Monday, October 6, 2008

The Three Waves of Feminism, a Short History Lesson

The First Wave

Early 1900s. As an outgrowth of the abolition movement, women campaign for suffrage. Because women in our country COULDN’T VOTE until the 19th amendment was passed--in 1920!!!

The Second Wave

The 1970s. Women protest and burn bras (actually they never actually burned the bras) and march to expand women’s access to and equity in the workplace. Huge strides are made not only in the professional sphere, but in terms of recognition of women as people not objects,
Downside: The focus on workplace rights puts motherhood and domesticity in a dark corner. Announcing that you want to grow up to be a mother sounds positively un-feminist.

The Third Wave

The ‘90s and beyond. Some say this is a post-feminist era, but no, no, friends—this is the best feminist era of all. And here we are, right in the middle of it! Now the pendulum swings back a bit. Resting on our laurels of improved pay equity and civil rights, women re-appropriate things like crocheting, lipstick, and sexiness. The point of feminism is that women are empowered to make and act upon their own choices, right? Well, some of us want to do things our allegedly unenlightened 1950s pre-feminists did. Empowered doesn’t have to mean butch. The 1990s sees a huge trend of professional women postponing or scaling down their professional responsibilities to invest more time in their families. Being a homemaker can be hip. (Stress on the word can. Note to self: Let’s work on that.)

Examples of the third wave:

  • Madonna and Gwen Stefani. Message: You can be sexy, vampy, and powerfully feminist.
  • The resurgence of sewing, crafting, crocheting, canning, etc.
  • Slick magazines catering to mothers.
  • Sarah Palin carrying her baby on the dais after accepting the VP nomination.


  1. I definitely see how this could be some of the best - feminism wise - times. We really can finally do whatever we choose and that's OK. And what a relief that motherhood can be hip! I think I attain that maybe once a week - but it keeps me going.

  2. Can you tell I'm playing catch-up on your blog again? Skipping around, commenting here and there.

    I've thought a lot about this 3rd wave. Around here it's what I call the downtown portland mom. She's hip and yet very in-the-moment with her 1.7 children, at the museum or the blues festival. I'm not exactly her, but I honor her arrival.