I am of opinion that people who classify feminism ideology into several categories and narrow-mindedly think that feminists MUST fall into one of those categories do not know a lot about feminism itself. Or, they are still learning what feminism is. They still know the ‘outer’ part and then talk about feminism as if they know all the contents. As if there were no feminists who were ‘free’ from any of those classification. As if people who claimed themselves as feminists must then ‘follow’ the teachings of feminism category they embrace rigidly. They cannot mix one feminism category with another. For example: a radical feminist cannot embrace what a liberal feminist says.
Indeed there are some ‘waves’ in feminism history: the first—that referred to the struggle of early feminists starting in the middle of the eighteenth century America whose main, or perhaps the solely goal was to give women suffrage; the second—that referred to Betty Friedan’s contemporaries in 1960s whose struggle was to give women rights to work in public sphere; and the third, that recently has been also popularly known as post-feminism starting in the beginning of 1990s. There must be a very clear reason why this process took place and there must be a very strong tie among the first, the second, and the third ‘waves’ of women movement.
In this article, I will write the process as well as the tie in a nutshell. And, since my educational background is American Studies so that I read the history from books written by American authors, I will specifically refer to the history of women movement in America.
America declared its independence in 1776 and started having its own government ever since. From the very first general election, women were not included in the general election. American pious society thought that general election that would select president was considered as men’s affair. Before the industrial revolution really changed the life of American people, this means women were also considered as breadwinner in the agrarian lifestyle, not having right to vote in the general election was the main ‘scapegoat’ that women were considered weaker than men. It is understandable then if entering the eighteenth century, women thought that they would be equal with men when they got suffrage. The first women convention officially held in 1848 in Seneca Falls was the first formal appeal for women suffrage. The women involved in this movement—led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton—worked hand in hand with the abolitionists.
American women eventually got their right to vote in the general election in 1920, after struggling for more than seven decades.
Getting the goal they had been struggling for a quite long period in fact ‘weakened’ women’s struggle. They thought that they had been ‘equal’ with men merely because they could join the general election.
The ‘boom’ of the industrial revolution resulted more and more factories that made more and more men leave their dwelling places to work. (Before, they had home industry besides relied their life on the agriculture. This made both men and women stayed home, to earn money together.) The ‘guilty’ feeling of being money-oriented creature due to the industrial revolution, selfish American men, working together with ‘the church’ bodies, created ‘the cult of True Womanhood’ that trapped women to be domestic creatures. When men could leave home to earn money, they insisted that their wife stay home.
The second world war—where many men had to go to war—needed women to leave their home to work in big industries. However, when the war was over, men resumed their position, they forced women to go back home. American society still embraced the cult of true womanhood with its four tenets: piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity.
This force made articulate and intellectual women like Betty Friedan question: “then what?” after being a good wife. Women did not have freedom to choose public sphere job. To be a ‘true’ woman, a woman had to give up her public life. While in fact, during the second world war, women had ‘obligation’ to continue American industrial life by leaving their home. This showed that women were as capable as men in public sphere.
It is then understandable if Friedan and her contemporaries in the beginning of 1960s struggled for women to get right to pursue job outside home, because they believed that women were as good as men. Since men did not easily believe in women’s skills and capabilities, they thought that to be ‘similar’ to men, women also had to get dressed as men, to behave as men, women had to be masculine to ‘equalize’ themselves to men, etc.
Domestic chores were just as boring and made women left behind men.
As time went by, women started to realize that the core of equality between men and women lied on the control of our own bodies and mind, and not let other people control ourselves. Society could not force women to work in public spheres or to appear feminine/masculine. This was the main tenet in postfeminism, where in the beginning people mistakenly labeled it as anti-feminism. Working in public sphere or being feminine/masculine is fully women’s choice, and not right of the father, brother, or husband. There is no right or wrong in this matter. Women have full right to rule their own life.
There is nothing that does not change in this world, wise people say. This is natural law. People have to wisely recognize the history, though, how the changes happen.
I belong to the feminist who refuses to classify myself as a liberal, radical, Marxian, or any other feminists.
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