Definition Essay on Feminism

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Feminism was and is still today, one of the most dominant and impactful cultural movements that has taken place. The main objective of feminism is to have equal rights with men, maybe it be politically, economically, personally, or socially. Feminism has gone through many phases (the first wave of feminism, the second wave of feminism, and the third wave of feminism) because it was a newly found concept and was still growing to accommodate the different kinds of oppression faced by women. Discussed below are the different kinds of identities that helped feminism evolve and the different means of production that were used to spread feminism.

Gender oppression is one of the main reasons feminism came into play. In the 1960s, white women were unsatisfied with their lives of being housewives, there was emptiness they felt but concurrently, girls were getting engaged by the age of 17 and dropping out of high school and college to get married. Besides that, women would get jobs that aren’t really their passion but they didn’t want to pass off as “unfeminine” or “masculine” so that they could find a husband and live “The American Dream”. (Friedman, 1963) The American Dream was the idea that women should get married, have four kids, and settle down in the suburbs. Betty Friedman, the author of “The Feminine Mystique”, talks about these issues. Friedman found that magazines and media played an important role in creating this ideology of “feminine” behaviors that included making the husband feel comfortable after a long day at work and making sure there was food on the table before the husband got back from work. There was something about that that was simply unsatisfying for women. So these women began seeing psychiatrists who attempted to help women adjust better to their “feminine role” or otherwise gave tranquilizers or alcohol to put them at ease. The media then recognized this problem faced by these women and suggested two possible solutions; giving these women more education so they could be more contented with the knowledge they attain so they should feel less unsatisfied with being a housewife. And the other option for fulfillment was sex hinting that women were not satisfied by the men. However, Friedman noticed that it was more than just about sex or education, it was their way of living; women didn’t want to just be housewives anymore, they wanted more from their lives. Friedman compared men's and women’s lives to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and found that men have the ability to fully grow as individuals but there was no room for women for self-development. This inspired Friedman alongside other co-founders Catherine Conroy, Mary Eastwood, and 25 other women start the National Women’s Organization (NOW) with the aim of letting women play an important role in American Society which meant having equal rights, responsibilities, and privileges as men. To this day, the organization still exists and fights for any form of inequality. The organization has made a lot of achievements over the years. In 1967, NOW became the first organization that endorse and legalized abortion. In 1970, NOW filed complaints at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance for sex discrimination against 1,300 organizations for not having proper and legitimate hiring plans for women. In 1971, NOW recognized another branch of feminism, lesbian rights.

Lesbian feminism wasn’t just accepted overnight, there were many challenges faced by lesbian feminists because not only were they oppressed by men, but they also weren’t accepted by heterosexual feminists. (Jagose, 1997) The first club or organization that was created for lesbian feminists was The Daughter of Bilitis (DOB) which was founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. DOB was started due to the underrepresentation of lesbians in the gay liberation movement; the indifference to gender was seen as insignificant or irrelevant and because they wanted more social acceptance for lesbians. DOB's activities included hosting public forums on homosexuality, offering support to isolated, married, and mothering lesbians, and participating in research activities. DOB also created the first lesbian magazine, The Ladder which consisted of poetry, fictional stories, reports by experts, and personal experiences in the context of homosexuality. During the second wave of feminism, feminists weren’t ready to accept lesbianism. This was because most feminist was afraid that it would cost them every right they’d earned and some feminist didn’t understand the necessity of lesbianism. These lesbians were labeled a “lavender menace” by Betty Friedan (Founder of NOW). The lesbians were seen as ruining the feminist image or were worried that it would steal the spotlight away from the main agenda, the equality for women. At the same time, in the movement for gay liberation, the males were on the same side as society when it came to ending sexism. The main issues that lesbian feminists wanted to address were heterosexuality and male domination. In retaliation to the “lavender menace”, this lesbian feminist who named themselves after that critic, but then renamed to “Radicalesbians” passed around a paper to the congress entitled “The women identified women”. The paper talked about how lesbianism was more than just a sexual orientation, it was also about a practice or way of living that included all women. The lesbian experience, described by the Radicalesbians was “the liberation of self, the inner peace, the real love of self and of all women, something to be shared with all women—because we are all women” (Schneir, 1994:162) Through the paper, NOW recognized the double oppression faced by the lesbian feminist and thus by 1971, all the efforts of lesbian feminist were rewarded as NOW accepted lesbianism as a serious concern for a feminist. It was a very important leap for the lesbian feminist as they were now on board with one of the biggest feminist platforms and was only fighting one battle now; equal rights between men and women. From then onwards, NOW took many measures to end sexism amongst homosexuals and to bring greater social acceptance for lesbians. NOW established a task force for sexuality and lesbianism in 1973 and in 1978 they expressed their acceptance of this lesbian feminist by participating in the Gay Freedom Day parade. Subsequently, in 1987, NOW took part in organizing and participating in the national gay and lesbian rights march in D.C., and by 1988, NOW had held another conference in relation to lesbian rights in San Diego, California. In 1993, there was discrimination towards gay men and lesbians in the military and so, NOW, demanded for Bill Clinton and Congress to support the ban on such discrimination. Finally, in 1996, NOW, from initially worrying about the impacts of supporting lesbianism to the names of feminists, announced that they were in full support of homosexual marriages.

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Although all these feminists generally addressed the sexism towards women, they never really addressed the extremes of the oppression. (Hooks, 2015) For instance, racism and classism were never really considered previously, they mainly focused on middle-class, white women. When feminism was coming about in America, they never really considered the black women in the society. When they did, they didn’t respect its validity and often understood the experiences of black women as unauthentic and not genuine. The black feminist movement came about when black women felt isolated and unrepresented by the “Black Liberation Movement” and the “Women’s Movement” because the former was a representation of black men and the latter was a representation of white women. The women were mistreated within both groups. The black liberation movement was dominated by the patriarchal system; equality and humanity towards black women were disregarded. The men in this movement often passed sexist remarks and it was always accepted without being challenged. Meanwhile, in the women’s movement, black women were often alienated and excluded unless the feminists were discussing a topic related to black women and/or women of third-world countries. The most overwhelming frustration faced by the black women was the white women denying their racism, which was mainly influenced by the idea that “those who are oppressed shouldn’t oppress others”. So the black feminist movement was put in motion on the grounds of Reproductive rights, equal access to health care and child care, the rights for the disabled, violence against women (rape, battering, sexual harassment), preserving the environment, etc. National Black Feminist Organizations (NBFO) and Black Women Organized for Action (BWOA) were the earliest organizations formed to represent this movement. They had a diverse set of members; consisting of black women from different classes – high, educated class, middle-class, and low, uneducated classes that all worked together to address the issues they faced. However, black feminists and white feminists had to work hand-in-hand to work towards ending sexism. So, after recognizing their racism towards black women, the feminists became more inclusive and started representing more in NOW. In 1978, NOW adopted and firmly implemented a bylaw, allocating a number of seats to colored women, in 1987, NOW held its first conference, in relation to women of color and reproductive freedom, and lastly, in 2003, NOW encouraged, Carol Mosesly Braun, an African-American woman, to run to become a U. S. President, making her the second African-American woman to try for U. S. Presidency.

Although feminism started off as a representation of middle-class white women, it eventually grew and became a more wholesome movement that included women of varied classes, sexuality, and races. This has not only made a greater stance to fight against the patriarchal system, it also gives an environment for women who feel isolated, to be welcomed and not feel judged. Although in the 21st century racism has dialed down a little, sexual identity still plays an important role among individuals, especially with the range of kinds of sexuality that exist such as homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, transgender, etc. The feminist culture wasn’t rapidly accepted, there were many forms of production that aided its expansion.

When feminism first came about, there weren’t many parties in favor of the concept of women having equal rights to men. However, that culture has changed and a new culture has been produced. There are 6 different ways of culture being produced that are through technology, laws and regulations, industrial structure, organizational structure, occupational career, and the market. (Peterson and Anand, 2004) These different methods play a role in contributing to the spreading of feminism. Technology has definitely contributed to spreading feminism. This is particularly more relevant now, with the widespread usage of technology and social media. It has helped to spread awareness of what is going on around the world and has made It easier for women from around the world to be more aware of what is going on domestically in individual countries. For instance, the case of Farkhunda, an Islamic Studies teacher, who ended up having a heated argument with a male caretaker when on the way to one of her classes. She had a disagreement with the man who claimed that his paper on religion, bore magical powers. The man began saying that “She was American and had burnt the Quran”. Instantly she was surrounded by over 150 men and was beaten up, dragged up and thrown off the roof of a mosque, beaten up with wood and stone, and then burnt. Technology aided the feminist demonstration that was carried out, where only women carried the body of Farkhunda. Technology has given people the ability to spread news and at the same time empower them. There are also laws and regulations that shape feminism maybe it is for feminism or anti-feminism. For instance, in Iceland, there is an Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men that marks equality for men and women in all paradigms of society. Besides that, they also have a law that states companies need to have at least 40% women involved on the board. And at the same time, there are rules that are anti-feminist or discriminatory towards women. For instance, in Cleveland, women aren’t allowed to show too much cleavage and in Michigan, women cannot get a haircut without their husband’s permission. Next would be the institutionalization of feminism. One of the major ways that feminism has been institutionalized is through the spreading of the word of feminism. Initially, it started with feminists writing books to educate the crowd about what feminism is, but in this day and age, social media plays a bigger role in institutionalizing and making feminism a part of social norms. This is because; women tend to have more influence online than offline. For instance, in Pakistan, women have more followers on platforms like Twitter and Google Plus, as compared to their male counterparts. Besides that, women aren’t restricted online as compared to offline due to legal restrictions and economic barriers. So these women use these online platforms to educate users on feminism, thus helping to institutionalize it. Finally, in terms of organizational structure and occupational careers, there are more women now who play an important role in industrial organizations, not just family organizations. They only used to play an important role in raising a family, not they are playing important roles in raising a society. They are business leaders and also handle every problem that is faced by the business. Examples of women in the top seats are Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. So to summarize production, there have been many methods used by feminists to extend the knowledge of the population in relation to feminism. These production methods have contributed to making feminism a more culturally and societally accepted movement in this day and age.

Feminism has gone through many hurdles and has had so much impact on women in society. Had it not been for the founders of feminism, the oppression of women from every aspect may still exist and women would still be unsatisfied with the way they live. This goes to show how and why feminism is such a big cultural movement that is widely appreciated.


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