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Feminism: a struggle continuum

One of the most heated debates has been that of feminism and patriarchy for over three centuries. Let’s define both and dig into these ideologies.

Patriarchy is a "hypothetical" yet strongly established social structure in which a male leader has absolute authority over his family and group.

While feminism is a social belief in the social, economic, and political equality of both sexes—yes, you heard it right—both sexes, female and male, Interestingly, the word "feminism" or "feminisme" was coined by Charles Fourier in 1837. The words feminist and feminism were later added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1852 and 1895.

I would like to break the myths and present facts regarding both notions and try to substantiate them through social experiences. A bit of history, culture, and social behaviour will help make it relatable to our thought process.

So, the cause for rights started somewhere in the 15th century with the feminist philosopher Christine de Pisan. Then, for Mary Wollstonecraft and Louise Otto, the age of enlightenment was at the gate. The great boost was given by the suffrage movement of 1848, the nineteenth century's convention of women’s rights. Then came the suffrage movement, which led to four waves of feminist movements. All of these waves have particular agendas in terms of female education, voting rights, property rights, legal rights, and sexual rights.

The first wave started in the early 19th and 20th centuries. The main focus was the right to vote for women. Mary Wollstonecraft argues in her book "Vindication on the Rights of Women" that women have an equal social life as men. They are an equal companion to their husbands; they have the right to education; and their role is not limited to being an ornament.

Furthermore, Fredrick Engles made an important argument based on his studies of the Agricultural Revolution. Women were confined to the reproductive role, and men were in charge of crops and tools, which dominated their role. From here comes patriarchy and limiting the role of women. Socialism has open debates about the equal participation of women and men.

As Charles Fourier said: "The extension of privileges to women is the general principle of all social progress." So socialism had answers for the sufferings of women and fought for the property rights of women.

In 1910, 8 March was celebrated as Women’s Day with a socialist spirit. At a time when only two countries allowed women to vote—New Zealand and Australia in 1893 and 1902—there was a clash between socialists and "bourgeois feminism," as Europe and the USSR were rivals.

Conflicting ideologies clashed in both as Europe was a bit late in granting women’s rights to vote in 1928 while the USSR, after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, was creating pressure in Europe. While the US was fighting slavery, especially black slavery, the 19th Amendment in 1919 gave women the right to vote.

Somewhere at the end of 1920, first-wave feminism, whose focus was women’s right to vote and political participation, came to an end.

The second wave of feminism was imbued with the ideology of "Zhenotdel," and the focus was to get women into social activities, while men should equally participate in household work. This wave carried the spirit of Leninism, and it challenged the core tenets of patriarchy as the first family code in 1920 was introduced.

Western feminists thought of families as being patriarchal, and they completely rejected the institution of marriage as irreparable. On the other hand, socialist feminists wanted marriage to be a democratic relationship.

So under the new family code, there were groundbreaking laws such as maternity leaves, minimum wages for both sexes, health and safety for women, the right to divorce, etc.

The world wars and the rise of fascism did play a major role in defining the next move for feminist movements. The fall of the Berlin Wall ended socialism, and the rise of capitalism befell the status of women. Women’s poverty, harassment, and sex work became alarming as facilities like maternity leaves, child care centers, and paid leaves were snatched from them.

In western feminism, modern feminists wanted to change the foundations of marriage, while radical feminists were categorically against feminists.

The slogans "the personal are political" and songs like "I am woman, hear me roar" were the hallmarks of the second wave. The Nature vs. Nurture debate started with the argument of Margaret Mead in her book "The Coming of Age in Samoa." Another magnum opus was "The Second Sex" by Simone de Beauvoir. De Beauvoir gave an existential argument through the master-slave dialectic of Hegel. Men, being patriarchal, exert their whims on women, and a slavish attitude binds women. Gloria Steinem wrote articles against the presence of women in playboy clubs. In 1963, "the feminist mystique" by Betty Friedan laid the foundations of second-wave feminism. She argued that society has created a façade of happy women in the name of housewives, while working women are presented as unhappy.

For the first time, the National Organization of Women (NOW) was created under Betty Ford, which demanded rights for women. 1963–1973 involved a series of laws passed for the legal rights of women, including pay acts, abortion rights, the pregnancy discrimination act, etc. But these reforms also brought opposition, and radical feminism appeared as a rival. Phyllis Schlafly came out against the Equal Pay Act and has now received a huge blowback. However, a tussle was created, and both sides preached their narratives.

Sex distinction was the goal to be diminished. Sex-positive feminism began to emerge, which focused on the will and consent of women. It focused on the will of women and preferred their choices. This paved the way for the next wave of feminism.

The third wave started in 1990 and lasted up to 2010, also called post-modern feminism.

The debate over rights became more inclusive. Black women’s rights, racism, and upper- and middle-class rights began to be questioned. White feminism and black feminism were face-to-face, and black nationalism emerged. Rebecca Walker came out in front by saying, "I am not a post-feminism feminist." "I am the third wave."

The case of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas also created an uproar as Thomas was charged with sexual harassment.

Kimberle Crenshaw observed the polarisation among the public. Blacks sided with Clarence, while white feminists offered their support to Anita. She introduced intersectionality to black feminism.

As Patricia Hill Collins stated, race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation are intersecting. In other words, black feminism was on the rise, and many prolific writers emerged.

Their main focus was to end racism and classism so that equal rights could be attained. It included sex positivity, non-binarism, and gender fluidity as posed by Judith Butler and Bell Hooks. The male perspective of seeing the world was discouraged and focused on bringing a subjective approach to micropolitics.

The fourth wave appeared after 2012 as the "Me Too" movement rose and became popular among the masses. The focus was to call out sexual perverts and harassers in powerful positions. The campaign bore fruit as the likes of Harvey Weinstein were bashed and convicted.

Radicalism still persists and continues to oppose the feminist movements.

There is an open debate regarding feminism. It answers many issues and voices the oppressors. But there is still some structuring required to consolidate this platform, not to become an echo chamber but to lay proper groundwork regarding its agendas.

Efforts are being made to make the movement diverse. Now each country has its own definition of feminism according to its cultural traditions and historical milieu.


All this aside, women have come a long way, and one thing is for sure: There is no stopping women.

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