What Are…the Four Waves of Feminism?

The word “feminism” itself tends not to be viewed as social justice jargon, albeit it’s often misunderstood. Feminism is sometimes misunderstood as a sort of “bra-burning/destroy-all-men” mentality.

However, that is far from the truth. On this Women’s History Month in the United States, I think it is important to distance ourselves from that false narrative about feminism.

The reality is that feminism is the advocacy for women to have equal rights to men. So no, it does not involve hating or destroying men.

However, what is sometimes less understood is the different phases of advocacy for women over the years in the United States, also known as the four waves of feminism. It’s also less understood why it’s so important to understand those waves, and why it’s also so important to think beyond the second wave of feminism.

These phases of advocacy for women, also known as “waves of feminism,” are divided as such:

The first wave of feminism is typically regarded as the phase of advocacy that focused on greater women’s involvement in American government, particularly the right to vote. It is worth noting, though, that the focus on the greater involvement of women focused on white women, not on women of color. This phase went from about 1848 (the year of the Seneca Falls Convention, a women’s rights convention where the right to vote became a major issue) to the ratification of the women’s right to vote in the United States (also known as the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution) in 1920.

The second wave of feminism said that it was not enough for women to have the right to vote, but that it was also important to advocate for social, political, and economic equality for women. This phase of feminism went from the 1960s to about the early 1990s (approximately). Betty Friedan’s book, titled The Feminine Mystique, has often been credited with starting this second wave of feminism. This wave of feminism also included advocacy for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was designed for people in the United States to have equal legal rights regardless of sex.

However, the second wave of feminism was criticized for predominantly advocating for middle class white women, while leaving behind poor women, women of color, women in the LGBTQ+ community, women with disabilities, and women from other marginalized groups. This criticism led to the third wave of feminism, which placed emphasis on advocating not just for economically upwardly mobile white women, but women who were also marginalized for other facets of their identity. In this wave of feminism, which many say started in the early 1990s and ended around 2012 (though I think this wave is in many ways still present today),[1] there was a lot of emphasis on intersectional feminism—advocacy for the equal rights of women that takes into account how that advocacy should address the inequalities of women who experience overlapping and intersecting forms of discrimination in addition to discrimination for being a woman (example: discrimination for being an immigrant and a woman). 

The fourth wave of feminism, which many say started in 2012 and continues today, focuses on online tools, such as blogging and social media, to highlight inequalities that many women face. Through this, we see the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements on social media, the increased blogging about sexism, and personal stories of various forms of sexism that women have faced. 

It’s important to understand these different waves of feminism for a couple of reasons. First, it is good to have at least a working historical knowledge of the different eras of feminist advocacy, regardless of what your feelings on feminism are. Second, it’s generally good to understand what people are talking about when they’re referring to a particular wave of feminism. Finally, it’s especially important to understand the importance of third-wave and fourth-wave feminism, because without that understanding, it is difficult to appreciate the importance of advocating for all women and taking that advocacy to the public sphere.

So, next time you hear about third-wave or fourth-wave feminism, you will know what you’re talking about. If you’re accused of not moving beyond the second wave of feminism, you know that your feminism needs to do a better job of including women who are marginalized for other parts of their identity. And if you hear about the #MeToo movement, you know that you are hearing about the current, and fourth, wave of feminism.

[1] While, by many definitions, we’re into the fourth wave of feminism, the there’s still lots of emphasis on intersectional feminism; in other words, third-wave feminism.

On the Aziz Ansari Sexual Misconduct Story

I have to admit that I knew very little about actor, comedian, and filmmaker Aziz Ansari before I heard about the sexual misconduct allegation against him.

In the wake of the babe.com story detailing Ansari’s sexual abuse, I learned about his career, his apparently being a feminist, and his committing actions that go against his supposed values.

Now that I know some about him, and now that I’ve read the article detailing the sexual misconduct allegation against him, I think that it’s time to say a few things that are relevant to this case and the theme of exposing blind injustices on this blog:

  1. We must listen to accusers. I feel the need to emphasize this because many people haven’t listened to Ansari’s accuser, who goes by the name of “Grace.” Doing anything less than listening completely and wholeheartedly to Grace would go against the very notion of listening to and empowering victims—something that #MeToo is supposed to be all about. In the spirit of #MeToo, and of human decency in general, we must listen to her.
  2. We need to learn about consent if we haven’t already. Unless both people say “yes” to kissing, advances, and sex, the answer is “no”! If one person says “no,” like what the woman said in the piece, the answer is “no”! If someone doesn’t specifically say “no” but makes body motions or verbal cues indicating that the answer is “no,” the answer is “no”! And silence means “no” unless you’re told “yes”! I just feel that this review of consent needs to be made painfully clear in the aftermath of how some of the talking heads handled Aziz Ansari and the issue of consent.
  3. We must also stop trying to justify actions that cross others’ boundaries. In the case between Grace and Ansari, people on social and even some news media tried to find ways to justify what she said Ansari did to her. Honestly, there is no defense for kissing, going at her breasts, or anything semi-sexual or sexual he did when there is no consent! We should stop defending such non-consensual actions as a society, because if we do, we’re frankly starting to become part of the problem that led to #MeToo.
  4. We should remember that the Ansari story is a cautionary tale of how advocating against injustice doesn’t make us immune to being unjust. Ansari shows that you can be a feminist (which was how he described himself) yet still do something to a woman that you regret. If I’m honest with myself, there have been multiple times when I too have advocated against an injustice only to commit the injustice I’m trying to advocate against. If one man could be a feminist who assaulted a woman, and if I could be a racial justice advocate who has advocated for things that hurt people of color,[1] then you could certainly be, say, an LGBTQ+ supporter who has said or done homophobic things.
  5. Finally, the Ansari case should be a call for all of us to examine our own actions. Some of us may shock ourselves by committing the very injustices that we advocate against. However, unless we carefully look at our own actions, both good and bad, we will repeatedly commit wrongful actions and never do anything to correct our wrongs. May we not make this mistake.

For some of us, maybe even most of us, following all five of these suggestions will be difficult at best. However, it is in our own best interests, and the interests of those around us, to start acting on these suggestions.

[1] I once advocated that my college would not ban an anonymous social media application called Yik Yak, even though it was clear that some of the things on Yik Yak were repeatedly hurting students of color. It wasn’t one of my better moments, to say the least.

Gender Inequality in Conversations

While I usually avoid American politics in my blog posts, there is simply no way of avoiding politics here because the 2016 presidential election made me aware of the topic I discuss in this post. Namely, after the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, several of my friends saw in Trump the same issue they see with many other males—manterrupting.

For those of us who aren’t familiar with the word I just mentioned, manterruption is a word used to describe how men tend to dominate conversations by frequently interrupting women. Manterruption is one of the many ways that some men have a tendency to dominate conversations and relationships, whether some of us realize that or not. Such domination, in turn, shows a lack of respect for the women who men interact with.

In the short period of time that I have been aware of this issue, I’ve often noticed several types of responses from fellow men who feel like they are being attacked when the topic of manterruption comes up:

  1. Claim that they don’t manterrupt.
  2. Claim that manterruption is a false concept.
  3. Use the whole manterruption topic as an excuse to bash feminism in one form or another.
  4. Use the manterruption topic to claim that people are being soft or “politically correct.”

While there are other types of negative responses to the topic of manterruption, what I mentioned here are just a few of the major types of responses that I usually notice.

If you have a hard time believing what I just said, all you need to do is look at the reviews for the “Woman Interrupted” app on Google Play and you will see all three types of responses to manterruption (few of the reviews address the quality of the app itself). If this blog post were to ever “go viral,” my guess is that readers would see for themselves all three types of negative responses, and few responses which call for self-evaluation to see whether you manterrupt (if you are a man like me, of course).

But for those of us who are tempted to respond to the issue in a negative way, I ask all of you to at least give me room for a response and a plea.

The response is that talk of manterruption is not false or feminism. It is a fact. For decades, scholars have written about how men often interrupt in conversations with women. If you have trouble believing me, you can message my blog’s page on Facebook or e-mail me at blindinjustice2017@gmail.com and I can provide you with some of the widely cited scholarly books and articles that discuss this topic.

The plea is to please at least make the effort to be conscious of your conversations, and spot where you have a tendency to interrupt or be interrupted. I make that plea partially because of my own personal experiences with manterruption—through being conscious of when I interrupt, I made the realization that most of my interruptions occurred when I talked with women. It was an embarrassing realization, but a realization that hopefully enables me to have the egalitarian friendships I so desperately want. I hope that others take me up on this plea.

If our society wants to end the continued lack of egalitarianism in our cross-gender relationships, we need to be aware of the inequalities that do exist (such as in conversation through manterrupting), and then deal with those inequalities. I hope that this post motivates at least a few of you to deal with issues like manterruption, and hopefully get closer to achieving egalitarian relationships with everyone.