Skip to content

First Wave Of Feminism Essay

Feminism was a very political movement during its first and second waves. Thenew Third Wave of feminism is quite different from the previous two. These threefeminist writers all shed light on the views of modern feminists. Katie Roiphe hascontributed to the New York Times Magazine and Playboy. She has also published twobooks, The Mourning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus, and more recently,Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century s End. Roiphe s essay TheIndependent Woman (and Other Lies) tells how second wave feminism is effecting herlife as a third wave feminist. One of her colleagues is Yvonne Abraham. She is a staffwriter at the Boston Phoenix, where she covers city politics, race, and most anything else. Abraham s essay, Lipstick Liberation, is more focused on what is wrong with the thirdwave of feminism from a second wave feminist s view. The third feminist writer isChristina Hoff Sommers. She is an associate professor of philosophy at Clark Universitywho specializes in contemporary moral theory. Sommers articles have appeared inseveral publications including the New Republic, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune,and the New England Journal of Medicine. She has edited two ethics textbooks, andpublished numerous professional papers. Sommers is a second wave feminist, but in heressay, she criticizes second wave feminism. The three waves of feminism must now be explained for the reader to get a fullunderstanding of what these women are trying to say. The first wave of feminism washighly political. It involved the grouping together of many women in this country to fightfor women s suffrage (the right to vote). This movement first got women activelyinvolved in politics. The second wave of feminism, unlike the first, had more than one objective. Second wave feminists wanted equality in everything. They argued that men and womenwere equal in everything, and should be treated this way. This meant equality in the workplace, at home, and in the eyes of the government. However, although second wavefeminists have made many advances in women s rights, all their goals were notaccomplished. Men still get paid more and hold a majority of lucrative and governmentpositions. The third wave of feminism is completely different from the first two. No, or verylittle politics are involved here. A third wave feminist concentrates more on herself, andhow she feels. Third wave feminists write about how they feel, and why second wavefeminism has made it practically impossible for a third wave feminist to have everythingshe wants in life. Second wave feminism has forced all third wave feminists to becompletely independent, even if they wish otherwise. Kathie Roiphe is herself a third wave feminist. She criticizes her mother, AnneRoiphe, and the rest of her mother s generation. Her mother is a second wave feministwho taught total independence at the expense of marriage. Abraham, however, does notagree with Kathie Roiphe. Abraham is chronologically a third wave feminist. She, unlikeKathie Roiphe, agrees with the second wave feminists. She argues that today s popularbrand of feminism focuses on too much individualism, and not enough on politics andwomen s problems as a whole. Sommers is a different story altogether. She is a secondwave feminist who is condemning other second wave feminist for the lies they spread withinaccurate and incomplete data. She believes that political activism is important, but not ifit is based on lies. To put it simply, Kathie Roiphe is confused. Her mother, Anne Roiphe was a veryprominent leader of the second wave of feminism. She was raised in a very liberal feministhousehold, yet her parents were not truly equal. Kathie s father was the breadwinner ofthe house. He got up and went to work everyday, and it was he that paid for all of thefamily s necessities. This, Kathie believes, means that her parents were not really equal,nomatter what her mother said, taught, or believed. Even though Kathie Roiphe is herselfa successful writer, she says that when she thinks about marriage, she says somewheredeep in the irrational layers of my psyche, I still think of the man as the breadwinner (Roiphe 127). She says that she feels as though she is working for fulfillment, for reward, for the richness of life promised by feminism. What she means by this is thatthe second wave feminist have put an image of how every woman should be totallyindependent in the public s mind. Therefore even if it is not what they want, third wavefeminist almost are forced to try to live up to this image. At the same time, this is and is not what Roiphe wants for herself. She is acompletely independent women, and she says that she wouldn t dream of giving up hercareer. However, she dreams of a Man in a Gray Flannel Suit (Roiphe 127). Thisfantasy of her s comes from a book written by Sloan Wilson entitled The Man in the GrayFlannel Suit. Roiphe wishes for someone who can support her, even though she does notneed to be supported. She does not want to have to worry about such things as bills andcar payments. She wants a man to go to work everyday and bring home the money andworry about the bills himself. Roiphe does realize that she cannot have it both ways


though. She knows she cannot have everything she wants. Therefore, Roiphe decides tocontinue to date men who aren t terribly rich, and don t pay for dates and buy herexpensive dresses and such. In real life, she takes the average man, but in her dreams andfantasies, the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit will live on. Abraham attacks Roiphe and other third wave feminists like her. She describesthem as pod feminists (Abraham 137) because she thinks that they aren t reallyfeminists. They do not fight for the rights of women, they just write about how they feel,and how they think women should be able to live. One problem is that The third wavedefines itself primarily in contrast to the second (Abraham 137). This causes a problem,because the third wave feminists are now alienated from the second wave feminists. If thethird wave of feminism concentrates on how the second wave feminism s accomplishmentshas made their lives harder, the two will never get anything accomplished together. Abraham also thinks that third wave feminists go too far when they write about traditionalfeminism s underappreciation of the personal gains women have made. They include toomuch of their personal lives, taking away from the analysis of the situation. However,this is not likely to change because third wave feminist writers are too marketable. Abraham writes they are completely in sync with their times and, more significant, withpublishing trends. Third wave writers include many personal details in their writings, andit appears that great personal revelations sell. The problem with this is that the writingturns into a form of a memoir, and it fails to address many truly important issues. Thirdwave feminist write as if the world revolves around them. By writing this way, attention istaken away from more important political and economic questions about women sequality. Traditional feminism is mostly about women. Third-wave writing, by contrast,is mostly about feminism (Abraham 138). Abraham also identifies another major flaw in the writing of third wave feminists. She says that third wave feminists write like the world is kind to women now, whichAbraham apparently disagrees with. She thinks that by writing about their personal lives,third wave writers sidestep more important issues that still beset women. Abraham evengoes as far as to say that third wave writers even undermine attempts to fix them. Abraham believes that problems, such as not enough women in government and theincome gap between men and women , need to be brought to the attention of the public inorder to get something done about them. Third wave writers effectively punch theseimportant issues to the side in favor of more personal details, which sell more books. Abraham, in general, believes that third wave feminists need to become more politicallyactive.Christina Hoff Summers addresses a different issue altogether. She is a second wavefeminist who criticizes the way other second wave feminists have made the public viewwomen as emotionally and physically fragile. Summers argues that many feminist writerswrite about how the selves of girls are going down in flames, and about how their selfesteem suffers from coed schools. She says that adolescent girls are even more stable thenmen are quoting a statistic that six times as many boys as girls committee suicide. Theproblem, as she sees things, is that there is no evidence to prove that girls, as a group, areany worse off than boys of the same age group. Sommers says that the reality is thecontemporary women s movement is obsessed with proving that our system is riggedagainst women (Sommers 149). No matter how much success and improvement youshow them, it seems that feminists can always come up with some example of how womenare oppressed. Sommers believes that it is irresponsible to think that women are worse offthen men, as a whole. She says that the women s movement is still fixed on victimology,and that where they can t prove discrimination against women, they invent it. Sommers argues that the American Association of University Women released asurvey in 1991, it was badly distorted. The survey claimed that American girls suffer froma tragic lack of self-esteem. The major problem with this survey is that first the AAUWput the belief in people s minds, and then it went out and tried to find data to confirm theirbeliefs. The truth is, American women are the freest in the world. Anyone who doesn tsee this simply lacks common sense (Sommers 150). Until reading the writings of these three women, feminism was an alien topic tome. Now I have a far better understanding of what it means to be a feminist. I, for one,am inclined to agree with Sommers and Abraham more than Roiphe. It appears to methat Roiphe s writing seriously undermines that of the second wave feminists, who havemade tremendous advances in women s rights. Sommers has a good point when shepoints out the errors of the misleading studies on adolescent girls. Abraham also pointsout that there is still a need to bring women s rights to the attention of the politiciansbecause women still aren t paid as much as men, and there still aren t as many women asmen in high paying and political positions. I don t think Roiphe et al are truly feminists. They are just writers complaining about feminism and looking to make some money in thebook and television industries.

While the roots of feminism are buried in ancient Greece, most recognize the movement by the three waves of feminism. The third being the movement in which we are currently residing.

The first wave (1830’s – early 1900’s):Women’s fight for equal contract and property rights

Often taken for granted, women in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, realized that they must first gain political power (including the right to vote) to bring about change was how to fuel the fire. Their political agenda expanded to issues concerning sexual, reproductive and economic matters. The seed was planted that women have the potential to contribute just as much if not more than men.

[Image from Pixabay]

The second wave (1960’s-1980’s):Broadening the debate

Coming off the heels of World War II, the second wave of feminism focused on the workplace, sexuality, family and reproductive rights. During a time when the United States was already trying to restructure itself, it was perceived that women had met their equality goals with the exception of the failure of the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (which has still yet to be passed).


This time is often dismissed as offensive, outdated and obsessed with middle class white women’s problems. Conversely, many women during the second wave were initially part of the Black Civil Rights Movement, Anti Vietnam Movement, Chicano Rights Movement, Asian-American Civil Rights Movement, Gay and Lesbian Movement and many other groups fighting for equality. Many of the women supporters of the aforementioned groups felt their voices were not being heard and felt that in order to gain respect in co-ed organizations they first needed to address gender equality concerns.

Women cared so much about these civil issues that they wanted to strengthen their voices by first fighting for gender equality to ensure they would be heard.

The third wave (1990’s – present):The “micropolitics” of gender equality

Today and unlike the former movements, the term ‘feminist’ is received less critically by the female population due to the varying feminist outlooks. There are the ego-cultural feminists, the radicals, the liberal/reforms, the electoral, academic, ecofeminists… the list goes on.

[Image from Pixabay]

The main issues we face today were prefaced by the work done by the previous waves of women. We are still working to vanquish the disparities in male and female pay and the reproductive rights of women. We are working to end violence against women in our nation as well as others.

We are still fighting for acceptance and a true understanding of the term ‘feminism,’ it should be noted that we have made tremendous progress since the first wave. It is a term that has been unfairly associated first, with ladies in hoop skirts and ringlet curls, then followed by butch, man-hating women. Due to the range of feminist issues today, it is much harder to put a label on what a feminist looks like.

Quite frankly, it all comes down to the dictionary’s very simple yet profound definition: “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” If that’s what a feminist is – who wouldn’t want to be called that?

Learn more about how Feminism is defined:  Feminism: Why Not ‘Egalitarianism’ or ‘Humanism’?

Filed Under: Featured Home, Leadership