The first and second waves of feminism both wave reached their ends before the beginning of the 21st century. And there has actually been much argument in feminist circles about whether or not there is a third, or even a fourth, wave. So, lets delve into what each of the waves represented and achieved.
The First Wave
The first wave of feminism culminates in the ratification of the 19th Amendment. It spans from about 1848 to 1920, beginning with the Seneca Falls Convention.
However, it is also characterized by racism. The suffrage movement worked alongside the abolitionist movement, with noted abolitionists like Frederick Douglass speaking at the Convention. However, when arguing for women’s right to vote, many white suffragists ignored the needs of Black women.
The Second Wave
The second wave of feminism, or the Women’s Liberation Movement, occurred between 1960’s to the 1980’s.
The Women’s Lib movement, fought alongside the Civil Rights Movement, argued for women’s equality and that the personal is political. It can claim successes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade which enforced equal pay and granted women reproductive rights, respectively.
Again, this wave of feminism is very white, straight, middle class women-centered; LGBT women and WOC had to fight to be included in this wave of feminism. (A cool movie to check out that points out the positives and negatives of the Second Wave is She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry)
The Third Wave
Now, when we get into the third wave is when we get into the mud. The third wave began approximately in the early ’90’s, but its end is debated. Some people think that we are still experiencing the third wave of feminism. The third wave is the era of the Riot Grrl and zines and reclaiming emotions and femininity alongside anti-capitalism
This wave begins with the Anita Hill case in 1991 and the Riot Grrl movement. “In 1991, Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her at work. Thomas made his way to the Supreme Court anyway, but Hill’s testimony sparked an avalanche of sexual harassment complaints,” This case re-vitalized the fight against work-place sexual harassment that was fought during the second wave of feminism, as many women began to come out with stories similar to Anita Hill’s.
On the other hand, the Riot Grrrl movement, originating out of the Punk movement, pointed out how in the anti-establishment movement of Punk, there was still the establishment of patriarchy. Zines and Magazines like Bitch, Bust, and Ms. came out of this era.
This wave is when Kimberlé Crenshaw coined ‘Intersectionality,’ and though this wave was the beginning of a more intersectional and diverse feminism, it was not completely devoid of racism and inequality.
The Fourth Wave?
As for a fourth wave, it is arguably going on now.
With the #MeToo Movement, alongside the BLM Movement, I would say that this wave is characterized by protest and intersectionality.
While fighting to keep the rights that past waves secured, fourth wave feminists are reclaiming words like “bimbo,” defining them positively, rather than as an insult. Fourth wave feminists also protest for the environment and against gun violence.
However, the themes of the Fourth Wave are influenced by the scholars of the Third Wave. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s coining of intersectionality, and Judith Butler’s work in gender and performativity paved the way for Trans-activism and intersectional and diverse perspectives to be brought more to the forefront of the feminist argument from the ‘90’s to now.
Although, I cannot claim that this movement of feminism is without racism, or that it has fully transcended the wrongs of past waves. But, if we learn from our past, we can continue to evolve as feminists. And hopefully we can continue to strive for the goal of a movement that both represents equality, as well as fights for it.
I found a lot of the information for this blog on Vox, the article gives a lot of helpful extra readings about the influences and manifestos of the different waves.
So, in closing, I ask for you to think about how the history of feminism has affected you and how you advocate feminism. What are the moments that you think identify the fourth wave?