Feminism in the United States of America
Feminism in the United States of America

Kat R. Wahl spoke of feminism, and her loyal servant, guest writer Summer Moreau, wisely took notes. Below is her review and assessment of what feminism is in the United States, where it came from, where it has been, and where it may be going.

Swirl paw

Portland, Oregon – Wednesday 8 July 2015

Observing other cultures can be fascinating, if not perplexing. Feminists in human America – an interesting subculture that seems to have sprung up as a backlash against the contempt of human females. The concept of sexism confuses me. In Meowpolis, we felines take the time to sniff around and get to know other cats' scents before we draw conclusions about their character. This has little to do with anatomy, unless we are seeking to reproduce. In addition, suggesting that certain traits belong to males or females is preposterous. No more than Calicos have bad tempers or Gray cats cannot catch mice do I believe that sex determines your traits. I have done my fair share of scholarly research and field study about the characteristics of humans, and there is evidence that traits are about as varied among the sexes as they are in Meowpolis. However, in the human world, there is a difference between sex and gender, isn't there? I am sure I do not have to remind you that humans like to complicate things.

Sex merely speaks of the anatomy that one is born with, while gender is the way that sex a perception based on the associations that society ascribes to the sexes. Wait, would that not mean it is more fitting to call sexism genderism? Just a thought. It seems satisfyingly ironic to me that the very creation of the feminist community negates the ability of males to be successful in their attempts at their oppression. Of course, this does not mean success in the eradication of sexism. The patriarchal power system has worked even more diligently to maintain their foothold in spite of the revolutionary feminist work that has taken place. This odd sort of hierarchical sorting by means of gender has essentially come to create the foundation of the western world.

Feminisim may be defined in waves

Based on the stages in which feminists have fought against female disenfranchisement, scholars typically define Western human feminist history in three distinct waves of feminism. Keep in mind, that my views are primarily American and somewhat modern in scope; I recognize that from the ancient days of the poet Sappho, human women exerted their natural power through both solitary and group actions.

The first wave of feminism took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The focus of the first wave was women's suffrage. Along with establishing a movement that fought for the women's right to vote, other issues gained attention as well. Viewed as the human right to have freedom, abolition became a parallel movement among Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were two of the well-known activists in the first wave of feminism. The two collaborated to make the first Women's Rights Convention a possibility (The Seneca Falls Convention) in 1848. The grandest accomplishment that came in from the first wave was in 1920 when achieving victory in the fight for the national right to vote.

The personal is political

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes
Gloria Steinem & Dorothy Pitman Hughes

Beginning in the nineteen-sixties and lasting until the late nineteen-seventies or early nineteen-eighties, the second wave of feminism has its basis in the spirit and issues of the first wave. While women now had the right to vote, legal matters still meant a gap in equality between the sexes. With a focus on a greater degree of liberation to reach a place of equality, some of the issues that feminists in the second wave fought for were reproductive rights and fair wages. This wave also began to focus on matters that lay outside of the legal realm, expanding further into the whole of the culture. Societal norms once taken for granted were now facing challenges. For instance, the traditional view of a women's role being in the home rather than the workforce faced confrontation, while further questioning the expected adherence to gender roles. The phrase "the personal is political" began to surface, enlightening women to the fact that government controlled them on many levels. Finally, women's right to express their sexuality without shame characterized the second wave as feminists worked toward a celebration of a holistic and self-actualized woman.

One of the specific victories that came out of the second wave came in 1973 with the Roe V. Wade Supreme Court decision that gave women the legal right to safer abortion access. In addition to this monumental decision, the degree of visibility gained for the overall feminist movement was groundbreaking. Gloria Steinem, a journalist and activist who is one of the founders of Ms. magazine. Betty Friedan was one of the founders and the first president of the National Organization for Women, formed in 1966. These were just two of the women that worked tirelessly to make feminist perspectives known in popular culture. It is not uncommon for some to immediately draw their thoughts to this era when thinking of feminism in America. Indeed, the degree of visibility achieved and the revolutionary sentiments that characterized the second wave, also defined these two decades as a whole.

An Intersectional Third Wave

A rising tide lifts all boats

The third wave of feminism, like the evolution of many radical movements, has come to focus on even more expanded ideas about the issues that embody its group identity. There is some debate concerning which decade marks the beginning of this wave stretching into present day, but the majority of scholars seem to agree upon the early nineteen-eighties. While the second wave has broadened its scope in a way, by looking at microcosms such as women's sexuality and reproductive rights, the third wave expanded the notions of oppression even further. The hallmark of the third wave is the notion of greater inclusion. By not only embracing minority group statuses (including race, sexuality, religion, ability, et cetera), but including all women in the fight these identities were finally recognized as additional means of disenfranchisement. Additionally, looking more critically at global issues affecting women was a reality that the third wave took on. Each of these new perceptions about inclusion gave recognition to the reality that points of oppression intersect. Third wavers began to accept that the traditionally white feminist movement could not represent the experiences of all women. In fact, there are those who say it is in the third wave that feminists have recognized their mistakes.

Ironically mimicking a patriarchal sentiment, the first and second waves of feminism practiced some exclusion, despite their avowed movement toward the adverse. Competition over cooperation is one of the deeply embedded norms of patriarchal western society, and one that even feminists have had to struggle to combat. I mentioned seeing abolition as a parallel fight during the first wave, but this was, by no means, a fight for equality, as feminists know it today. While first wave feminists sought the right to vote, this did not include all women. Even abolition did not mean equality. During the second wave, it was not uncommon for groups to recommend that women with sub-identities in the feminist realm split off and form their own group in order for the primary groups to better maintain a positive visibility in the public realm.

At home and abroad

Feminist Montage by Kelly Bumford
Feminist Montage by Kelly Bumford

Luckily, the American human feminist movement seems to be heading in a direction of true equality. Inclusion has come to such great focus that even the imaginary lines drawn between national borders face erasure. The third wave of feminism has come to recognize that issues of human rights violations happening globally are precisely the issues that the movement must stand for. Matters such as forced marriage, sexual slavery, and lack of access to education are the types of problems that the third wave has come to work toward alleviating throughout the world.

This greater sense of inclusion has come far on the home front as well. Women's centers and women's groups across the nation are full of diversity. In the modern feminist movement, they are embracing not only are women of all races, sexual orientations, religions, and abilities embraced, but also letting go the stigma of man as enemy. Though men have been active on the feminist front since the time of the Seneca Fall Convention, they too were often alienated. Though humans are an imperfect species, and I am sure there are still some lessons to learn; I can say that I feel content when I look at a group of feminists today. I see a group that looks as inclusive and diverse Meowpolis. There we do not care if you are tabby or black, or if you only have three legs. We are all cats in the end. Maybe the humans have been watching us, and have finally realized what we have been trying to say, albeit quietly, for years; our connections make us stronger than our separations.

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