What were the goals and achievements of the various waves of feminism

My understanding is there have been 3 waves of feminism. I don’t know if we are in a 4th yet or still in the 3rd.

Anyway, here is my understanding.

First wave - 1890-1930. Pushed for women’s right to vote and work in some jobs. Did first wave also push for women to have property rights? What about rights to serve in juries, was this first wave?

Second wave - 1960-1980. Pushed for women’s right to work any job they wanted (not just a select number of jobs). Pushed to end spousal rape. Pushed to criminalize domestic violence.

Third wave - 1990-present. Pushed to end sexual harassment. Pushed to eliminate the glass ceiling that keeps women out of the top jobs in the nation.

Is that correct or am I missing things?

Shouldn’t female reproductive rights, (access to contraception, abortion) figure in your list somewhere?

Based on the timing of the birth control movement in the US (1914-1945), maybe it should be associated with the first wave?

I think this is sufficiently controversial, especially for the second and third waves, that it’s better suited to Great Debates than General Questions.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator

It’s important to realize that the “waves” were not discrete objectives planned by the central feminist committee or anything, with all of the participants in uniform agreement about what was important to push for.

We associate the first wave with women’s suffrage and some modicum of reproductive rights, with Seneca Falls and women seeking education. But there were also feminists in that era who wanted to move away from marriage and formulate a new and more equitable way for women and men to be involved with each other, and to equalize child care. (Read up on Victoria Woodhull for example) These are goals we associate more with the second wave feminism.

Feminism faded enough in the decades following suffrage for it to make sense to refer to a “second wave”, but it’s not like no one remained alive or remained concerned about women’s issues during the intervening time. Simone de Beauvoir was sort of like an outlying island, appreciated more in retrospect a few years later than embraced as part of a movement in 1949 when she wrote The Second Sex.

The second wave sprung in part from the marxism-influenced left, in the 1960s. Radical feminism in the 1970s moved beyond “we want to be able to do all the things that men are allowed to do” and began to see the existing culture as specifically founded on sexual inequality and polarization of roles (aka Patriarchy), so things like war and unecological exploitation of natural resources and formerly-marxist issues of unequal distribution of wealth and so on—not formerly conceptualized as women’s issues per se—began to be seen as being the way they were because of how the entire society was structured and gendered. Lesbian issues, concerns in philosophy and sociology about priorities and values, etc, were a focus, alongside of “liberal feminist” concerns like equal wages for work of comparable worth, Title IX, reforming laws affecting marriage and things like women being able to have bank accounts in their own name, etc. But it’s not like none of these ideas had ever been bandied around in the first decades of the 1900s.

ETA: I think there is less support for the notion that there is a separate “third wave”, although certainly some women have written as such. Feminism never really went anywhere between the 1960s and the 2010s. There have been newer generations coming along with perhaps a tendency to think of the old goals from the 1970s-vintage feminist marches as having been sufficiently attained, but they didn’t have to reinvent feminism from scratch at any point; there have been women’s studies departments in college throughout the era, etc.

I’ve heard of the waves, and I think they are more about when certain events took place than about “kinds” of feminism.

The only real division of feminism I can see is where people draw (or fail to draw) the line between correlation and causation. Some feminists have ridiculous views in which basically anything that’s wrong with anything is because men oppress women, and that people only ever act based on their membership in a group. Some anti-feminists’ views are equally ridiculous, pretending that women everywhere are doing just fine because some men have decided that that’s the case, and that no person ever acts like a member of a group. Both of the ridiculous views are more or less plausible, enough for someone to believe - just not actually true.

It’s difficult for reasonable men and reasonable women to continue to figure out what’s true and what’s false, when each edge of the debate is shouting that the other edge is a bunch of spoiled brats. Even more difficult when the shouts are all true to some extent.

One of first wave’s goals and achievements was prohibition. Some of the linkages is the role of the temperance movement in helping jumpstart the feminist movement. It was a movement that really brought women into public life and political activism. A lot of the feminists in the suffrage movement got their start proselytizing against that demon alcohol. It wasn’t just a separate issue shared by a lot of feminists. Temperance and prohibition also got wrapped in feminist rhetoric as a women’s issue. Public bars where only men drank was presented as causing problems for women like increased domestic violence.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. :smack:

I’m also unclear on trying to divide feminism into distinct “waves”. There have been numerous individuals who’ve held positions of influence over the movement and guided it (or tried to) in particular directions, based on what they thought was achievable at the time and occasioned by events outside of feminism, like World War 2 or the development of oral contraceptives.

There have certainly been numerous feminist benchmarks. Perhaps listing those would be a way to gauge the evolution of feminist goals.

What do you mean 1890? You have to start from the Seneca Falls convention in 1848, the first organized movement for women’s suffrage, which emerged from the abolitionist movement.

I know we’re going to wind up with an argument between the lumpers and the splitters. I’m temperamentally more of the latter, so I want to make a small split.

The 1920s, the decade after suffrage and before the Depression, seems to me a separate era. Not because of suffrage, which really didn’t make a big difference at the time, but because of all the trends that coalesced and exploded after WWI.

Women used those liberating trends to free themselves of long-applied cultural oppressions. They threw away their corsets and shortened their skirts and drank and smoked and went out to clubs without men. They also started working in greater numbers and entered professional positions. A few pioneers had done this, but it became far more of a norm. They advocated for companionate marriage, “a proposed form of marriage in which legalized birth control would be practiced, the divorce of childless couples by mutual consent would be permitted, and neither party would have any financial or economic claim on the other.” Trial marriages and open marriages were variations on this theme, all of them to give the woman more freedom and, just as importantly, equality to the man.

If it weren’t for the Depression, I’m positive the 60s woman’s movement wouldn’t have happened because it wouldn’t have been necessary. I’m not saying the country would be an egalitarian paradise, but it isn’t one even today. And the 20s women I’m talking about were far more likely to be found in New York and other large cities than in rural areas, but again that’s still true today. The 20s do stand out as a separate period, a true outlier in social and cultural terms before the 60s.

Also, women made considerable gains in independence during World War II, so much so that they had to be stuffed back into the kitchen during the 1950s. I think of the 1940s as Wave 1.5 or Wave 1½.