The History of Feminism


The feminist movement in the United States began in 1948 in upstate New York. The first women’s rights convention was in July 19th of that year. The women involved with the feminist movement were ridiculed for fighting for women’s rights but it did not stop them from standing up for their beliefs. One example of a woman willing to do whatever it took to gain women’s rights was Susan B. Anthony. She was arrested for attempting to vote in the presidential election in 1872. These first women who advocated women’s rights became known as the “first wave of feminists.”

Their greatest success was the passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote beginning in 1920. Although they succeeded in gaining the right to vote, they did not succeed in reforming women’s social and economic positions. The early and middle 20th century women’s movement eventually became much less powerful force for social change.

The second wave of feminism emerged in the 1960’s and went into full force in the 1970’s. The political activism involving the war and the fight for the rights of black people of the 1960’s led women to reexamine their powerlessness. Women were becoming more aware that they had accepted the sexist attitudes and practices in traditional gender roles. Because of their realization, they began challenging male dominance and were no longer happy in subordinate and submissive roles.

Feminism in today’s society has a slightly different meaning with people than it has in the past. Surveys show that although women are endorsing feminist positions, they do not necessarily accept the label of a feminist. In 1987, 57% of women considered themselves feminists and by 2001, the proportion dropped to only 25%. Feminism as a unified political cause has fallen out of favor because when complex issues are discussed men and women would rather take sides individually. There continues to be a growing rate of acceptance of women in non-traditional roles such as working rather than staying home and taking care of the house and family. Since the fight for women’s rights began, feminists have endorsed the passage of the equal rights amendment, affirmative action for women and minorities, federal legislation outlawing sex discrimination in education, greater representation of women in government and the right of a legal abortion.

Intersection of Social Inequality
The Matrix of Domination is used to show the various intersections of social inequality including gender, social class, race and ethnicity. It shows how several social factors can converge to create a cumulative impact on a person’s social standing. Gender roles among African Americans have always provoked controversy. Advocates of Black Nationalism argue that feminism distracts women from fully participating in the African American struggle and believe feminist groups among them divide the black community. Black feminists oppose this view and argue there is nothing to be gained by accepting gender-role divisions of the dominant society. Native Americans stand out as an exception to the patriarchal tradition and consequently, most Native American women have resisted gender stereotypes. Latina’s are usually considered either part of the Hispanic or feminist movements, hardly ever both. They have been excluded from decision making in the two social institutions that affect their daily lives: the church and the family.

Abortion from a Global Perspective
In 1973, the Supreme Court granted women the right to terminate pregnancies in the United States. The court ruling known as Roe v. Wade was based on a woman’s right to privacy and the decision was applauded by pro-choice groups and greatly condemned by pro-life groups. The legalization of abortion caused much controversy within the pro-life groups because of their belief that life begins at conception and they viewed abortion as an act of murder. The debates following Roe v. Wade have continuously revolved around prohibiting or at least limiting abortions. A large debate began in 1971 when the state of Missouri began requiring parental consent for minors wishing to have an abortion. Other debates include the technological advances in the medical field like the “morning after pill” and abortion inducing pills. Also, ultrasounds are now used by doctors to end pregnancy as early as eight days after conception.
Sociologists see gender and social class as the defining issues surrounding abortion and say they are caused by the differences over women’s position in society. Feminists who defend abortion rights typically believe men and women are similar and oppose all forms of sexual discrimination allowing women to be active in the work force outside the home. Opposing this view is the pro life advocates who mostly believe men and women are fundamentally different and view women who work outside the home as destructive to society and their families.

Like the United States, many European nations have liberalized abortion laws beginning in the 1970’s. Anti-abortion activists in Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy and Germany were inspired by the strong anti-abortion movement in the United States and have become more outspoken. Even though many countries have legalized abortion, a quarter of all the women in the world live in countries where abortion is illegal or only when her life is in jeopardy and consequently, 40% of all abortions worldwide (about 20 million a year) are performed illegally.

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