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.

What Is…Intersectionality?

Today’s post is the next installment on the “What is _____?” series, where I go over terms used commonly in social justice circles that may sound like jargon to many.

Today’s “What is_____?” post will be on a very big term in social justice circles these days: intersectionality.

Intersectionality is a term to describe how different forms of discrimination overlap, combine, and yes, even intersect, with each other. While the term was originally used by Kimberlé Crenshaw 30 years ago to describe how the discrimination of women of color differed from even that of white women, the definition has since expanded in a way that the term can be used to describe how different forms of discrimination intersect to create a set of interwoven prejudices in daily life.

A few such cases where I’ve seen intersectionality at play include the following:

  • Women with disabilities of various kinds, including my mother (who has fibromyalgia and arthritis), often face ableism from people who don’t believe that they should accommodate for someone else’s aches and pains. At the same time, many of the women I know who have chronic illnesses have said quite openly that the fact that they’re women has, without a doubt, made them less likely to be believed when talking about their disabilities with friends and doctors. In the case of women with disabilities, ableism and sexism often intersect.
  • Transgender women of color face discrimination for being transgender, for being a woman, and for being a person of color. Each of these individual statuses (being transgender, being a woman, or being a person of color) is often enough, in many cases, to be at risk in certain ways, but the combination of these three identities has arguably resulted in transgender women of color being disproportionately represented in murder counts, even in the transgender community.[1]
  • Younger people with disabilities (whether visible or invisible) are often thought to be “faking it” because they look “too young” to have a disability. This attitude, and its results, means that there are a lot of young people with disabilities face discrimination at the intersection of ageism and ableism.

An understanding of intersectionality is important because, quite frankly, intersectionality also allows us to have a basic understanding of how different groups of people, even within a community that faces discrimination, can face other forms of discrimination too (or further discrimination because of another oppressed identity). Such an understanding can result in greater empathy for others on an individual level, but also hopefully better policy on the governmental level.

[1] The majority of transgender people who were killed due to violence in 2018 were transgender women of color: https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-transgender-community-in-2019

Queer Stereotypes

As I said a few months ago, I will be doing a series addressing stereotypes for LGBTQ+ people—talking about people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, as well as people who are intersex and asexual. I look forward to continuing through this series.

As I am going in order of the acronyms for LGBTQ (or LGBTQIA), it is time for me to discuss stereotypes associated with being queer. But before going into details about those stereotypes, I should start by talking about what it means to be queer and stereotypes associated with friends, fellow writers, celebrities and others who are queer.

Let me start by saying that the definition of “queer” is not one that everyone uses in the same way. The term queer has a history of being used in a derogatory way, and depending on the generation you come from, you may still view queer as a derogatory term.[1] However, more recently, queer has turned into a term that is often used to either: a) describe all people who are not heterosexual and/or not cisgender[2] or b) describe non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgender people who feel that other LGBTQ+ terms such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc. don’t accurately describe who they are.

Given the multitude of definitions of what it means to be queer, there are many stereotypes associated with being queer. Here are a few such stereotypes:

  1. If you are queer, you must be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or some other identity. Not so. As I said in my previous paragraph, one major reason that some people describe themselves as queer is that terms such as lesbian or transgender may be too limiting to describe themselves and their experiences.
  2. All queer people face the same struggles. Once again, not so. It seems like the people who oftentimes battle the most for inclusion, even within the LGBTQ+ community, are queer people of color and queer people with disabilities. This is truly a case where it is important to understand the concept of intersectionality, where different forms of discrimination overlap, combine, and even intersect, with each other. In the case of queer people of color or queer people with disabilities, for example, it is important to understand how being queer and being disabled can overlap and intersect with each other to result in exclusion among other queer people (for being disabled) or other disabled people (for being queer).
  3. Queer people are confused about their identity. This stereotype comes from the fact that many queer people don’t view themselves as specifically any other identity (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc.). Queer does not equal confused. However, people who are uncertain about their gender or sexual identity fit under a different “q” term that is sometimes used in the LGBTQ acronym instead of “queer”: that term is “questioning.”
  4. “But you don’t look queer…” Even though certain “looks” are still associated with being queer, the reality is that there is no single way that someone could possibly “look” queer. Being queer has nothing to do with how one looks.

These, of course, are just a few of the harmful stereotypes associated with being queer. If there are other stereotypes about queer people that should be discussed and/or if anyone wants to expand upon the queer stereotypes mentioned here, please feel free to post a comment below!

Previous posts in my series on LGBTQ+ stereotypes:

[1] https://abcnews.go.com/Health/gay-man-millennial-term-queer-word/story?id=20855582

[2] Cisgender people are people whose gender corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth.

The LGBTQ Pride Flag. Ludovic Bertron from New York City, Usa [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5DThe LGBTQ Pride Flag.