In first wave feminism, middle and upper-class white women were primarily concerned with gaining the right to vote. There were also concerns with women’s rights to own property outside of marriage. The 19th Amendment was signed into Congress in 1920 which stated that voting could not be denied based on a person’s sex. Second wave feminism expanded greatly on women’s rights to include the right to safe and legal abortion, rights to equal access socially (such as women in sports), equal education opportunities, and equal job and pay opportunities. Along with other social movements of the time, like the Civil Rights Movement, second wave feminism gained victories like the Equal Pay Act that was passed in 1963 which made paying people differently based on sex illegal and the Civil Rights Act that was passed in 1964 which prohibited employers from discriminating based on race and color, religion, sex, and national origin. Another goal of second wave feminism was sexual liberty, which included abortion rights, access to contraception, fighting sexualization of the female body and promoting the normalization of sex. Second wave feminists had a tendency to be very outspoken, abrasive, and even radical in their demonstrations in support of their goals. Third wave feminism, like second wave feminism, aims to fight sexism, but also to fight racism, classism, and inequality in general for marginalized people. Third wave feminism fights gender norms, beauty norms, labels of masculinity and femininity, discrimination based on gender identity, to eliminate misogyny, and to bring to justice those who commit sexual violence.
There have been many women who have spearheaded feminist movements. A notable woman in first wave feminism was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the founders of first wave feminism. As noted by Paul Barnes (1999), Stanton “…dealt with women in politics, equal pay for equal work, the sexual double standard, child and spousal abuse, equality for women in our legal system, equality for women in education, religion, and business, [and] a woman’s right to ‘self-sovereignty,’ as she called it…” It is obvious from Barnes’ summary of Stanton’s interests and goals in first wave feminism that she was an impressive and important figure in the 19th century women’s movement.
In second wave feminism, Betty Friedan, feminist and author of The Feminine Mystique, seemed to have greatly impacted the 1960’s women’s movement. Susan Levine (2015) notes “the social movement that emerged after 1963— what historians have labeled “second wave” feminism— drew on many of Friedan’s insights and created new consciousness among both men and women.” Levine also notes that Friedan “…called for women to enter the arts, science, politics, and professions— not as careerist ventures but in order to be a part of human social life.” Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique has been a powerful guide for feminists from the 1960’s on.
One of my favorite and most inspirational (to me) third wave feminists is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I was introduced to Chimamanda during my Gendered Communication class when we were assigned a 2013 TED Talk video titled “We Should All Be Feminists.” The entire speech is truly amazing, but one of my favorite parts is when she talks about how we need to raise our boys and girls differently in regard to masculinity and femininity and what gender norms we impart to them. When she is talking about how girls are socialized differently from boys in their upbringing, specifically girls being taught to cook, she states: “Cooking, but the way, is a very useful skill for boys to have. I’ve never thought it made sense to leave such a crucial thing, the ability to nourish oneself, in the hands of others” (Adichie, 2013). This statement stood out to me because, upon hearing it said out loud, made me think “well, of course!” And yet, household chores are commonly unequally divided in households. In my relationships, I have easily accounted for 80% or more of the household chores, even though my partner uses and benefits from the same amenities. I was raised in a household were my mother both worked and did almost all of the housework while my dad watched TV. In my current relationship, it has been a struggle to obtain equity in this area, not only because of my instincts due to my upbringing, but his as well, because of his upbringing. I greatly admire Chimamanda and am so grateful for the knowledge I have gained in my college experience. For me, Chimamanda has greatly impacted my involvement and understanding of third wave feminism and I believe she has been an inspiration to many others.