History of feminism

Traditionally the history of feminism is divided into the three waves of feminism. The first wave of feminism dates back to the nineteenth and early parts of the twentieth century. That does not mean feminism or feminist movement did not exist prior to this period.

History of feminism: Ancient feminism

In fact in 6th century B.C there were women writers in Greece who even ran girl schools. We also had women writers in the fifteenth century France and Christine de Pisan from this period is considered as one of the early feminist thinkers. Women writers played a major role in the seventeenth century West Indian slave rebellion. Women also had a major role in the eighteenth century French revolution. This was the time when women tried to assert themselves in France by propagating that every woman is born free and her rights are same as that of any man. But by the late eighteenth century strict laws and codes were enforced to subjugate any kind of women’s movement. The Napoleonic code even snatched away the right over funds and finance from women and restored it completely to men. Women were deliberately restricted to their home and household activities.

History of feminism: Feminism in America, Asia & Africa

On the other hand if we look at the history of feminist movement and feminism in North America then we can see some kind of organized activity from the times of "American war of independence" in the mid eighteenth century. Women participated in this struggle along with men and were strongly involved in boycotting the British made goods. Feminist movement got a new turn in America in late eighteenth century when black women understood that for them to live a dignified life it was not only a fight they had to carry out against racism but it was also a struggle against their own men who believed in traditional gender stereotyping and practiced social and cultural norms which encouraged bias and discrimination against women. During these times black women organized themselves and carried out their struggle in public platforms like church congregations. The real turning point in black women getting fully involved in the feminist movement came after the incidence when black feminist, Sojourner Truth, stood before the Second Annual Convention of Women's Rights in Akron Ohio in 1852 and quite outspokenly demanded the right for vote for black American women amongst other things.

History of feminism: The industrial revolution

The industrial revolution also saw a change in the structure of society whereby more women were involved in the industry as workforce. This was a trend that was seen not only in Europe but also in North America. Many of the early trade union movements were in fact initiated by women workers. Meanwhile in other parts of the world there were number of instances where women came together to fight against discrimination and bias. In Asia and Africa women were actively involved with men in their struggle against colonial powers.

History of feminism: Organized feminist movements

It was only by the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century that organized feminist movements became really visible. This can be considered as the period when the first wave of feminism hit the world. It is really unbelievable today that in those times women were considered as private properties to be purchased in marriage and they had no right to vote in a democratic setup or any right to property.

History of feminism: Feminist movements in China, India & Africa

The late nineteenth century saw the Taiping rebellion against foot binding in China. Chinese women also demanded rights to property and equality with men in other spheres of life. In British India during the same time women along with men were actively involved in the Swadeshi movement and they boycotted the British goods. Questions were also being raised on the dowry system prevalent in India which was a tradition handed over by the British in India. On the other hand in Africa women were active in the struggle against the colonial powers and were also fighting for better reproductive rights. The age for marriage was raised in some of the African counties like Egypt in this period. The women’s right to vote became a major issue all over the world during this time. The voting rights were first given in New Zealand followed by Briton, America and Latin American countries etc. Colonial India also got the voting rights for women. All these developments took place in the early twentieth century.

History of feminism: The socialist movement

The socialist movement also saw the rise of feminism within its framework. In Russia women got equal rights as that of men but during the times of Stalin things became bad with many of the civil and reproductive rights "getting snatched away". In china also the socialist movement provided "equal rights to work" for women though women took the burden of both the home as well as the work front. The first wave of feminism is referred to this period and among other things it helped women to win the right to vote and property. By early twentieth century French women could also get hold of their finances and funds back. By mid twentieth century they also earned the right to vote.

History of feminism: The second wave of feminism

The second wave of feminism is especially associated with the period of 1960s and thereafter till 1980s. The second wave of feminism came as an explosion in America and then spread across the world as fire. The movement was especially vocal in matters like civil rights, sexual liberation, childcare, health, welfare, education, work and reproductive rights including the right to abortion. Cultural and social equality for women was a major issue in the second wave of feminism. The second wave of feminism especially campaigned against the social and cultural stereotyping of women as "only capable of becoming a housewife" and nothing more. It advocated for equal rights for women as of men to pursue a work life and career.

History of feminism: The third wave of feminism

The third wave of feminism is in fact a continuation of the second wave of feminism beginning from the early 1990s and it focusses on the perceived failures of the second wave of feminism. The third wave also focuses on issues like race, gender and feminism. Further the movement broadens into global dimensions with different shades of feminism becoming visible based on issues specific to a particular society or a culture.

History of feminism: The detailed study of the history of feminism

The study of the history of feminism cannot be complete without studying the following topics in depth

1. The first wave of feminism-This includes topics like feminism in United Kingdom and America, equal contract and property rights for women, opposition to chattel marriage and ownership of married women, gaining political power and right of women's suffrage.
2. The second wave of feminism-This includes topics like the campaign against the sexist structure of power, promoting equality of women in every sphere of life and ending discrimination against women.
3. Women's Liberation in the USA.
4. The Feminine Mystique.
5. The third wave of feminism-This includes topics like feminism redefined, feminism that is more than the upper middle class white women feminism, race-related subjectivities, black feminism and gender roles.
6. Post feminism-This includes "range of viewpoints" reacting to feminism.
7. French feminism-It Includes topics such as philosophical and literary feminism and the the concept of écriture féminine.

Feminism primarily started as a phenomenon in Europe and America in its early days and now it has spread throughout the world in various ways. The reason for this is the lack of equality among the gender in almost every culture and society around the world in one way or the other. Today feminism is a broad phenomenon and it addresses issues and problems specifically related to a particular society and culture yet it is united at the global level for promoting equality "among the genders" in all spheres of life.

Article by Sanjay Nair


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