THE TREE OF FEMINISM
Feminist ideas have been around for a long time. Feminism as a movement has had several waves, sprouted many branches, and deals with many problems related to peoples’ equality regardless of their gender. Beyond that, it is people who make this movement and bring various views on how to make all people equal. It isn’t easy to summarize such a rich history into a few lines, but we can at least give a bite-sized recap.
Can you imagine not being able to vote? That your husband or your father would have to sign off so you could get employed? That you could not drive or apply to university?
This was the reality for girls and women a few decades ago. Feminism arose as a reaction to the unequal status of women, and it still plays a major role in today’s society. It’s still targeting inequalities today.
The first wave of feminism focused mainly on giving women the right to vote in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. We consider this right as natural nowadays and don’t even think about it as “unfeminine.” We don’t think of voting as requiring women to exercise decision-making which deeply disturbs their health and morality (after all, even today, some people see in true femininity that a woman “doesn’t know what she wants”, “asks her friends’ advice”, “isn’t independent”). The first country in history to establish universal suffragette was New Zealand in 1893. In Czechoslovakia, women could vote from 1919. The legal right of women to vote was established in the United States over the course of more than half a century, first in various states and localities, sometimes on a limited basis, and then nationally in 1920. The Representation of the People Act of 1928 established the vote for women on the same terms as men (over the age of 21) in England, Wales, and Scotland.
If it wasn’t for feminism, university graduate photos could still look like this:
And not like this:
The second wave of feminism started in the USA and in western Europe in the 60s and 70s focused at first on women’s accessibility to paid jobs, on reproduction and sexual rights, and health. Gradually, the spectrum of topics widened: violence against women and children (specifically sexual violence), inadequate representation of women on all levels of societal decision-making, dominance of the “men’s” point of view and the invisibility of women in science, research, education, and more.
What else can we thank feminism for? Find out here.
Feminist thinking and its movements were very varied already at its beginning and as time went by, it pluralized significantly, so it’s actually correct to talk about feminisms (e.g. ecofeminism, Afro-American feminism, radical feminism, liberal feminism, socialist feminism, etc.) rather than just one feminism. These various feminisms overlap and complete each other, but at the same time, they can disagree with and deny each other.
Feminisms do have at least one thing in common though:
Feminism is about freedom. A freedom to decide what kind of life we, women and men, want to live. Namely, one without society pushing us into roles based on our gender. And freedom to decide the responsibility that should go hand in hand with these rights.
WHO IS AFRAID OF FEMINISM TODAY?
Mostly, people who misunderstand it, or who have been turned against it, and so they have a distorted image about it. Many think that the main aim of feminism is to make women exactly equal to men, so that women and men are the same, but feminism is about accepting diversity. It’s about granting equal rights, opportunities, and responsibilities. Many also think that feminism is biased against men, but feminism is here for everyone who wants to live in a society based on respect towards all human beings no matter if they are women or men.
Present-day social arrangements harm both women and men, although in slightly different ways. For example, the expectation of taking care of children and the household disadvantages women in their professions and renumeration while the expectation of breadwinning prevents men from forming the same bond in their relationships, whether with their children or their friendships and familial connections.
YES, FEMINISM IS FOR MEN AS WELL.
WHAT IS AND IS NOT FEMINISM
You can read more about feminisms in these books:
bell hooks (2000): Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014): We Should All Be Feminists.
Rebecca Solnit (2014): Men Explain Things to Me.