BY: SYDNEY KEEFE
CO-AUTHORED BY: JESSICA BEUKER
Ahh Feminism; a word so powerful that the second it leaves a person’s lips it’s already commenced a fiery debate. The feminist movement dates back to the 19th century, yet still plays a significant role in today’s society. Many people, mainly those who don’t know very much about feminism, see two very distinct sides: feminists and anti-feminists. But it’s not quite as simple as that. For one thing, feminism itself is, and never has been, a one-size-fits-all glove. So, technically, you can be a feminist, but have completely opposing views from the feminist sitting beside you. This happens because, historically, feminism was broken up into three main sections.
First came first-wave feminism. First-wave feminism began in the 19th century and carried on until the early 20th century. This wave of feminism is largely associated with equality in regards to marriage, parenting and property rights, as well as political power. It’s the wave of feminism that is responsible for the women’s suffrage movement. It was because of this wave of feminism that women in many countries secured the right to vote.
In the mid-20th century, despite making strides, women still lacked many significant rights. This was the beginning of second-wave feminism. Feminists at this time continued to fight for the reform of family laws, which essentially granted husbands complete control over their wives. Furthermore, second-wave feminism is associated with issues that go beyond women’s suffrage, including sexuality, the workplace, reproductive rights, domestic violence, and an overall end to gender discrimination. Second-wave feminists believe that the personal is political and that cultural and political inequalities are linked.
This is where things get more complicated. Second-wave feminism was divided into two main sections: Liberal and Radical feminists, which are very different from one another. Liberal feminists believed that a women’s right to equality was one small part of a larger civil rights movement. They argued that feminism was not the same for all women, and that each women’s experiences were vastly different based upon a number of other factors that needed to be considered including: race, sexuality, class and ability.
Liberal feminists are open to working with men to combat gender inequality, and subsequently recognize the issues that men also face because of it. An example of this is the ways in which masculinity has been framed within society, and the discrimination that’s directed towards men who don’t fit this hyper-masculine mould. This often leads to serious mental health issues. It also discourages men from breaking away from traditional masculine roles, further perpetuating patriarchal norms. Radical feminists believe that men should not be a part of the feminist movement whatsoever. Instead, radical feminists believe that the sole root of women’s oppression stems from patriarchal gender relations and not legal systems or class divides.
Radical feminism is responsible for bringing attention to many important issues – the biggest ones being issues of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence – but its limited and narrow view has segregated its members from banding together with other feminists, and that subsequently has led to a lot of misconceptions about what feminism really is. This is our first problem.
Radical feminism has somehow become seen as the dominant ideology of today’s society. And not only that, but it’s been reduced to a stereotype that presents all feminism as a kind of man-hating, bra burning feminism that has since terrified future generations of girls, women and even men, from identifying as feminists. It has also contributed to the tainting of the word feminism itself, which today remains largely associated with certain parts radical feminism, especially by those who are uneducated about the roots of feminism as a whole. This is not the only problem, but is the one with the longest lasting effects. Alienating future feminists is detrimental to the cause.
The second biggest issue with radical feminism is the crusade against pornography, due to its inherent violence against women. Radical feminists believe that all porn stems from a male perspective, and therefore needs to be completely eliminated. Not only does this segregate the women who have chosen to work in the industry, but it makes the assumption that all porn is bad, which is not the case. A lot of women, whether they are consuming it or a part of the industry, find it liberating. The biggest downfall with the fight against pornography is that the radical feminism movement allied with the Church in order to try and abolish it. This fundamentally undercut the base, and arguably two of the most important factors to women’s equality – birth control and abortion.
Allying with an organization that condems such freedoms to women as sin creates a lot of friction within the larger movement. It’s hard to understand their reasoning, when dissuading people from watching porn seems trivial in comparison to the freedom of contraception and abortion for women.
The final and most pressing issue with radical feminism is that capitalism is seen as completely separate to the problems of feminism. Through this logic, radical feminism cannot see the difference between a woman belonging to the upper class and a woman belonging to the lower class. Of course, these two women have completely different experiences with discrimination and overcoming social boundaries.
The problem with not recognizing capitalism as an insidious part of the patriarchy is absurd, and it’s been a problem since the beginning. It all began with the traditional nuclear family that allotted men to be the breadwinners and women to be the homemakers. These social roles alienated women from having independent income. And without income, the homemaker had to be dependent on someone.
These traditional roles still play a large part in today’s society. Look at the roles of the first family. The President is of course allotted a well earned salary for his service to the country. But first lady is a unpaid position within the white house that still has demands, such as hosting, planning and organizing, and doing charitable work, etc.
Creating the public sphere vs the private sphere is necessary to the capitalist movement. Keeping women segregated to the unpaid private sphere diminishes the monetary value of traditional female (caregiver) jobs, like teachers and nurses. And puts a higher prominence and monetary value on jobs that require more education (and more money); jobs that are traditionally filled by men. These are also the kind of jobs that are generally not available to those belonging to the lower class.
The economic disparity between men and women that is ignored by Second Wave feminism is often considered white feminism because it doesn’t take into account the different experiences between privileged white women and underprivileged women or women of colour, and it disregards the further discrimination these groups face in the public sphere. By incorporating the limitations of capitalism into the feminist agenda in the 21st century, we can create more equal opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups.
Today, there is a new wave of feminism: the third-wave. Beginning in the 1990s, third-wave feminism was created as a response to the failures of second-wave feminism, and aims to be more inclusive on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexuality and ability. While the boundaries of third-wave feminism are less clear than other waves, which is often the subject of much debate, the purpose of the new wave is to redefine, in some ways, what it means to be feminist. To expand so that all feminism, at its core, includes and represents women with a diverse set of identities.