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Feminism, a word which is defined by, argued against, used for and attacked by different people of various societies at different situations in several ways. But, twist it or mold it, nothing goes to vary the core meaning and motive of this very fashionable social concept named feminism. Let’s know the important idea behind this word, whether it’s against men or simply support women?
Feminism can be called as a chain of social movements and ideologies that’s only motive is to define and establish the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes. Its main aim is to uplift the status of women and make the opportunities equally available for ladies as men had. But how did it all began and what led to emergence of feminism, feminists and their movements? To get an answer to all of these questions, let’s revisit the past to witness the historic steps towards women empowerment.
Feminism came mainly in three phases. First-wave feminism refers to an extended period of feminist activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century within the UK and the US. Originally, it focused on the promotion of equal contract and property rights for ladies and therefore the opposition to chattel marriage and ownership of married women (and their children) by their husbands. However, by the top of the nineteenth century, activism focused totally on gaining political power, particularly the proper of women’s suffrage. Yet, feminists like Voltairine de Cleyre and Sanger were still active in campaigning for women’s sexual, reproductive, and economic rights at this point. In 1854, Nightingale established female nurses as adjuncts to the military.
In Britain, in support of women, the Suffragettes and, possibly more effectively, the Suffragists campaigned for the women’s vote. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned houses. In 1928, this was extended to all or any women over twenty-one. Within the United States, leaders of this movement included Lucretia Mott, Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, who each campaigned for the abolition of slavery before championing women’s right to vote; all were strongly influenced by Quaker thought. American first-wave feminism involved a good range of girls. Some, like Frances Willard, belonged to conservative Christian groups like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Others, like Matilda Joslyn Gage, were more radical, and expressed themselves within the National Woman Suffrage Association or individually. American first-wave feminism is taken into account to possess ended with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the us Constitution (1919), granting women the proper to choose all states. The term first wave was coined retrospectively after the term second-wave feminism began to be used to describe a more modern feminism that focused the maximum amount on fighting social and cultural inequalities as political inequalities.
Second-wave feminism refers to the amount of activity within the early 1960s and lasting through the late 1980s. The scholar Imelda Whelehan suggests that the second wave was a continuation of the sooner phase of feminism involving the suffragettes within the UK and USA. Second-wave feminism has continued to exist since that point and coexists with what’s termed third-wave feminism. The scholar Estelle Freedman compares first and second-wave feminism saying that the primary wave focused on rights like suffrage, whereas the second wave was largely concerned with other problems with equality, like ending discrimination. The feminist activist and author Carol Hanisch coined the slogan “The Personal is Political” which became synonymous with the second wave. Second-wave feminists saw women’s cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked and encouraged women to know aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and as reflecting sexist power structures.
Third-wave feminism began within the early 1990s, arising as a response to perceived failures of the second wave and also as a response to the backlash against initiatives and movements created by the second wave. Third-wave feminism seeks to challenge or avoid what it deems the second wave’s essentialist definitions of femininity, which (according to them) over-emphasize the experiences of upper middle-class white women. A post-structuralize interpretation of gender and sexuality is central to much of the third wave’s ideology. Third-wave feminists often specialize in “micro-politics” and challenge the second wave’s paradigm on what’s, or is not, good for females. The third wave has its origins within the mid-1980s. Feminist leaders rooted within the second wave like Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, Chela Sandoval, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and lots of other black feminists, sought to barter an area within feminist thought for consideration of race-related subjectivities.
Third-wave feminism also contains internal debates between different feminists like the psychologist Carol Gilligan (who believes that there are important differences between the sexes) and people who believe that there are not any inherent differences between the sexes and contend that gender roles are thanks to social conditioning. As we can analyze that all the three waves of feminism never actually mentioned anything against men. It just tried to get women stand up for themselves in different fields for bringing equality not dominating the any other gender. And, in this whole process of fighting for their rights and realising their existence as an individual full of potential, many movements worked and many failed. But, how did these movements reach India?
Talking about the starting of feministic movements in India, it was not that different from foreign countries. Like the feminists all over the world, feminists in India also seek gender equality, i.e., the right to equal wages and salaries at workplaces, the right to equal access to health and education facilities, and also equal political rights. Indian feminists also have fought against culture-specific issues within India’s conservative patriarchal society, such as inheritance laws and after a really long legal battle, now they have equal rights on her parents’ property as a son would have. The history of feminism in India too can be divided into three phases: the very first phase was in the beginning in the mid-19th century, initiated when reformists began to speak in favor and support of women rights by making reforms in education and customs involving women. The second phase began from 1915 to Indian independence, when Gandhi incorporated women’s movements into the Quit India movement and independent women’s organizations began to establish for the much needed improvement in women’s conditions. And finally, the third phase came post-independence, which has focused on every aspect where women were considered interior. It included fair treatment of women at home after marriage, in the work force, and also, right to political parity. As we know, everything happens for a reason, so what were the basic reasons behind all these movements, efforts and feministic approach?
Well, I doubt anyone would deny the amount of sufferings women have faced in the past. Though, not everything has changed but the condition of female today is hundred times better than what it was. This revolutionary concept was much needed because the horrible discrimination women have faced right from their birth is just so disturbing. Talking about birth, how can we forget female infanticide, where families used to determine the sex of the baby and in case the baby turned out to be a girl, abortion was the only next thing done. And if the girl child is born, there was no significance of her life, her decisions, her dreams and her choices as an individual. No education was provided to them earlier and learning household chores like cooking and looking after children were considered as their job. They were not only education deprived, but also treated in an inhumane way to that extent that their yes or no didn’t even matter. Elders used to get tender aged girls married to a much older man, which is referred as child marriage. Imagine the situation of that girl child who does not even know what’s going on with her. Moreover, they were forced to fulfill the sexual need of their husbands without any consent as if the wives are the property of men.
Adding to all this, there were number of crimes done against womanhood as a normal practice back then, like dowry. This concept of dowry has taken so many lives of females that we cannot even imagine. Huge amount of money, property, gold, etc. were demanded by the in laws and if not fulfilled, they either used to reject the marriage proposal or used to taunt, abuse and sometimes also beat their daughter in laws which resulted into dowry death cases. Domestic violence is such a common crime nowadays, such cases actually never stopped or reduced. Not only this, actually none of the patriarchal practices have completely stopped, they still prevail and that too in a quite good amount. Rapes are increasing day by day, the increasing rate of reported cases is so much more than the speed of trial and declaring punishment. Even cases of acid attacks just because the girl refused to marry a man is not at all new to ears. Sexual harassment at workplaces and asking physical benefits in exchange of promotion and equal salaries as men makes earning livelihood so difficult for women.
After suffering all this, why feminism should have not come into existence? It’s the result of those movements and raised voice of women only that today, women are doing wonders in their professional as well as personal lives. The laws like Dowry Prohibition Act, punishment against rapes, female infanticide or foeticide, domestic violence and reservations for women in educational institutions, competitive exams and other sectors are very crucial and necessary, not to suppress men but to end patriarchy and compensate the female gender for all the discriminations they have faced and facing even today, though it has reduced but it is still practiced in various regions and places in India. This was all really important to give them an equal opportunity, empower them as an individual and make them value their existence in order to utilize their full potential.
So, anti-feminists and men who thinks that feminism is making them inferior and suppressing their rights need to understand that it came because all these above mentioned cruelty is done against women and it was very significant to raise the voice opposing all of it. And the reasons, why negligible laws in India favour men, are that at that point of time laws supporting women were needed. And it didn’t happen overnight, it took years. Thus, in order to bring men’s right in attention, one need to raise their issues not attack feminism because feminism works towards equality, not female superiority.
 History of Feminism available at : http://www.gender.cawater-info.net/knowledge_base/rubricator/feminism_e.htm (last visited on February 22nd, 2021)
 Problems faced by women in past available at : https://www.toppr.com/guides/essays/essay-on-issues-and-problems-faced-by-women-in-india/ (last visited on February 23rd, 2021)
Author: Himangi, Amity Law School, Noida
Editor: Kanishka Vaish, Senior Editor, LexLife India.