The List: What you should know about feminism

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, October 7th, 2020 at 7:38 PM

Feminism is the advocacy for women’s rights on the basis of equality of the sexes. And the history of feminism is long standing — this is not a new belief that emerged just a few decades ago. 

In fact, early feminism can be traced back to Ancient Rome. According to Britannica, in the third century B.C., “Roman women filled the Capitoline Hill” and blocked every entrance to the Forum when consul Marcus Porcius Cato “resisted attempts to repeal laws limiting women’s use of expensive goods.” The Enlightenment would then further empower women to fight for equality as radical new ideas spread.  

The roots of what many know as modern feminism began with the women’s suffrage movement. Women fought for the right to vote and the 19th Amendment was ratified, 100 years ago this past August.

Once this crucial goal of getting the right to vote was met, the widespread support of feminism virtually collapsed. The feminist’s ideology was fractured across many different causes: labor unions, education and representation in government. There was no centralizing idea for the feminist movement. The second wave of feminism came about in the 1960s and ‘70s. These were the granddaughters of the women who fought for the 19th Amendment. They pushed the fight for equality and justice beyond the voting booth. With more and more women entering the work force, they fought for equal pay and the right to not be discriminated against on the basis of their sex. A wave of new sexual freedom also had these women fighting for birth control rights. These ideas spread worldwide, empowering women to fight for equality. 

The third wave of feminism took hold in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Women who were born to the second wave feminists attempted to continue the work done by the generation before them. With a greater presence in the workforce, these women fought harder for equal pay and better treatment. They questioned the bounds of femininity, sexuality, gender and womanhood. The fourth wave of feminism began around 2010, this time with a focus on sexual harassment, rape culture and body shaming. A key component of this movement is the use of social media to spread ideas to the masses. This wave really gained a lot of traction with the #MeToo movement and U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 defeat of Hillary Clinton, sparking the creation of the Women’s March, one of the largest single-day protests in the country’s history.

Understanding the history of feminism is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Here are some more things you should know about the concept.

1. The history of feminism is not untainted.

Like many things in this country, feminism has primarily helped white people. The suffrage movement gave women the right to vote, but only white women were legally allowed to utilize this newfound privilege. BIPOC women were not afforded these rights until much later. While white, middle-class women were fighting for birth control rights in the 1960s, Black women were facing mass sterilization. According to women’s history scholar Dr. Jennifer Nelson’s book, “Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement,” 43% of all women being sterilized in the U.S. were Black. Nelson also writes, “The patterns were even worse for non-married Black women; in 1978, the tubal sterilization rate for never-married Black women was 529% greater than that of their white counterparts.” The eugenics movement greatly impacted BIPOC communities.

Women would go in for standard procedures and would leave the hospital sterilized without their consent or knowledge. According to Our Bodies Our Selves, an organization dedicated to educating women on birth control, women of minority groups would specifically go to the hospital for abortions or c-sections and would leave completely sterilized. Other times they would be coerced into agreeing to these sterilizations, threatened with the possibility of losing their government subsidized income if they did not consent to these procedures.

Women have been fighting for equal pay since they began working; it’s an ongoing battle. However, the wage gap affects BIPOC women more than it does white women. According to a study done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, white women make 79% of what a white man makes; Asian women, 84%. But Black women only make 59% of what a white man makes. Hispanic women are even worse off, only making 56%.

There is a huge focus on eliminating sexual assault these days. According to The Center at 909, an anti-sexual violence organization, 1 in 6 women will have been victims of completed or attempted sexual assault in their life. They also state that 40%-60% of Black women report being subjected to some type of sexual violence before the age of 18. Native American women have it even worse: statistics show 1 in 3 will be sexually assaulted in their life. Although feminism is an excellent belief system that stands for the equality of women, it’s important to remember that not all women have the same disadvantages, and mainstream feminism focuses a lot on white women’s issues.  

2. Not all feminism is created equal.

If it’s not intersectional, it’s not true feminism. Intersectional means something encompasses all aspects of a person. It takes into account someone's gender, sex, race and class, among other identifiers of a person, with a focus on including those of marginalized groups. Pretty much anyone who identifies as a feminist will tell you they believe in women’s equality, but when asked about all women, they might clam up a bit. All women means all women. Regardless of age, race, ethnicity, class, creed, sexual orientation, or sex, a woman is a woman and deserves equal rights. There are feminists out there who will exclude transgender women from this group. That is not feminism, that is discrimination. 

3. All feminists do not hate men. 

A misconception of feminism is that all feminists hate men. Feminists do not believe they are better than men and that’s not what they are fighting to prove. A feminist is someone who stands for the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. There is no better than, worse than. There is just the fight for equality. Many feminists also understand that it is not individual men holding them back from this equality. It is systematic and has been in place for centuries. Feminists are trying to dismantle the system that is holding them back, not blame individuals for their struggles. 

4. Feminists are not just women. 

Equal rights is not a women’s issue. It’s not a Black issue. It’s not an LGBTQIAP+ issue. It’s a human issue. As previously stated, feminists are not trying to tear down men. We are simply seeking equality, something everyone deserves. It’s important to support marginalized groups in their fight for equality, even if you don’t identify with said group. It is not just women who should be feminists. It should be everyone. 

Feminism has a long history — an imperfect history — while the impacts of the movement are important and the mission is not yet finished. It will not be finished until everyone is equal, regardless of what they look like or identify as. Understanding exactly what feminism is and that we’re not all bra-burning, men-hating people, is crucial in making sure the movement continues and achieves its goals. 

Feminism is a passion of mine. I believe so strongly in this that I have a feminist tattoo, the philosophy inked onto my body for the rest of my life. With the impending election and the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the most powerful feminists in history, I feel a little uncertain. Historically, if you are not a white man, it is difficult to make governmental change that benefits you. It’s my personal mission to make sure people understand exactly what feminism is and why they should believe in it as strongly as I do. If someone understands what feminism is, then they can be sure to elect individuals that support feminist ideals that will protect in addition to progressing the rights of women. All Women.

Emily Anderson is the Voices Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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