This term, feminism, is one that for some is shrouded by misunderstanding. To some, it is perceived as an anti-men movement that seeks to replace or displace men from society. However, these are not the intentions of feminism or feminist movements. Rather, feminist movements have historically fought for the right to vote, the right to own property, equal pay for equal work, to name a few goals. These movements are not antagonistic against men, but rather advocating for the same political, social, and economic rights as men. Feminism is a response to the subjugation and marginalization of women as a result of the patriarchal structure of Western society - a form of social organization that largely privileges males and masculinity.
Feminist movements are often classified in waves according to the goals of that movement in a particular point in time - of which we have gone through three waves.
First Wave Feminism
First Wave Feminism, thought to have started in 1848 with the organization of the Seneca Falls Convention with women such as Elizabeth Cady Scanton in attendance, fought for full rights to citizenship for women, the right to earn and keep wages and property, access to the same education, jobs, and wages as men as well as the right to vote. The First Wave culminated in 1920 after the passing of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. Prior to this achievement, a schism grew between black and white women, where white women felt betrayed after the 1870s passing of the 15th Amendment that gave black men the right to vote, and thereafter focused their efforts primarily on attaining white women's right to vote.
Second Wave Feminism
Whereas the First Wave fought for women's access to economic opportunity and voting rights - a political movement in essence - the Second Wave of feminism was more of a social movement. Coming at the heels of WWII and burgeoning during the 1960s-80s, when the U.S. entered an era of post-war economic prosperity and the affluent white male reinforced himself as the social and economic pinnacle of society, this movement worked to challenge this notion. Second Wave feminism as a social movement challenged women's subordination in the workplace, at home, in education, and fought for rights to women's bodies regarding abortion. During this time, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed which gave women the ability to take out credit cards in their own name, Sandra Day O'Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice, and Roe v. Wade enabled a women to have more rights over their bodies by not banning abortion. Although feminism during this time was still heavily racially divided, writers like Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and bell hooks all opened discussions for what it meant to be a black woman. This was critical as the mainstream feminism movement was still avoiding the intersections of race and class.
Third Wave Feminism
The 80s saw the start of feminism's Third Wave, a movement that focused more on individual manifestations of feminism rather than a cohesive mission. Instead it worked to deconstruct previous misconceptions and structures regarding gender, race, sexuality, etc., and the intersections of these categories. Third Wave Feminism became an individual movement where women had more autonomy and ability to define their own feminism and has continued to the present day.
"As a non-partisan, inclusive organization our mission is to change the social and cultural conversation and further the participation of women as equal, valued voices in their communities and in the government process." UnitedWomen.org
"Our goal with Progressive Women’s Leadership is to be a resource center that is empowering, forward-looking and supportive of both women and men who want to change the way women are viewed in the workplace (and beyond). In this workplace we lay peace to the gender wars and concentrate on how men and women work together as equals who earn the same opportunities to advance, equal pay for equal work and overall respect. We are fortunate to have many different perspectives contributing this mission. Our team is made up of both women and men. Add to that a mix of ages, backgrounds, geography, life paths and experiences." - Progressive Women's Leadership
"The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), which was founded in 1987, is a cutting edge organization dedicated to women's equality, reproductive health, and non-violence. In all spheres, FMF utilizes research and action to empower women economically, socially, and politically. Our organization believes that feminists - both women and men, girls and boys - are the majority, but this majority must be empowered."