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  • Blanka Pillár

F-word: The Past and Present of Feminism

Feminism is a broad, multifaceted system of ideas ubiquitous in this ever-changing world, yet not easily defined. It is at once a centuries-old struggle, a peaceful aspiration, an everyday event, a distant thought, a passion, an inspiration, a force, an emotion, a concept, and an action.

However, this complexity did not emerge spontaneously. Proto-feminists speaking out as individuals appeared as early as the 14th century and group struggles date back to the 17th century. However, the movement only began formally taking shape in the second half of the 19th century. The history of emancipation is moving, inspiring, and unique. Past, present, and future, it holds intrigue for those open to its ideology.

The Past

Feminism is often divided into periods called waves based on the struggles of the time, why feminists fought in that particular period, and what methods they used. The public opinion is that there are three, some say four, categories of defining events, but there is no distinct boundary between the phases, and each wave’s goals are sequential, often overlapping or building on each other.

The Protofeminists (14th - 17th Centuries)

This stage is not typically considered a wave, but the idea of emancipation was already present at this time. Primarily educated writers and other historical figures represented these revolutionary ideas. As no united front was formed, most could not break out of the existing oppressive system. Still, the works of writers like Christine de Pizan in the 14th century featured modern narratives and ballads that challenged the representation of women of the time. The 17th century saw the first play written by a woman, criticizing the marriage of convenience. These works quickly became popular but did not bring about significant change.

The First Wave (From the Mid-1800s to the 1920s)

The main goal of the first wave of activists was to win fundamental rights; they wished to vote, own property, and receive a general education. Many of the feminists who espoused these principles at the time also tried to speak out against slavery, including several men. The circumstances of the time inspired men to join forces with women in similar situations and fight against both racial and gender discrimination. Until the 1860s, the two efforts were intimately intertwined, and it was during this period that Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” was written, which has since become a double symbol of anti-racism and feminism. However, the movements then split, and the well-known suffragettes emerged, whose radical methods became the dominant figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, a radical movement that utilized hunger strikes, building demolitions, and other drastic methods. In November 1910, protesters marching to Parliament to protest the defeat of the Women’s Suffrage Bill were brutally attacked. However, after continued fighting and the First World War, women were finally granted the right to vote in the UK in 1928.

The Second Wave (The 1960s to 1980s)

The main themes of the second wave were sexual violence, the pursuit of physical freedom, and equality in the labor market. In the 1960s, behind the apparent idyll, American homemakers often experienced profound unhappiness, and women of color were only allowed to take physical jobs regardless of their abilities. In addition, it was not long before sexual harassment of women became a daily occurrence and one of the most pressing problems of the time. In 1963, a young journalist, Gloria Steinem, went undercover as a waitress at the Playboy Club for a month to observe the famous place at close quarters. She wrote about her experiences being repeatedly harassed and subjected to racist remarks for New York magazine. Then she founded the influential feminist magazine Ms., in which she argued, among other things, for the right to abortion, which was finally granted to American women in 1973 after the Roe v. Wade trial.

The Third Wave (The 1990s to 2012)

The last period covered much more ground than its predecessors. Examples include queer theory, masculinity and femininity, challenging the feminine ideal mediated by the media, and the fight against rape-allowing cultures. It stressed that everyone has their own feminism and individuals have different priorities, which is not a problem. This period was also the beginning of the girl power movement, which was much more subdued and more about women’s equality in pop culture. The most important outcome of the whole cycle is the idea that there is no universal image of women and that different branches of feminism can work alongside each other and, indeed, need each other. Therefore, acceptance and collaboration are essential.

The struggle for equal rights has yet to achieve its goal. One of the obstacles is the everyday perception of feminism, which is especially negative. However, fighters have been able to win for themselves over the centuries. It is important to note that emancipation is not intended to oppress anyone but to bring the idea of equality to the world. Everyone who believes in this is a member of the movement.



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