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Present Time Feminism

Posted by hailiehills on May 29th, 2019

The term “feminism” can be viewed from two perspectives. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines feminism as the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities and as an organized activity in support of women's rights and interests. Feminism as a movement is guided by the idea of gender equality in the various spheres of life. However, present time feminism differs a lot from original, historical feminism and even from the feminism of the 60s-80s. Modern feminism is often referred to as the third-wave feminism. Globalization, modernization, and other trends in the society development add new issues to the feminist agenda; nevertheless, the core idea of diminishing gender inequality has never lost its applicability.

This paper aims at analyzing the modern feminism, its ideological base, trends, and the most prominent activists. The research will highlight the challenges that feminism has to face in our time; it will analyze the disparity between the third wave and the previous waves of the feminist activity. It will also discuss a popular image of feminism and how it reflects or fails to reflect, the reality. After publishing this I'll go to write a familiar essay on this topic. 

Historical Background of Feminism

Before tackling the issues of the present time feminism, it is necessary to search for its roots. Feminism emerged as a protest against the oppressed and disenfranchised position of women in the patriarchal society. The history of mankind proves that there have always been women who managed to break through the prejudice and sex barriers posed by law and religion; they became successful and respected rulers, merchants, scholars, writers, artists, or even military leaders. Nonetheless, those cases were rare and rather tended to confirm the inequality of sexes than contest it.

The first organized women’s movements started in Great Britain and the USA in the mid-19th century and lasted until 1924 when the American women received the right to vote. Early feminists demanded the right for equal education and equal treatment in terms of religion and law; they struggled to change the marriage law, which made women and their children the property of their husbands and defended the financial rights of women. The feminist movement was connected with the temperance and abolition movements. In the early 19th century, women called suffragettes concentrated their efforts on gaining the right to vote at political elections.

The second wave started in the 60s and ended in the early 1990s. The breakdown in the feminist movement and rethinking of the feminist ideals brought new names, such as Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem. Whereas the first wave of feminism was generally propelled by middle-class white women, the second phase drew in women of color and developing nations, seeking sisterhood and solidarity and claiming. The second-wave feminism struggled for equal rights regardless of sex. Female sexuality and reproductive rights were new issues under discussion. The second wave took several directions. Thus, radical feminists considered oppression in men-women relations to be the primary source of inequality and regarded women as a sex-class. Marxist or socialist feminists, in their turn, focused on the capitalist oppression of women. There were also liberal feminists who struggled for equal representation of women in the public sphere and demanded the legislative approval of that right. Finally, cultural feminism aimed at developing feminism into a worldwide movement.

Present Time Feminism

The third-wave feminism tackles those issues that were left aside by the second wave. It is led by the younger generation and comprises people of various racial, ethnic, gender, social, educational, and income background. It evolved in the mid-90s and continues till now. The term “third-wave feminism” was invented by Rebecca Walker in 1992. One can see Walker as an embodiment of the third wave: an African-American bisexual woman, who was only 23 years old when she started to fight for women’s rights. The feminist movement of our time embraces women of different countries, including postcolonial where women’s rights and needs are traditionally ignored. Women of different skin color and race, as well as low-income women, are also in the focus, while the dominant voice belongs to white middle-class women and non-heterosexual women, which is a stumbling block for traditional feminists.

Challenges. The great changes in the position and the role of women in modern society are striking compared to the centuries-long humble stand. Modern women are not confined to the three “Cs” of children, church, and cooking anymore. They are seen as independent individuals and not as mere legal attachments to their husbands. Women take an active part in political life and fill top positions in public institutions. Finally, women have received wide access to jobs and high ranks in all kinds of businesses. Greater freedom expresses itself even in women’s fashion, which is extremely varied and unconstrained.

However, despite the achievements, there is still a long way for the equality of sexes to go. The existence and scale of the feminist movement in our days mean that the core problem remains. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter, the journalists of the feminist Vagenda Magazine, define the range of inequities as follows: unequal division of domestic labor; unhelpful ideas propagated by mass media; the notorious “glass ceiling” in traditionally male spheres; social inequality; and violence against women, including domestic violence. All these issues are partially traditional, but they are looked at from a modern perspective and acquire a new accent in the globalized world.

The division of domestic labor is not off the agenda in our days. Women go to work, and they are not merely housewives anymore. However, along with the job, they are still ‘employed’ at home in most cases. 8 of 10 British women claim that they do more housework than their male partners. Cleaning, cooking, washing, and taking care of children are a stereotypically women’s domain from which men prefer to keep away.

Mass media spreads those stereotypes in mass through popular TV ads and glossy magazines. Television propagandizes the division of gender roles of men and women and often it is done in a way that is far from respectful. What is more, the ideals of female beauty aired by the media are so far from reality that it is almost impossible to comply with them. Thus, the sexist attitude is not condemned but widely practiced. The Sun’s Page 3 and other magazines for men provoke loud feminist protests. Additionally, mainstream media, such as The Times, are responsible for misrepresentation of feminism and its simplified explanation.

The “glass ceiling” is experienced by any woman who wants to pursue a career. On the one hand, it is true that women often take important posts, for example, the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or the U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright. On the other hand, it is also true that a woman has to be tougher than any man to get to the top and to stay there. It concerns any managing position in almost any business or institution. Women have no access to the “men’s world” and become outcasts if they get there due to their professionalism. One may trace this structure in all traditionally male spheres, from football teams to Wall Street brokers and high politics. The issue is even more dramatic in developing countries where women only start getting access to education and employment.

The slogan “Equal pay for equal work” applies now as well as it did 20 or 40 years ago. Statistic records show that, on average, a working woman earns only 59 cents for every 1 dollar earned by a man. Ridiculously enough, female managers with college education usually earn less than men with an eighth-grade background who work under her.

Social inequality in regard to women is still gruesome. Studies show that the attitude to transgender women is worse than to gay men. The mortality rate among African-American women refugees in Britain is seven times higher than among white women. In general, when it comes to discrimination on a racial, ethnic, disability, or sexual orientation basis, women are more vulnerable than men. Again, the situation in America and Europe is far not that difficult as it is in the less advanced countries.

Unfortunately, violence against women is still ubiquitous and in many cases overlooked. The numbers speak for themselves. In Great Britain, 89% of the victims of domestic violence are women and two women a week are murdered by their male partner. In many countries, rape within marriage is even not considered a criminal offense. Every fourth woman is a possible victim of raping and all women have experienced sexual harassment in one or another form. The recent band rape in India stirred up the society forcing the Indian government to raise the punishment for rapists up to 20 years of jail. As statistics show, women are targeted by violence disproportionately more often than men. Paradoxically, in the sexist culture, they are often considered to be culprits to a sexual offense. A bitter and sarcastic video “Rape: It’s Your Fault,” which became viral on the Internet, shows how deep-rooted such an unfair attitude is (AIB).

Third-Wave Feminist Movements. As it was mentioned before, the second-wave feminism had some division within it, and the third-wave feminism is still not unanimous. There is a common ground on which all feminists stand, and that is the sex (or gender) equality issue. However, feminists disagree on many points that are even directly linked to the core essence of the movement and sometimes take contrary positions. The problem is that modern feminism has so many faces that it cannot be united and defined. A feminist scholar Amanda D. Lotz singles out three major categories in modern feminism, namely reactionary third-wave feminism, women-of-color, and postfeminism.

Reactionary feminists appeared in popular media in the mid-1990s with the critique of the second-wave feminism. The issues of criticism were different, and all authors called themselves feminists. Their position was not approved in broad feminist circles. It should be said, however, that their criticism was directed at the popular representation of women as victims; as a tactical maneuver meant to attract public attention it reached its goal.

Women-of-color feminists or third-world feminists were the first among the three groups to identify themselves with the third-wave feminism. This trend broadens the understanding of feminism in the context of post-colonial societies and social layers that were left without attention by the previous feminist ideologists.

Postfeminism is presented in the popular media as antifeminism or a belief that feminism is no longer necessary. It is a wrong assumption as postfeminist writers polemicize with the ideologists of other the third-wave trends without the purpose to devalue the achievements of feminism or to undermine the feminist movement; their real goal is to rethink and redefine feminism.

Rethinking Feminism. The fact that feminism needs rethinking in order to find the common grounds is irrefutable. Some tendencies in modern feminism are contrary to the values preached by the early activists of the movement. Over 30 years ago, Alice Paul Women’s Center in their 1981 Newsletter called to common sense and reminded that feminism was not for the liberation of women alone; it was a broad social movement for equal treatment regardless of sex. They also reminded that a personal choice of every woman had to be respected, even if it is not consistent with feminist values. Today, Saira Khan exclaims, “Oh feminism, what happened to you?”

First, feminism used to be about equality, not female superiority; now there are obvious efforts to humiliate men rather than elevate women. Second, feminism used to be about freedom, not censorship. In their attempts to preach morals referring to the Sun’s Page 3, or porn, or sexist opinions in the media, modern feminists risk abandoning the original ideals of freedom. Third, feminism used to view women as self-sufficient rather than requiring the protection of the state’. Today’s feminists seek legislative protection from the “humiliating” content instead of addressing women’s pride and dignity in order to raise their self-esteem. On the one hand, they affirm their strength; on the other hand, they cry for help. Fourth, feminism used to be about structural change, not cultural change. Early feminists struggled for the opportunities for women to study, to work, to make decisions about their lives, and to participate in the government. Today’s activists insist on changing men’s values. Finally, feminism used to be about making real changes, not tokenistic gestures. That means, in some of its expressions, feminism became “petty and narrow”.

Thus, feminism was a great movement necessary to bring changes to the society. Its values are vital, applicable, and attractive in our days as well. Women have gained a lot in Europe and America, but prejudiced attitudes and treatment remain. Moreover, in the post-colonial countries, where the issues of freedom for women resonate with freedom in a more general meaning, there is still a long road to women’s equality. The third wave of feminism tries to tackle the challenges that appeared with modernization and globalization of the world. It is not homogeneous, however. In many issues, modern feminism has stepped far from the original ideals of the movement. The movements within the “third wave” have often contrary views on the principles, methods, and strategic goals of feminism. Rethinking feminism in the modern context and forming a common strategic vision would benefit both the movement and those whose interest it defends.

Also See: Wave Feminism, Third Wave, Second Wave, Modern Feminism, Womens, Women, Wave

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