(Disclaimer right up front. Am no academic, so if there are factual errors anywhere, do point them out, would be delighted to rectify them.)
Here’s a quick and easy primer.
The feminist movement is popularly divided into three waves.
This was what happened in the first wave:
(From Wikipedia).”First-wave feminism was oriented around the station of middle- or upper-class white women and involved suffrage and political equality.”
From Gender Cawater Info.net. “First-wave feminism refers to an extended period of feminist activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the United Kingdom and the United States. Originally it focused on the promotion of equal contract and property rights for women and the opposition to chattel marriage and ownership of married women (and their children) by their husbands. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, activism focused primarily on gaining political power, particularly the right of women’s suffrage. Yet, feminists such as Voltairine de Cleyre and Margaret Sanger were still active in campaigning for women’s sexual, reproductive, and economic rights at this time. In 1854, Florence Nightingale established female nurses as adjuncts to the military.”
Which, in simple terms means that the first wave of the feminist movement fought for a woman’s right to be a political equal to men, and for her right to vote in a democracy, as well as the right to be an equal in a marriage, and the right to own property.
In the second wave of feminism.
(From Wikipedia) Second-wave feminism attempted to further combat social and cultural inequalities.
“second-wave feminism broadened the debate to a wide range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities. Second-wave feminism also drew attention to domestic violence and marital rape issues, establishment of rape crisis and battered women’s shelters, and changes in custody and divorce law.”
Without second wave feminism, women would not have had the right to equal pay for equal work, right to property, reproductive rights over their own body. And there would be no redressal for domestic violence. The introduction of the oral contraceptive pill, gave women the option to delay and space pregnancies and so be able to focus on their career if they so desired.
Also, Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, made women question the myth of domestic happiness they had been fed all their lives.
“In 1963 Betty Friedan, influenced by The Second Sex, wrote the bestselling book The Feminine Mystique. Discussing primarily white women, she explicitly objected to how women were depicted in the mainstream media, and how placing them at home limited their possibilities and wasted potential. Friedan described this as “The Problem That Has No Name”. The perfect nuclear family image depicted and strongly marketed at the time, she wrote, did not reflect happiness and was rather degrading for women. This book is widely credited with having begun second-wave feminism.“
The second wave of feminism also looked at how women were depicted in pop culture, rather anachronistic given that we still have hoes and bitches in popular songs.
“Second-wave feminists viewed popular culture as sexist, and created pop culture of their own to counteract this. Australian artist Helen Reddy‘s song “I Am Woman” played a large role in popular culture and became a feminist anthem; Reddy came to be known as a “feminist poster girl” or a “feminist icon”. “One project of second wave feminism was to create ‘positive’ images of women, to act as a counterweight to the dominant images circulating in popular culture and to raise women’s consciousness of their oppressions.”“
In the Third Wave of Feminism.
(From Wikipedia) Third-wave feminism is continuing to address the financial, social and cultural inequalities and includes renewed campaigning for greater influence of women in politics and media. In reaction to political activism, feminists have also had to maintain focus on women’s reproductive rights, such as the right to abortion.
“Gender violence has become a central issue for third-wave feminists. Organizations such as V-Day have formed with the goal of ending gender violence, and artistic expressions such as The Vagina Monologues have generated awareness and action around issues relating to women’s sexuality. Third-wave feminists want to transform the traditional notions of sexuality and embrace “an exploration of women’s feelings about sexuality that included vagina-centred topics as diverse as orgasm, birth, and rape.”
“Third-wave feminism regards race, social class, transgender rights, and sexual liberation as central issues. However, it also pays attention to workplace matters such as the glass ceiling, sexual harassment, unfair maternity-leave policies, motherhood – support for single mothers by means of welfare and child care and respect for working mothers and for mothers who decide to leave their careers to raise their children full-time.”
Third wave feminism gave us Slut Walks across the world, a reclaiming of the derogatory terms used against women, increased focus on women’s reproductive rights, fous on issues like single motherhood, the glass ceiling, sexual harassment policies and more.
And yes, there is a fourth wave of feminism, which began some years ago
From Wikipedia. “Fourth wave feminism is often associated with online feminism, especially using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and other forms of social media to discuss, uplift, and activate gender equality and social justice. According to NOW Toronto, the internet has created a “call-out” culture, in which sexism or misogyny can be called out and challenged immediately with relative ease. This culture is indicative of the continuing influence of the third wave, with its focus on micro-politics and challenging sexism and misogyny insofar as they appear in everyday rhetoric, advertising, film, television and literature, the media, and so on. This online feminism aspect of the fourth wave has impacted how companies market to women so that they are not “called out” for sexism in their marketing strategies.[“
And there are various branches of feminism, which include socialist and Marxist, black feminism, post colonial and more.
The bottom line though, is that feminism as a movement has been what has got us many of the rights we take so for granted today. All feminism aims at is simply gender equality in a society that has been overwhelmingly patriarchal all down the centuries.
And we continue to need it. We still have reports where women are paid less than men, 27 % at last reading, where marital rape is still not recognised as a crime by law, where women must fight to shatter the glass ceiling at work, where reproductive rights are still hard to come by for women in the hinterland.
Let’s not confuse feminism with misandry, please. And just let’s just recognise feminism for what it is. A movement that recognises the fact that women hold up half the sky.
For more on feminism read this: http://www.gender.cawater-info.net/knowledge_base/rubricator/feminism_e.htm