There used to be a time where I was oblivious to the word feminism. Again I was familiar with the act of feminism, just unfamiliar with the term. But it has been around far longer than I have. So why is it such a sore spot for few, if not most people I’ve come across?
Before we get into the gory details, let’s determine the dictionary definition of the term. According to the Oxford dictionary, the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes is feminism. However, I’ve come across various definitions from friends and acquaintances. Some of them are along the lines of the dictionary definition, but my favourite is the one where they’re called SJW’s, snowflakes, hypocrites, bra-burning man-haters, feminazis, and more.
But what does feminism mean? How did it come into existence? And why are people talking about it even more right now?
The term was first coined back in 1837. Charles Fourier, a utopian socialist and French philosopher is said to have coined the word “féminisme”, however that term along with “féministe” first made its grand entry in France and the Netherlands in 1872, Great Britain in 1890s, and the United States in 1910. Despite this, “feminist” is considered to have made it’s first appearance in 1852, and “feminism” in 1895 according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
However, “feminism” or “feminist” is more of an umbrella term since there have been various movements of feminist ideology having developed over the years. From variation in goals, strategies, and affiliations, quite often overlapping where some feminists even identify themselves with several branches of feminist thought. Keeping that in mind, feminists have different causes and goals depending on the historical moment, culture, and country.
One of the biggest misconceptions most men and women have is that when it comes to feminism, there is only one kind. However, there are four known waves to the modern western feminist movement. Let’s break them down.
19th – 20th Century
Even though the first wave of feminism wasn’t observed until the late nineteenth century, the roots of feminism seem to have existed in ancient Greece (d. C. 570 BCE) and more by few thinkers. However, Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympes de Gouge, and Jane Austen have been considered foremothers of the modern women’s movement. While feminists have been known more for fighting for women’s equal rights and other such movements, before the 19th century, the feminists actively advocated for intelligence, dignity, and basic human potential of the female sex.
Feminism in its early stages was all about giving voices to activists with abolitionist movements and the temperance. It was more about getting out this mould of ladylike, something Victorian America witnessed. From stints in jail, public speaking, demonstrations, or just simply having their voice challenged this idea of domesticity people expected of them. Women at this point still couldn’t vote or participate in politics.
Mid 20th Century
You would assume that women would have more rights by now, especially when feminists were still trying to reform the family laws. Why was this such an issue? While countries like the US and UK got rid to this long ago, married women in various European countries didn’t have that option.
From having to ask for permission just so they could work, to working towards the abolishment of “marital exemption” in rape laws. Many countries back then allowed men to get away with raping their wives under these very laws, and efforts to criminalize this by feminists such as Victoria Woodhull, Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme Elmy, and Voltairine de Cleyre in the late 19th century had failed. Even though it took a whole century, most western countries abolished it. However, many other parts of the world haven’t caught up yet.
India, a country I’m from and live in, still struggles with considering marital rape a crime. Well, kind of. To understand why a little better, let’s take a look at this next bit. ‘Historically’, rape was seen as a crime of theft of a man’s property (of course) in most places of the world. What did that mean? That meant that ‘property damage’ wasn’t legally recognized as damaging the victim, but instead to her father or husband’s property. Which technically meant, that a husband cannot rape his wife. Does that sound alarming? Just hold on, there’s more. According to section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), forced sex, or marital rape is only considered a crime when the wife is below the age of 15. However, if she is any older, it wouldn’t be a criminal offence under the IPC.
Late 20th and early 21st Century
Feminism was quite prevalent, but the third wave was kickstarted by Rebecca Walker responding to Clarence Thomas’s nomination for the Supreme Court of the United States. Why was this such an important discussion? In 1991, Anita Hill testified that Thomas had sexually harassed her to an all-male, all-white Senate Judiciary Committee. In her article titled ‘Becoming the Third Wave’ in Ms. magazine, she wrote: “So I write this as a plea to all women, especially women of my generation: Let Thomas’ confirmation serve to remind you, as it did me, that the fight is far from over. Let this dismissal of a woman’s experience move you to anger. Turn that outrage into political power. Do not vote for them unless they work for us. Do not have sex with them, do not break bread with them, do not nurture them if they don’t prioritize our freedom to control our bodies and our lives. I am not a post-feminism feminist. I am the Third Wave.”
These women often refuse to identify as feminists because they find it limiting and exclusionary, often rejecting it too. Apart from using a term that didn’t shun various categories, third-wave feminism breaks boundaries. Along with having a more open perspective towards things, third-wave feminism had one foot in the past, and one in the future.
Fourth Wave Feminism
Fourth wave feminism is as recent as 2012, focusing on justice for women and opposition to violence against women and sexual harassment. ‘Defined by technology’, the fourth wave is associated with the use of social media and is very prevalent on social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more. Feminist blogs and YouTube channels also play a huge part in challenging misogyny and gender equality.
Issues that have been a result of the fourth wave feminism range from the 2012 Delhi gang rape, the Bill Cosby allegations, the Harvey Weinstein allegations, and more. However, to tackle these, they came up with interesting campaigns like #YesAllWomen, Free The Nipple movement, #MeToo Movement, and more. From street and workplace harassment to demolishing the rape culture, fourth-wave feminists focus on them all.
Men Explaining Things To Me
So by the looks of it, feminism helped pave the path for freedom and a handful of rights for women. They started in the past, implemented in the present, and are heading towards an even brighter future.
So what went wrong?
What started as a progressive movement for equality and women’s rights has now turned into a sore spot for many. Due to many thinking of them as extremists, women have isolated themselves from the movement. Many women, including myself, refrain from calling ourselves feminists, only because of the bad rep the name holds.
But as Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?”. Well, there’s quite a lot to unfold there, bud. Let’s start with the name itself. We’ve all heard of this one before as well, and it rolls off your tongue when thinking about feminists with ease.
The term itself might not feel like it for most, but it is an extremely derogatory term that most men use to put feminists down. Because in what universe does a liberating movement for a once oppressed and a group closely associated with racial purity go hand-in-hand.
Feminism was initially ignited when women wanted to chase what seemed to be stupidly impossible back then – Equality. But after going through four different waves, with maybe many more to look forward to, the initial idea seems to have potentially lost its meaning on most. What to most looked at as equality turned out to be a ploy to crush patriarchy and misogyny. However, this only made matters worse. How? Toxic masculinity took over already high emotions and further degraded what seemed like a simple request for a chance at freedom and equality.
Bra Burning Man Hater
For as long as I can remember, women have been labelled as a lot of things. A ‘slut’ for having a sex drive, ‘cow’ if they’re overweight, ‘bitch’ for being straightforward or having her own opinions, and so much more. Men take great pleasure in calling women whatever they want to. But with feminism on the brink of popularity, terms like ‘feminazi, man-hater, bra-burning bitch’ and so much more have gotten quite popular.
However, the term only came into existence because many believed that women thought bras were too constricting and getting rid of them altogether would be just as liberating.
The one thing most of these anti-feminists terms have in common is that they don’t exist. These terms were created in a way for most to express their disdain for these ‘uncompromising man-haters’. It was a part of propaganda to bully these very people.
The Future is Female
I’ve had multiple run-ins with people who have called me an SJW or even shamed me for having opinions. And while most of them have been men (obviously), I HAVE had a few run-ins with women. The rant that’s burned into my head was something I came across on a dating website. I wasn’t feminist enough for her because even though my orientation happens to be bisexual, however, I had more male partners and that rubbed her the wrong way (pun fully intended).
Now even though that was one of the numerous encounters I’ve had with women, the most popular argument I’ve had with the men is “feminism is ruining it for everyone and women want equality. However, the men aren’t getting treated right, and they need to be stopped.”
I’m not going to deny how there are many major and minor inconveniences men have had to endure throughout history. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that feminism is to blame. It’s a lot of things combined that have resulted in this. The reality, in itself, is quite complicated.
But does that mean that feminism shouldn’t have existed in the first place? Some would agree, but according to me, this was a much-needed step. However, we are a long way from equality, and there are major changes we as a society have to make.
I would like to conclude by saying that I haven’t talked about Feminism and what it includes as much as I’d like to, so if you want to see more of that drop a comment and let me know. And if you want to check out more of my content, you can find it here.