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HomeUncategorizedA Potted History of Feminism

It’s hard to imagine that as little as fifty or so years ago, the topics of politics, religion, world affairs and business matters were not on the agenda of public discourse for women. It was not considered the correct thing to do, in other words, these topics were strictly ‘men’s business’. How times have changed! Some feminists may argue that the advantages now, as far as improved working conditions, more than offset the drudgery and monotony of times gone by. Some would disagree perhaps, and privately yearn for some of the “old fashioned” virtues and customs previously accorded to women. It’s all a matter of weighing up the pros and cons, and acceptance of how society has changed in its attitudes towards women in the twenty-first century.

Any type of philosophy is open to interpretation. What exactly does ‘feminism’ really mean? The Macquarie, 5th edition states – “a movement or doctrine which advocates equal rights and opportunities for women, especially the extension of their activities in social and political life”. This term could also incorporate being a humanist as the philosophies are intertwined. In third world countries, in particular, there is still very much work to be done into improving the wellbeing and status of women. The human rights abuses involving women in these countries and even in first world countries, need to be addressed, if we are to achieve a fair and just world, not a world with social inequality and injustice. Gender inequality, domestic violence and sexual assault, are the focus of a collection of women’s movements. Women, are pursuing these goals to stop persecution,, and to attain equal opportunities in social, political, economic, educational and employment spheres.

For women to rear the next generation in the twenty-first century they need to feel empowered and be treated as ‘equal’ to men. Misogyny and all human rights abuses will always be an ongoing concern, but by having decent, compassionate men, who embrace feminism, it will help to diminish misogynistic traits, and the injustices which inevitably go hand in hand with this form of behaviour.

The feminist movement also known as the ‘Women’s Liberation Movement” first came to public attention in the early nineteenth centuries when the suffragettes were formed. The Women’s Suffrage Movement was particularly strong in the United Kingdom and the United States. These women, predominantly from upper and middle class backgrounds, were dissatisfied and frustrated with their social status in society. It was as a result of their determination and bravery that women now have the right to vote. In the early years of the suffragette movement psychologists argued that their demonstrative behaviour was proof that these women were afflicted with some form of mental illness, hysteria, or feeble mindedness. Such was the mindset of men in that era. Alarmingly, they believed that future wars might be started by women who voted.

By 1920 the Women’s Suffrage amendment had passed into law, and various women’s organizations were established. For the first time in their lives, women felt like they were free of the shackles of male domination. As a result, women became more adventurous with their clothing, and participated freely in public discourse. This utopia was short-lived however, with the arrival of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Married women who had previously gained employment were the first to be dismissed, single women were marrying and divorces declined as struggling families clung together to weather the hard times.

Major changes occurred when World War II broke out in 1939. Approximately six million women were now entered the work force, either as farm labourers or factory workers. Over 200,000 women served in the military whilst over three million worked for the Red Cross organization. By and large, women prospered during these times, because they felt useful, appreciated, and knew that their contribution to the war effort was worthwhile. Of course, when the war ended in 1945, many of these jobs evaporated, forcing many to return to the role of housewife whilst men returning from the battlefields sought to re-assert their own role in society.

Simone de Beauvoir’s book “The Second Sex” made a huge impact upon women after it was published in 1949. The author expressed the feminist’s sense of injustice, depicting women as not being equal to men. This French author/philosopher highlighted our hierarchal society through stereotyping, women on a “lower level” to males. Simone de Beauvoir was instrumental in challenging society’s attitudes towards women, and helped to consolidate ‘the sisterhood’ of women’s movements, established around the world.

By the 1950’s women were starting to become disgruntled once again, with their place in society, and strove once again to attain equality in the workplace. The years of most noticeable change were the swinging sixties, when women became far more vocal about their rights and for once the introduction of “the pill” finally provided autonomy over their bodies. This form of contraception was used by more than one hundred million women worldwide and by almost twelve million women in the United States alone. This era was extremely liberating for women of childbearing age, and resulted in not only more control for women over their bodies and a more liberated view on sexuality, but heralded the end for unwanted pregnancies.

This second wave of feminism occurred during the sixties, with Germaine Greer’s book “The Female Eunuch” hitting the bookshelves. An international bestseller, the main thesis of this book was “that ‘traditional’, suburban, consumerist, nuclear families repressed women sexually and that this devitalized them, rendering them eunuchs”. Other well known feminists, such as Betty Friedan’s book, “The Feminine Mystique” were also well received worldwide. It’s author questioning the wide held belief that women were satisfied with motherhood and their marriages, and indeed had achieved fulfilment in their “careers”. During this time, lesbianism and bisexuality were also considered to be a part of feminism, with influential women accepting this lifestyle.

We are now entering the third wave of feminism which began back in the early 1990s. Because of the perceived failure of previous feminist movements of the sixties through to the eighties, to achieve the true equality they had so long sought. Diversity and change are core principles adopted by the new movement, as we are becoming a more multifaceted society and more globally connected. Women, especially, in developing countries are still fighting for equal rights and to be treated with the same respect as their male counterparts.

We are now living in the era of ‘the superwoman’. Gone are the days of subservience and submission to husbands, staying at home with the children. Nowadays, the working woman is expected to hold down a job, organize day care for children and maintain a home and all the trappings that come with that. Equal pay is expected although the glass ceiling is still to be broken on that one. So, what is the down side in this societal development? Are men now more reluctant to voice their opinions as women are more assertive? Perhaps some men have been criticized far too often; consequently avoiding conflicts at any cost, and in a way are a little bit subservient to the females in their lives? A role reversal perhaps? Perhaps the special treatment men showed women as part of male chivalry, such as opening car doors, letting a woman enter a doorway first etc., are becoming a distant memory. If women were completely honest, would they like to see a return of these more chivalrous ways? It is all a matter of achieving the right balance and even though women seem to ‘have it all’ now, some aspects of feminism have irrevocably changed some human behaviours.

Society has now reached a happier median, with more congenial behaviours, such as shared responsibilities in the home, joint care of children and the like. Women are free to pursue their professional careers whilst juggling work with their home lives. The feminist movement has indeed changed history since the early beginnings of the Suffragettes, chaining themselves to railings in order to obtain the rights to vote, and women have been the winners along the way, gaining more rights, but are either gender really content and satisfied with the way our lives have changed, as a result of the feminist movement?


Source by Pamela Smit

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