What are the Waves of (Western) Feminism?

It is incredibly important to analyze the authors behind the waves of feminism.

These movements and generalizations of historical movements are incredibly biased in Western interpretations and advancement, not encompassing the exploitation of women of colour by Western feminists in academic circles, societal relationships, power dynamics, and political fabrics. 

This is not to say that other, primarily people of colour communities were going through the same waves. In fact, much “progress” being achieved during these periods of liberation was done on the backs of women of colour.

Let us not silence their voices.

  • First Wave of Feminism

The first wave refers to the movement of the 19th through early 20th centuries (1848 to 1920) primarily in Europe and the United States.

Key Issues:

  • Women’s suffrage, especially the right to vote
  • Women’s education, especially for girls 
  • Labour protections and better working conditions
  • Laws surrounding marriage and property rights
  • Reproductive rights
  • Second Wave of Feminism

The second wave was from the 1960’s-1980’s, again primarily in the Global North (Europe and the United States).

Key Issues:

  • Creating awareness about oppressive systems, like the patriarchal and misogynistic institutions governing us 
  • Allowing for female voices on topics of marital rape and domestic violence
  • Legalization of abortion and birth control
  • Liberation of women’s reproductive identities
  • Third Wave of Feminism – 1991 – ?

The third wave of feminism was from the 1990’s to the early 2000’s. It is open for interpretation if we are currently still residing in the third wave of feminism or if we have gone backwards or forwards. 

Key Issues:

  • Intersectionality – emphasizing the intersection of multiple discriminations and inequalities (race, class, etc)
  • Calling action on changing media interpretations of women
  • Bridging awareness of gender roles, identity, and orientations

It is important to note that the third wave, while having its qualities, has given rise to popular/commodity feminism which co-opts intersectionalism to avoid taking responsible actions in an attempt to truly allow for liberation. 

  • Fourth Wave of Feminism? 

Are we in the fourth wave of feminism? Differing contentions do exist with some believing we are in the third wave, some believing we are in the fourth wave, and some believing we have reversed back to the second wave of feminism. 

I believe, rather, we are operating in an intermediary space between these waves. Rise of #MeToo and movements alongside it, are still trying to access the liberation from oppression and patriarchy per the second and third wave. Its goals have still not been met.

What makes this wave special, different, and unique, is the way it is practiced. The internet, social media specifically, has connected us in ways we have never been before. It has allowed for the spread of ideas and diffusion to occur at an exponential rate, re: the Arab Springs as an example.

This interconnectedness allows movements to unfold globally, but has subsequently led to heavy censorship by corporations and government entities. 

What do you think? Are we in the fourth wave or second/third wave? Or do you agree we are occupying an intermediary space between the two?

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