Dissertation Prep – A Brief Overview Of The History Of Feminism

For the beginnings of my research into my subject for dissertation, which I am thinking will cover something along the lines of feminist issues in present day media, I have first decided to look as deeply as I can into the definition and history of feminism, and subsequently post-feminism.

To an extent, there has arguably always been feminist movements in western culture from the very beginning, just as there have been masculinist movements. But, it is widely considered that the person who really dragged the whole issue into the spotlight was Mary Wollstonecraft.

Wollstonecraft wrote the pamphlet A Vindication of the Rights of Men in 1790, which she later extended on to write the sequel, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).

Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, an un-finished novel by Wollstonecraft, sparked great controversy due to its address of women’s sexual desires and it was this which sparked the famous suffragette’s movement in the late 19th and early 20th century, taking inspiration of Wollstonecraft, and is now considered the ‘grandmother’ of British feminism.

The suffragettes sparked what we now call, “First Wave Feminism”. The aim was to gain the right for women to vote, which was eventually passed in 1918 (UK).

Since then, a new wave of feminism came to be in the late 1960s and continued into the 1990s – ‘Second Wave Feminism’, as it was dubbed. These feminists mainly concentrated on the  recognition of women as active members of society, and their (or lack of) reproductive rights.

Nowadays (from 1990’s onwards), there is a wave of feminism which is what many people consider ‘Post-feminism’. This vague title will bring up many a definition if you were to research it, but one theme which seems to be consistent throughout, is that it is disliked.

‘Post-feminism’ or ‘Third Wave Feminism’, is this current generations young women’s movement on feminism, covering the still present wage gap and many other, much more deeply rooted but never addressed before issues.

Often considered the ‘girly’ generation of feminists (Martha Rampton, 2014), the red lipstick clad high heel wearing feminists have chosen to present themselves as empowered women, who’s efforts with makeup and clothing are not for the male gaze, but for themselves.

Combating issues such as the perception of gender, sexuality and romantic attraction, Third Wave Feminists stand up for Trans men and women’s rights, and consider the idea of ‘non-binary’ people, who identify as neither male nor female. They also address issues with discrimination against certain sexualities – and on top of that, introduce the notion of romantic attraction being a separate and equally as important issue as sexual attraction.

On top of this, third wave feminists still consider there to be a huge misrepresentation of women and the people mentioned above in the media, political industry, and work place.

There are a lot of criticisms on Third Wave Feminists from politicians, the newly found ‘Meninist’ movement, and even from Second Wave Feminists. Some arguing either that feminism is over, and that what they are fighting for is unnecessary. Others arguing that the beliefs and demands of Third Wave Feminists are ‘asking too much’ aka making way for a society in which women are the oppressors and men are the oppressed.

Meninists already believe that women have become the oppressors in today’s Western society after a wave of ‘man hate’ on social networking sites, in which women are deliberately insulting men in much the same way women have been consistently insulted in the past.

Whether this method of fighting fire with fire is one that holds a good future for feminism is something I, as a feminist myself, am personally a little concerned about.

I chose to write my dissertation on feminism and the representation of women for this very reason, since I am constantly trying to learn more and more about both sides of the points of view and gain insight into what really is right, and what is going too far in this decade of cultural change.

(Please note that I am aware that there is a lot missed out about feminism in this post; but I have tried to highlight the key points as much as I can, and am aware it would be impossible to cover absolutely everything in such a small amount of writing.)

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9 Comments on “Dissertation Prep – A Brief Overview Of The History Of Feminism”

  1. Best of luck to you with your work!

  2. There was very little feminism in the 60’s. It did not gain a foothold until the latter part of the 60’s. I was very active in the feminist movement then. Our issues were basic. The biggest shock back then was the ridicule we received from the men in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. I didn’t focus on equal pay. I focused on being the respected as something other than a typist of leaflets.

    • Thank you so much for correcting me! I shall edit the article ASAP.

      • That was my experience. But I just have no recollection of equal pay. The women’s liberation movement started on the campuses across the country and came out of the anti-war movement. It was white women. Blacks, at that time, were focused on civil rights. The Black women felt that it was vital to present a unified front with their men. Women’s lib just was, understandbly, not their issue at that time. Neither was the war. The focus was on how women were being treated in society. One early voice was Congresswomen Bella Absug. One early victory was a Women’s Study course. One course. Initially, women from the anti-war movement would get together and start Women’s Liberation groups. We mostly just talked about what liberation meant. Where we wanted to take such a movement, etc. we had little idea of what the movement ultimately became. All this was way before Ms. Magazine which was big when Gloria Steinham founded it. The title Ms. was mostly unheard of when the magazine started. If you want any other information let me know. My memories are old and sometimes not quite as accurate as I would like. Those were exciting times. The shock was the rebuff of society as a whole and our own men in the anti war movement.

      • Wow this is all very useful and interesting stuff, thanks! Have you written any blog posts or journal articles about this at all? I would love to cite them.

      • I wish I had some writings, but I don’t. I kept a diary, but I don’t know what happened to it. Maybe I’ll write a blog. If I do, I’ll let you know.

      • Thanks! You’ve been very helpful and I’ll be sure to look into your points and recollections for my dissertation – And yes if you do end up making a blog I would love to read it.

      • Best wishes on your dissertation.


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