to combat ableism. Outside of the Paralympics, I couldn’t easily name one famous physically disabled person or activist for this cause bar Professor Hawking. Maybe that’s down to my own ignorance.
I want to be a good feminist, but I also want more from feminism than just equality for women. I want equality for men, non-binary gender, background, ability, age, belief, religion, geographical origin, sexual preference; everyone. I appreciate that I’ve possibly written an article that has created more questions than answers. I suppose that’s because the idea of feminism isn’t as simple as it was back in the early 20th century. This is no bad thing, but with an online society with an abundance of information sharing, the processing and assimilation of understanding equality in all its forms has become an even larger challenge.
I’m a feminist, but…I sometimes struggle to understand what that means.