How Feminism Has Evolved Over The Decades

by Kelly Tunney
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The word feminism looks different to nearly every person. The basic premise relies on the definition of the political, economical, and social equality of the sexes. However, each person's unique experiences bring new influences and issues to the table. Feminism has early roots in the advancement of women in society, as well as in women's obtaining the right to vote, among other things. As the world turns on, feminism reacts, and the changes ultimately make it what it is today. Although the basic premises remain, there are many ways feminism looks different in 2017.

Feminism has experienced waves throughout the years. The first wave began in the 1800s, as a group of white women began demanding equal rights. The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 brought together women tired of men excluding them from national affairs. While there were certainly a host of issues promoted by the women of the first wave of feminism, voting became their most notorious accomplishment. The suffragettes eventually won the fight to give women the right to vote through the 19th Amendment, signed in 1920.

In the 1960s, feminism experienced a second wave. Feminists of the '60s worked to level the playing field in the workplace, as well as gain reproductive freedom and equal treatment within the home. During this time, the important Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade was made in favor of rendering abortion a constitutional right.

The current third wave of feminism began in the '90s and gained steam in recent years as it's morphed into a mainstream title. Though society is still working for equality on a number of issues, women's rights have certainly made progress.

Here are some of the ways feminism has changed and evolved over the years.

1. Feminist Merchandise

While there was definitely feminist propaganda in earlier iterations, the production of pussy hats, shirts that read "The future is female" or "A Women's Place Is In the House and the Senate," and pins with fun feminist slogans, are very prominent everywhere from boutiques to major fashion houses today. In fact, they have become a staple of many feminists' wardrobes. While it's great that there are feminists willing to proudly declare their views, it's also become a profitable industry, taking some of the focus away from the ideals behind the messaging.

2. Marching For Rights

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Much like the take to the streets attitude of the second wave, in 2017, feminists returned to the streets to march for the advancement of women. In 2017, the Women's March was held one day after President Donald Trump's inauguration. Millions of women from around the world gathered to show the government that they would not tolerate threats to their rights.

3. Intersectional Feminism

In the last few years, feminists have become more aware of how the movement has excluded those who were not privileged white women. Today, through intersectional feminism, they have begun acknowledging how things like race, class, and gender affect how each individual experiences oppression in society.

4. Speaking Up For Sexual Assault Victims

Feminists are speaking up against and calling out those accused of sexual assault. Still, women are definitely still judged and criticized by some for reporting sexual assault though. But just looking at New York Magazine's cover of some of Bill Cosby's sexual assault accusers shows how far we've come in giving women a voice to declare their traumatic experiences.

5. Push For Equal Pay

Everyone from actresses in Hollywood to women working minimum-wage jobs have taken up the fight for equal pay. While this isn't necessarily a new topic of feminist concern, it definitely seems more public. Even Jennifer Lawrence wrote about equal pay for Lenny Letter when she found out she was making less than her male co-stars. Celebrities are speaking out and demanding equal pay for movies, and answering questions about it in interviews.

6. Feminist Acts Go Viral

In 2013, Senator Wendy Davis filibustered an abortion bill on the Texas Senate floor, standing in pink sneakers for 13 hours while she tried to get the vote for the bill delayed. Ultimately the vote passed, but her courageous act went viral as supporters watched a live stream of the event, protestors of the bill showed up at the state house, and many followers commented online as the filibuster happened. Social media can easily pick up a story about a brave act of feminism or a terrible act of sexism and pick up steam online and educating others about issues like never before.

7. Social Campaigns Change The Conversation

Hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite and #AskHerMore have both affected Hollywood. In 2016, the amount of white actors, actresses, and films representing mostly white people up for Oscars was overwhelming. So, when viewers and industry people called for more diversity though the hashtag and in public conversation, the Academy made some adjustments to be more inclusive in 2017. Similarly, after hearing 20,000 too many questions to female actresses about who they were wearing and how they manage to balance being a mother and an actress, Hollywood finally had enough of women not being asked substantial questions at red carpet events. The #AskHerMore hashtag gave viewers a way to post interesting questions for red carpet reporters to mix up the usual banter.

8. Feminism Is A Part Of Pop Culture

Perhaps one of the most notable moments when feminism entered mainstream was at the 2014 VMAs when Beyonce ended her performance with a giant Feminist sign glowing behind her. In certain circles, it's become cool to say you're a feminist in public, and stars like Beyonce have had a hand in paving that path.

9. Women's Magazines Celebrated For Political Coverage

Women's magazines get a bad reputation for being perceived as only focusing on the coolest new runway looks or the hottest lipstick trends. However, for years, magazines have been discussing gender equality and issues relating directly to women in the workplace, at home, and in the world. Despite the history of women's magazines covering important topics, it wasn't until late last year when writer Lauren Duca wrote in Teen Vogue about Trump's gaslighting of America that people really started looking at women's magazines as channels for political discourse.

10. Fight For LGBTQ Rights

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The LGBTQ community has become an ally for women's rights in recent years, and vice versa. Like intersectional feminism, there is a hurtful past in which feminists did not actively work to advance the rights of the LGBTQ community. But more and more conversations are taking place between the groups and there is more inclusion in feminist discussions of LGBTQ people.

11. Male Allies

The "woke bae" is a phenomenon that has only been perpetuated in recent years, and refers to a significant other who is feminist and progressive. The He For She initiative has also recruited men to take a stand for feminism around the world.

12. Efforts To Elect & Include Women

It was incredibly disappointing for many feminists when Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election against Trump. However, there are plenty of other positions where we need more female leaders. And women who step up and become involved in politics are receiving more support than they ever have. Take, for example, organizations like EMILY's List, which helps elect pro-choice Democrat women in their bid for public office by providing funding for campaigns. Also, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed women to half his cabinet seats.

These are just a few ways that feminism has evolved over the years. The feminist movement still has challenges to face and obstacles to overcome, but with every small success we get closer to our goals of equality.