The word ‘feminism’ has become something of a hot topic in recent years, with many people not really understanding what it means and instead broadly stereotyping the kinds of people and actions that are associated with the term. Feminism is simply a collection of ideologies and movements through history that have aimed to establish, define and defend equal rights for women in all areas from politics to economics to social issues. Broadly, having feminist views simply means that you believe that equality between the sexes in all areas of life should be affirmed.
Some of the earliest demands for gender equality were targeted by women during the American War of Independence. A woman named Abigail Smith Adams is widely considered to have been the first American woman to fight the feminist cause, stressing the injustice of women having to obey laws that did not represent their lives and interests.
The second half of the nineteenth century is the period that is generally recognised to have been the beginning of the organized women’s movement. In 1848, a Declaration was adopted that promoted the raising of several important women’s issues such as rights of property, free choice of professions and marriage. This Declaration was mainly the merit of Elizabeth Stanton, who in 1860 pushed New York to accept an act that guaranteed women the right to leave money she had earned and the right to share equal custody of any children she had.
Perhaps the most well known feminist in history is Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the women’s Suffrage movement who partook in a more proactive, sensational form of protest in the fight for equality. Forming the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903 (WSPU), the group soon gained 500 members and were subject to many high profile arrests and imprisonments for public protesting. As a result of these actions, the English Parliament passed a series of laws that improved the status of women, including giving them the right to vote.
The next big wave in feminist history came in the 1960s when once again a big push came for advancing social equality between men and women. With the vote already won, this second wave focused on issues like gender discrimination in a more social sense, like reproductive rights and equality within the work place.
The most recent wave of feminism, that is the wave that has been prevalent from the 1990s right up to present day, has focused on changing the historical perception of a woman’s essence as being comprised of characteristics that can be seen as negative in comparison to men. For example, seeing a woman as weak, dependent or subservient is now thankfully a dismissed attitude in most cultures and locations. In Western society especially, the notion that a woman has the right to vote, work, her own body and equal pay is a completely natural mind set, and though certain parts of the world are lagging behind in their pace to adopt these views, the fight for women’s rights is arguably being fought stronger and more successfully than ever before.
When looking back to the era mentioned at the beginning of this essay, it is incredible to assess the positive changes that have taken place in a relatively short time. However, society as a whole recognises that regardless of these initial feminist victories, there is still a long way to go before women can claim to have achieved true equality across the entire globe. Women have more freedom and more opportunities than ever before, and these platforms should be used to even further their fight.