Feminism from the 70s through the 90s

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

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By Aya Z. – 10IP

/ˈfɛmɪnɪz(ə)m/(Noun) the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

Feminism is the response to gender inequality. In today’s world, women have to deal with uneven access to education, lower employment quality, job segregation, lack of legal protection, lack of autonomy of their own bodies, poor medical care, lack of representation and seclusion from male dominated fields, racism, and toxic stereotypes. The women of the past had to deal with even more limitations like zero access to birth control, no right to vote, etc.… Gender inequality is archaic and backwards. The fight for equality persists and the powerful women of today will most definitely not be submitting to the patriarchy.

The fight for gender equality officially started in 1848 in the Woman’s Rights Convention, in Seneca Falls, that discussed and fought for the social, civil and religious rights of women. The purpose was “to declare our right to be free as man is free” as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the meeting’s organizers said in a speech. A manifesto of these resolutions was created and named the Declaration of Sentiments. In the following 4 years, this Declaration of Sentiments was the holy book of feminists; It was used to educate allies, circulate pamphlets, petition US national Legislatures, and bring the world’s attention to the movement.

There were many notable victories leading up to the 70’s, such as the ratification of the 19th amendment for gender-equal voting in the US; but a new wave of feminism arose in the 70’s. On the other side of the world, the women of France began writing about feminism, calling it “écriture feminine”. New realizations were also theorized and put into writing. The term “materialist feminism” also emerged in the 70’s. It explains female oppression in terms of capitalism and patriarchy and how society imposes stereotypical gender roles onto men and women. The theory itself though focuses not on seeking transformation within the capitalist system but asking for a social change. In the 70’s, there was an abundance of protests, but also a lot of change. Feminism adopted female LGBTQ+ issues as a legitimate part of the fight for equality. In 1971, a Supreme Court case declared sex discrimination a violation of the 14th Amendment in Reed v. Reed, and the following year, in Eisenstadt v. Bair, the law that prohibits unmarried people from obtaining contraception was overturned. Many more successes followed this as well; by 73’, first trimester abortion had been legalized; by 75’, women were welcomed into jury service; and by 76’, abortion could be a woman’s executive decision. Feminism also gained another superhero in this decade as Ruth Bader Ginsburg began plowing through and overcoming all the limits set on her and all women alike.

Moving into the 80’s, the women continued on with the momentum from all these successes with a Susan B. Anthony coin in their pocket. In France, the fight for women’s rights proceeded and this wave and its teachings spread to Canada. Turkey followed suit. The motivation to fight for equity and equality was popping up in all corners of the world. Due to all the awareness and focus on feminism, even more theories were developed. The theories of liberal and difference feminism emerged, and they depicted the differences and similarities between men and women but how nonetheless equality is demanded. Liberal feminism asked for gender neutral laws as women are limited by the law “whether by impelling them to imitate men, by depriving society of their distinctive contributions, or by letting them participate in society only on terms that favor men”.

“Now, we are becoming the men we wanted to marry. Once, women were trained to marry a doctor, not be one.”— Gloria Steinem, Feminist Activist. In the 90’s, the term 3rd wave was coined. Anita Hill, who was a lawyer, testified against her boss in front of an all-male all-white court to stand up for her sexual harassment. This reignited the sense of oppression in women and it took prominence in the media. Anita Hill took back her power by speaking her truth and this told women that speaking up is power. This even resonated with younger girls and the “Girl Power” movement came to life. It promised young girls a progressive and just future. This nature of hope and empowerment promoted modes of self-expression like girl-made magazines, music, art and websites. The 90’s gave us the Spice Girls, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliott and many feminist anthems. Simultaneously, the men of the industry began very openly judging, objectifying, and sexualizing women in very demeaning songs. This was very counterintuitive and is a struggle that is left to our generation to remove. On the other hand, in other forms of media, women were started to become protagonists and multifaceted characters. For example, in 10 Things I Hate About You, we saw a cool, sassy Kat and not the quiet dolled up housewife to-be trope that was depicted ever so heavily since the dawn of television. The goal of the third wave was to abolish gender role stereotypes. We saw this in the “Riot Grrrls”. A feminist punk subculture of women embraced their femininity and sexuality, brought down the proverbial man, and fought the patriarchy.

An important figure in the third wave was Rebecca Walker and she said, “Do not vote for them unless they work for us. Do not have sex with them, do not break bread with them, do not nurture them if they don’t prioritize our freedom to control our bodies and our lives. I am not a post-feminism feminist. I am the Third Wave.” This encompasses the female struggle. Women were not seen or heard. If they spoke, they were silenced. If they wanted to be seen, they were “put back in their place”. With men as the creators of the oppressive patriarchy, their guilt and empathy were anticipated but never received. So, women stood up for themselves and still to this day fight for what they deserve. As a female myself, I still see microaggressions and sexism instilled in the boys of today. Feminism is not an attack on men or an attempt to strip men of their power, but the demanding of that same power. We are equal, always have been, always will be, and the fight continues.