Waves of Feminism and Me Too Movement

I have chosen to analyse the me-too movement through feminist theory. My essay will aim to outline these theories and closely link them to my example by exploring key themes and concepts relating to the me-too movement.

The me-too movement was founded in 2006 by activist and survivor Tarana Burke. The organizations original aim was to focus on supporting women who are survivors of sexual harassment and abuse. In 2017, the movement became viral after actress ‘Alyssa Milano’ made a viral tweet on twitter, using the hashtag #metoo, accusing Hollywood Producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. The movement then became viral and the hashtag was created. The aim was, and still is, to hold perpetrators accountable, particularly at the time, men, who held a high status of power and influence such as actors, athletes' politicians and more for their criminal acts of sexual assault and harassment. It also aimed to create a sense of unity and solidarity amongst women all over the world, to emphasise the message that they are not alone and are heard. This was one of the most impactful, successful and largest feminist movements of all time as it was spread all across the world, and for the first time, we as a planet started to see cases of sexual assault being treat seriously and repercussions being held to men, despite the power they held in our society. Furthermore, social media really fuelled the me-too movement and potentially without globalisation this wouldn’t have become as known and as widespread as not only celebrities and influencers, but normal people were able to share their personal stories and also help boost other stories so they could be seen, heard and reported all across the world. 

The first wave of feminism began in the mid-19th century, primarily in Britain and the United States, and was centred around women’s suffrage — the right to vote by the peaceful suffragists (led by Millicent Fawcett) and the militant suffragettes (led by Emmeline Pankhurst). They believed that women could not be free unless they were self-governing and felt that women must enter the political sphere in order to make change. 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. In the early movement, suffrage coexisted alongside abolition, and former slave, Sojourner Truth, became famous for her spontaneous and impassioned 1851 speech Ain’t I a Woman? in which she argued for the rights of women of colour. But the movement was dominated by white women, who soon saw advances by people of colour as a possible hindrance to their movement. In 1918 and 1920 respectively, women in the UK and the US were granted the vote and soon after entered the political sphere. However, the vast majority of women in this movement were white, which accounts for their racist rhetoric and unwillingness to include women of colour in the vote.

Following two world wars in which women had more than proven their worth outside the home, women assembled in the 1960s alongside the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam war protests. They 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). By the 1960’s, the women’s movement began to split into two groups: equal rights feminists and radical feminists. The former wanted equality in the workplace and home, while the latter was dedicated to a more radical shift in patriarchal society. Equal rights feminists sought policies like anti-discrimination laws in the job market, whereas radical feminists looked past policies and sought to deconstruct gender roles and start a literal feminist revolution. In 1969, the National Organization for Women organized the Congress to Unite Women in an attempt to reconcile the differences, but neither side understood one another. For example, radical feminists like Adrienne Rich were outraged that equal rights feminists did not recognize lesbian existence. Furthermore, there was a huge gap in age, class, and race between the two groups. Equal rights feminists were primarily older, white women, whereas radical feminists were more diverse, though they were primarily white as well. 

Second wave feminists did, however, succeed in some ways. They espoused social, sexual and reproductive liberation, helped along by the commercial availability of the pill in 1961. They lived by Carol Hannish’s motto, ‘the personal is political,’ and advocated for a universal sisterhood. They argued that beauty ideals objectified and held women back, spurred on by thinkers like Simone de Beauvoir whose 1949 The Second Sex explained gender as a social construct. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique staunchly rejected domesticity became a bestseller, and Gloria Steinem’s radical feminist magazine, Ms, was a 1970s favourite. They did not burn their bras! However, the successes of the second wave did not account for all women, and daughters of second-wavers realized that this “women’s rights movement” did not acknowledge non-white, lower class women. 

Thus, the third wave of feminism began in the mid-1990s as a reaction to the failures of second wave feminism. Women’s lib was criticised for being white and middle-class dominated, so also saw the rise of intersectional feminism after the phrase was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in the 1980s. Intersectionality examines the interconnected structure of society that includes race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other defining characteristics. It critiques the different experiences of intersecting identities like being a Black woman versus a white woman, acknowledging that the former faces a more complicated form of oppression than the latter. Thinkers like Audre Lorde and bell hooks argued for a more inclusive movement that fought for race, class and LGBTQ rights, creating accessible works that could be understood by many. 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.

Unlike the former movements, the term ‘feminist’ becomes less critically received by the female population due to the varying feminist outlooks. There are the ego-cultural feminists, the radicals, the liberalreforms, the electoral, academic, ecofeminists… the list goes on. The main issues were prefaced by the work done by the previous waves of women. The fight continued to vanquish the disparities in male and female pay and the reproductive rights of women. This wave was about acceptance and a true understanding of the term ‘feminism’. Third wave feminism reclaims traditionally sexist images and redefines what it means to be a “woman.”. Icons like Madonna and Queen Latifah sought to display that women could be domineering and powerful rather than shy and passive. In fact, the third wave is also referred to as “grrrl feminism” because it empowers women to define their own beauty rather than be objects of men’s desire. they believed that feminism should be for everyone, rejecting the universal sisterhood as excluding LGBTQ and trans women and instead promoting a feminism defined by the individual. Lipstick feminists tossed aside the idea of beauty as patriarchal oppression and embraced push-up bras and high heels to prove that femininity and intelligence were not mutually exclusive. Pop stars like Madonna and The Spice Girls preached girl power in platform shoes and conical bras. Riot Grrrls rejected the idea of female victimhood, and sought to undermine sexists by reclaiming words like ‘bitch’ and ‘slut’ and creating feminist zines littered with the words. Feminist writers included Rebecca Walker, who was fed up with discussions of a ‘postfeminist age,’ Judith Butler developed upon gender constructs in Gender Trouble (1990) and Eve Ensler encouraged women to love their bodies in The Vagina Monologues. However, “Vagina Monologues” promotes the idea that being a woman is equivalent to having a vagina, which invalidates trans identities. Some third-wavers are adamant about this definition of “woman” which only benefits cisgender women, but stifles trans rights. Critiques like this have led to the rise of fourth wave feminism.

Fourth wave feminism is not commonly classified as separate from the third wave because they share many similarities. It differs from the previous wave, though, because it prioritizes making feminist critique in public discourse through public spaces and social media. Body positivity movements, sexual assault awareness and slutwalks are all examples of how the fourth wave catapults feminism into the public spotlight through the hands of non-academics. Celebrating all cultures, it is the most intersectional, inclusive, and gender fluid of all the waves. The fourth wave has seen people mobilise and organise through social media, starting movements through blogs (Malala Yousafzai), viral videos (Pussy Riot), collectives (Sisters Uncut) and Ted Talks (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) and protesting widely against sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence, period poverty, paternity leave and equal pay. Some believe the most defining aspect of the fourth wave is how it utilizes the internet and social media, creating a “call out” culture where feminists concentrate on micropolitics and everyday rhetoric online. The fourth wave holds people accountable through movements such as Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism, anti-FGM campaigns by Nimco Ali and Leyla Hussein, the Black Lives Matter organisation and the exposing of endemic sexual assault across multiple industries resulting in Time’s Up, and it explores how patriarchal oppression is also damaging to men. Another example of this would also be the #metoo campaign, which employs hashtag activism to spread awareness of feminist issues. Fourth wave feminism is embraced by celebrities and politicians alike so that today, a century after women secured the vote, it is no longer a dirty word but something to be proud of. We must acknowledge the preceding waves of feminism that are built from earlier women’s accomplishments in order to better understand where feminism lies today and where the future of feminism is heading.

Overall, there are four waves of feminism that have brought different ourcomes to the world. The me too movement is an example of feminist theory as it is all about women coming together to support one another, this has been enabled by the history of feminism and how women become unified, in particular, the waves of feminism.

01 August 2022
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