When gender’s the topic of debate, I often hear things like, “Which wave are we on again?”, “Is feminism that thing where you burn your bra LOL?” and ““What the fuck is a TERF?”
To make things simpler (though these things are rarely black and white), I thought I’d come up with a list of terms and definitions. These should be useful when discussing and understanding feminism. The terms will be broken up into three posts, as otherwise the post would be huge, but the whole thing will be put up in its complete form on one of the tabs above (see: About Us, Contact Us – yeah up there).
Please let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to add in future instalments – this first one will just include the basics.
Feminism is the belief that men and women are equal and should be treated as such, across economic, political and social spheres. Feminists believe that women are oppressed due to their sex, and that we live in a patriarchal society.
My personal opinion is that feminism also includes the belief that women have the right to make their own choices. Whether you want to wear a burka or a bikini on a Saturday night, it should be up to you and no-one else. This goes for issues like abortion, body hair, careers, children, etc. As long as you’re not hurting anybody, get down with your bad self.
Patriarchy is the male-dominated social system which oppresses women across all spheres. Throughout history, men have had more power than women and have made it difficult for women to attain an equal level of power. We currently live in a patriarchal society – this is particularly evident when you look at our political institutions, top-earning professions and media, all where women are woefully underrepresented.
First-wave feminists are generally accepted to be the wonderful 19th century ladies who won us the vote and other basic legal rights. These suffragettes were inspired by an even earlier feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, who published one of the first feminist treatises, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).
Women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom was a national movement that began in 1872. The outbreak of WWI led to a halting of much of the campaigning but in 1918 the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed, giving the vote to women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications. The Representation of the People Act 1928 extended the vote to all women over the age of 21. Prior to this, a Matrimonial Causes Act 1923 gave women the right to the same grounds for divorce as men.
A lot of women were imprisoned, beaten, force-fed and killed for the right to vote. That’s (one of the reasons) why you’re a dickhead if you don’t do it.
Second-wave feminism began in the early 1960s in America. While first-wave feminism generally covered legal inequalities, second-wave feminism was able to look at other more subtle inequalities (well, as subtle as 1960s sexism can be). It also focused on sexual liberation and reproductive rights. In 1961, the contraceptive Pill was made available which gave women more control over their bodies, and therefore their lives, than they ever had before. Betty Friedan wrote the bestselling book The Feminine Mystique in 1963, in which she objected to the mainstream media image of women, stating that placing women at home limited their possibilities and wasted their potential. The Equal Pay Act was introduced in America the same year.
The myth of the “bra-burning feminist” began during this period when a group of radical feminists protested the 1968 Miss America contest. They put a bunch of restrictive items such as bras, girdles, etc. in a bin but didn’t set any of it on fire. They also crowned a sheep, which sounds hilarious.
Third-wave feminism was a period of feminism that began during the early 1990s and is considered by some to still be going on today.The wave began as a backlash against the predominantly white, heterosexual, middle-class form of feminism that had come before it and instead often focused on queer women and women of colour. It focused on deconstructing ideas of gender and sexuality and included everything from the riot grrrls, the ladettes and the Spice Girls, to the battle between anti-porn and pro-porn feminists. There was a strong emphasis on sexuality and whether something was empowering or oppressive – subjects such as stripping and prostitution were hot topics. The Vagina Monologues (1996), a play by Eve Ensler, began its run and comprised of monologues by women on various aspects of the feminine experience. It’s awesome and I highly recommended going to see it!
Fourth-wave feminism is controversial in that some people don’t believe it exists yet. I, however, disagree, so I’m going to include it here. I think this began in the last five years and has mostly been concerned with sexual violence and the portrayal of women in the media. Fourth-wave feminists include Tavi Gevinson, Lena Dunham and Caitlin Moran, and campaigns such as Slutwalk, No More Page 3 and Everyday Sexism. It is also categorised as using a lot of humour, because women are funny goddammit, and instead of the zines popular during third-wave feminism, young feminists speak out using blogs and Twitter. There is also more inclusion of transgender women and male feminists.
This doesn’t exist. But a lot of people think we currently live in a post-feminist world, because of Sex and the City and other crap like that. They’re the kind of people you hear, going, “It’s all gone too far! Women have it too good!”
They are all idiots.