Your Ultimate Guide to Decoding Feminism
We should all be feminists. . But what does that actually mean? It’s not all burning bras and hating men – here’s what feminism looks like in 2018
There’s a lot of misconception around the term ‘feminism’. In short, it represents social, political and economic equity, giving women the same level of autonomy and agency as is afforded to men. Think women should get equal pay to their male counterparts? Believe we have the right to access birth control? Congrats, you’re a feminist.
But it’s not a one-size-fitsall model – in 2018, we’re reframing and redefining feminism for ourselves.
FIRST WAVE FEMINISM: The Political Movement WHEN The 19th and 20th century.
WHO The suffragettes protested against the sexist laws that prevented women from voting. Mostly white and middle-toupper- class, they also tackled women’s rights to own property, and access to education.
WHAT IT WAS FOR
Being excluded from political conversations meant women’s issues and rights remained unheard. First-Wave Feminism was about defying gender constructs, breaking policy and bringing women into the conversation.
While the right to vote, own property and go to school are all important, this wasn’t enough to create true gender equality. There were still many gaps to fill ( beyond the political), such as the social impact of oppression.
1930: White women are granted the right to vote in South Africa.
1949: Simone de Beauvoir writes
The Second Sex to explain how patriarchy ‘others’ women.
1954: The Federation of South African Women is formed. SECOND WAVE FEMINISM: The Social Movement WHEN The 1960s to 1980s.
WHO The pioneers of Second-Wave Feminism aimed to move beyond the issues of the suffrage and focus on identity, sexuality, workplace rights, healthcare, and reproductive rights (such as access to contraception and abortion).
WHAT IT WAS FOR
After World War II, women were relegated from being actively involved in the workforce and preserving the economy while the men were away to childrearing and nurturing. Second Wave feminists strongly rejected this, challenging how women were stripped of choices when it came to their body.
The ( largely white and American) icons emerging from this time included Betty Friedan, Jo Freeman and Gloria Steinem. Their works on feminist theory and activism shaped the movement, but because white women and their issues spearheaded it, feminists of colour and queer feminists felt left out of the framework. The Second Wave ended with the feminist sex wars, a period describing the divide among feminists around different aspects of sexuality, including pornography, kink, sexpositivity, sex work and same-sex desire.
1956: The Women’s March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria protests pass laws that discriminate against black women.
1961: The Pill becomes available in the US.
1963: Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique (credited as a catalyst in the Second Wave), which challenges representations of women in the media and expected gender roles.
THIRD WAVE FEMINISM: The Individual Movement
WHEN The 1990s to 2012.
WHO ‘ The personal is political’ is the defining phrase of the Third Wave. Rebecca Walker catapulted the idea of Third-Wave Feminism in her 1992 essay ‘Becoming the Third Wave’, which suggests that although it looked like the feminists had won, the fight was far from over. Personal identity plays a huge role in feminism, and the Third Wave introduced new feminist theories such as womanism (or black feminism), trans feminism, postfeminism and intersectionality.
The focus on individuality and diversity in the Third Wave made it difficult for people to pin down a definition. But as scholar Elizabeth Evans points out, ‘ The confusion around what constitutes Third-Wave Feminism is, in some respects, its defining feature.’
1989: The term ‘intersectionality’ is coined by attorney and feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw.
1990: Riot Grrrl, the radical subculture that defined US Third Wave Feminism in the 1990s, is formed. The movement centres on self- expression via zines, art and music.
2005: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia, becomes Africa’s first elected woman leader and the first black female president in the world.
2011: The first SlutWalk takes place in Toronto in response to Toronto police officer Michael Sanguinetti’s statement that ‘women should stop dressing like sluts’ in order not to be victimised.
2012: Activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai is shot in the head for her vocal advocacy for women to have the right to education in Pakistan.
2015: Start of #FeesMustFall movement, spearheaded by black women, trans women and queer activists.
2016: Zulaikha Patel and young activists from Pretoria High School for Girls protest against a discriminatory code of conduct that polices natural hair.
2017: The Women’s March in Washington DC becomes the largest protest in US history. The ‘silence breakers’ of the #MeToo movement are named Time’s Person of the Year.