Touchstone texts for those looking to see how far the American feminist movement has come, and how much farther it still has to go.
First Wave: 1830s-1920
Taking inspiration from European feminists like Mary Wollenstonecraft and Aphra Behn, American suffragettes focused on securing property and voting rights for middle class white women, most of whom were married. With the passing of the 19th Amendment, their primary goal was achieved as women were now permitted to participate in American democracy. The First Wave also saw the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, during which the Declaration of Sentiments was written to express how the patriarchy suppresses women’s civil liberties.
Second Wave: 1960s-1982
While the First Wave focused on the rights of white housewives, the Second Wave saw all women pushing to be accepted into the work force as protected equals with the Equal Pay Act and proposed Equal Rights Amendment. After being ostracized by the first wave feminists, women of color secured their right to vote during this era with the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Significant strides were also made in regards to reproductive freedoms with the invention of birth control and Roe v. Wade being passed.
Third Wave: 1990s-2000s
Feminism in the 90s once again sought to decenter white, middle-class women by focusing on the concept of intersectionality, introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Intersectionality is defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” This was initially used to acknowledge how women of color were suffering under the joint oppressions of both sexism and racism. Intersectionality also provided a platform for trans rights by integrating queer theory and feminism.
Fourth Wave: Present Day
Today, the fight is ongoing for the economic and civil liberties of all women against exploitative commercialism and patriarchal capitalism in the form of Pink Taxes, unequal pay, and workplace sexual harassment. Intersectionality is now foundational to the movement, becoming more inclusive as it moves beyond race and gender to include age, ability, class, sexuality, and religion. This is a crucial element of both the #metoo and BLM movements.
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