Feminism is categorized into three waves, that is, first, second, and third waves. The first wave feminist relates to the women’s movement in the 19th century for women’s rights in Europe and America. The second wave of feminism dominated in the 1960s and 1970s. The different types of women’s movements appeared during this period, based on their political orientations. The third wave of feminism on the other has emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s as a result of the rejection of patriarchy and the turn in the social sciences from labor and economy to identity and culture. At this point of discussion, it is important to compare the three waves of the women’s movement enumerating the present and future challenges faced by feminism (Charles, p. 76).
The first wave of feminism emerged in the 19th Century alongside other Civil Rights movements in the United States and England. During this period, there was growing awareness amongst women of being dominated and oppressed by men in the context of the then existing social structures of slavery. This practice was much practiced in the United States and England. The women’s movement was actively involved in trying to eradicate the social structures of slavery, with the aim of abolishing social injustices that were systematic. Sustained activism by the women’s movement enhanced women’s awareness that male domination and oppression are the root cause of their predicament. Consequently, this led to the emergence of the feminist mindset. Before the emergence of feminist mindsets, the women’s movement strived to work for women’s rights in all sectors of life and did not view themselves as feminists. However, the emergence of feminist mindsets in the 1840s came with abroad agenda that encompassed reform of home and family structures, education and social life, work in industrial society, the church, and political participation (Charles, p. 76).
The political demands made by women under the first wave of feminism were mainly categorized under four groups: equal access of women to all levels and types of education; equal access of women to state offices; equal voting rights to women on the same basis as men; and equal standards of sexual morality for men and women. Early first-wave feminism considered women’s solidarity regardless of social status and education. However, it lost its importance as a social movement by the 1920s due to policy reforms that undermined its goals. The central goal of first-wave feminism shifted to gaining legal identity for women that included; right to own property, to form contracts, to sue, and to vote. In Canada, for instance, the participation of women in the formal electoral process was inhabited until the 1920s. They channeled much of their efforts into social justice and activism. Spurred by the Civil Rights movement, and cultural protests, feminist awareness, and activism gained momentum in the 1960s. This heightened the emergence of second-wave feminists who were focused on gaining full human rights for women (Roy et al., p. 172).
The central demands advocated by the second wave of feminism included; equal opportunities for employment and education, access to child care and abortion, ending violence against women, and enactment of equal rights amendment. These activists critiqued the notion of biological or inherent distinctions between male and female, contending instead that these distinctions are socially constructed. In the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, the United States women of color and lesbians extended insights of second-wave feminism in response to the marginalization by the mainstream white middle-class women by theorizing about their experience. The second wave of feminism called for the recognition that identity is intersectional, meaning that gender, race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality are interlocking and that oppression and discrimination are not experienced along one axis only.
The third wave of feminism emerged as a progression of the second wave of feminism. However, the two waves compared differently as the third wave of feminists insisted on women’s diversity. In comparison, some goals advocated by third-wave feminists were similar to those of second-wave feminists. Third-wave feminists comprised of a diverse group of exclusively young women, born in an environment charged by feminism and other social justice movements. They endeavored to put their diverse feminism into practice and prioritized not just gender but all of the intertwining matters of identity and experience including race and ethnicity, class, ability, and sexuality.
Feminism is still faced with the present and future challenges despite the three waves of feminism. The three waves of feminism played a key role in dramatically improving the political, legal, and economic conditions of women. For instance, legal discrimination against women was eradicated on a larger scale, more women, including those who are married with children, were able to be employed, and many hold jobs which they were initially discriminated against. Women also scored significant successes politically as their vote has become a factor in national elections, particularly in the United States. However, they still face challenges at present in campaigning for social and cultural changes that discriminate against women. For instance, the public still views the identity of “woman” in a manner that puts women in inferior positions compared to men. The consciousness raised by feminists has only been fulfilled partially.
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