In the present day and age, no one ignores feminism, which means different things to different people. And it’s ironic how in the real world out there, feminists are still divided in terms of how they are taking the movement forward. As a result, we have those who are still fighting to achieve basic human rights like the right to vote and the freedom to drive cars, while others have moved on to a more radical form of feminism, and are running campaigns like #freethenipple. The #MeToo movement in the recent past, created a discussion regarding women’s rights in the corporate world, where multiple women came forward with their stories of sexual abuse, and we, as a generation, felt a grappling need to understand women’s perspective from each frame of reference. In light of these facts, its pertinent to know the genesis of the feminist movement and whether it was something that began when women made the demand for equal pay or was simply the result of fighting over oppression and misandry that women had been subjugated to, for thousands of years. Feminism has had its different waves throughout history and let’s take a peek at its various waves to understand the movement better.
The 1st Wave of Feminism
The first wave of feminism was a time when the demand for equal rights, like the freedom to vote, equal contract, property rights, and other social reforms were made. In India, this was the era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, where concepts of modernity, like liberation of lower castes and equality for all genders were commuted to India by the Britishers. It was during this time that demands for a ban on archaic practices like Sati and a discourse for widow remarriage were made for the first time. Gradually, as the nationalist movement surged in India, women also sought higher education and demanded that the government ban child marriages and raise the age of consent. As a result of this wave, women demanded that they be considered as more than their husbands' extension, and demanded some respect in their manner of living, thereby prompting some important social reforms and creating a pathway for future feminists.
The 2nd Wave of Feminism
While the first wave agreed on a more traditional role for women, the second wave feminists wanted to venture out and do all things that had been forbidden to women. India saw the peak of the second wave of feminism coincide with its nationalist struggle for independence, between the years 1915 and 1947. During this time, Indian women joined the non-violent Civil Disobedience Movement and played an important role in Satyagraha movements across the country. Organizations like the All-India Women's Conference (AIWC) took the responsibility of educating and encouraging women to join the freedom struggle, helped develop livelihood strategies for working class women and also helped promote civic rights of women, during the framing of the constitution after independence.
The 3rd Wave of Feminism
In the post-independence period, feminism began to support women who were in the workforce. Owing to education, many women were now able to think about themselves with regards to questions of identity and individuality, which encouraged them to fight against issues like unequal pay, inclusion of women in male-dominated spheres like the army, politics, among other avenues. This wave was path-breaking, owing to the fact that it also had the first female prime minister of free India. Post this period, many reforms have been made to make India a better and safer place for women, in the form of constitutional laws to protect women against domestic violence, sexual assault at workplaces, death penalty for extreme rape cases, among others. And the fight still continues to make India genuinely equal to all genders.
The 4th Wave of Feminism
In the 21st century, the focus has now shifted from providing adequate rights to women, to ensuring that women have the autonomy and power to make their own choices. With movements like #MeToo, women have decided to freely voice their concerns over the atrocities faced by them in all ways. Technology and social media have played a huge role in propagating the idea of a modern woman, who is responsible for her own actions, taking charge of her life and most importantly, standing up for herself. It has given access to women across race, creed, caste and sex to have an opinion on the way they have been treated and to do something about it. This modern-day feminism has grown to become accepting towards different cultures and traditions, agreeing that women can have multiple roles and responsibilities in a society because a woman can be whatever and whomever she decides to be, thereby basing feminism on their own experiences and beliefs, as opposed to what it should be.
It sure can be established that significant change has been brought by these different waves of feminism, but a lot of what women want to say still goes unheard or unaccepted. Hence, it’s important to keep raising our voices so that those who ignore us can hear us roar.