How Feminism Has Changed Over the Years


Feminism is a movement that promotes women’s empowerment through a series of interconnected concepts and philosophies. They could pertain to social, economic, or political issues. Feminism as a social movement has evolved at various points in human history. Feminist ideology and theory centers on the fundamental concerns of sex differences, the advancement of gender parity, and the promotion of women’s rights and interests (Azcona 351). From the way people view their own culture to the way the law is written, feminism has influenced many different domains. Until the late 1990s, feminism was not well known or considered an important movement (Maguire). Plato, who lived and wrote about 2400 years ago, was an early proponent of feminism because he believed that women should have the same rights as men in society and in politics. This essay is an important aspect of the American women’s rights movement since it evaluates the history of the movement and provides insight into the current state of women’s rights.

Overview of Feminism

Feminists have been at the forefront of the fight for a variety of women’s rights, including the right to vote and own property, the right to enter into contracts, the right to sexual freedom and autonomy, the right to access reproductive health care (including abortion) and protection from rape and other forms of gender-based violence (Azcona 349). Proponents of this movement also campaigned for women’s rights in the workplace, including opportunities for advancement, equal pay, and paid parental leave (Maguire). Over time, feminism has undergone tremendous changes. There have been three distinct phases in feminism’s development. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the first wave of feminists actively sought to advance causes such as women’s suffrage, the elimination of slavery, equal educational opportunities for women, and the promotion of gender parity (O’Neill 74). The 1960s and 1980s gave rise to the second wave of feminism, while the late 1980s marked the beginning of the third and current phase.

White middle-class women and the problems they have encountered have been the primary focus of feminism for most of the movement’s history. As exemplified by Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson, and other prominent modern feminists, the fight for feminism has shifted from women’s rights to universal human rights thanks to hashtag activism and the #metoo campaign (Leung et al., 351). The original concept of feminism has expanded since its inception to encompass much more than just the concept of women’s rights (Maguire). Contemporary feminism advocates for greater gender equality, not their exclusion. It is about more than simply a fight between the sexes; it is also about raising consciousness of all forms of oppression around the world, not just sexism.

Known for her writings in the seventh and eighth centuries, Andal was also viewed as a feminist for her actions at the time. In her pursuit of independence, she shied away from what were traditionally regarded as the duties of a wife. There have been three waves of feminist ideology and theory. The first wave of feminism, which occurred between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was primarily concerned with securing equal voting and property rights for women (The Second Angle). Reproductive rights, patriarchal society, and gender norms were only a few of the societal challenges that the 1960s second wave of feminism sought to address (Maguire). Before the 19th century, women were looked down upon and treated as second-class citizens. Women were seen as unfit for productive societal roles, and the idea that they could hold down a job or go to school was frowned upon. Feminism, which was formerly seen as a positive movement, has developed through the years into more of an ideology and a social movement (The Second Angle). Some people began to oppose the movements because they saw them as anti-family, political movements that enabled and encouraged women to abandon their husbands and children, embrace lesbianism, and bring down communism.

The History of Feminism

It is necessary to examine the background of feminism in order to comprehend its evolution. Most people believe there have been four distinct waves of feminism. Urban industrialism and liberal, socialist politics provided solid basis for the first wave of feminism to flourish in the late 19th and early 20th century (Mohajan 3). This occurred all around the American continent, but it really got going at the Seneca Falls Convention, and it was all about giving women more rights, especially the right to vote.

The first wave of change saw the rise of abolitionist movements and discussions about women’s political empowerment. Around the middle of the nineteenth century, organizations advocating for women’s suffrage in Britain emerged. Suffragists were the women who participated in the initial movement for women’s suffrage (O’Neill 76). They ran a campaign that was lawful and respectful to the constitution (Mohajan 5). After those strategies did not materialize, a new generation of activists emerged. Women who fought for the right to vote became known as suffragettes (O’Neill 81). Suffragists and suffragettes were similar in their desire to ensure women’s rights, but suffragettes were more likely to resort to overtly aggressive tactics to achieve their goals (O’Neill 82). The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, achieved by the suffragettes, granted women the right to vote.

The 1960s saw the beginning of the second wave of feminism, which continued throughout the 1990s. Common belief holds that the publication of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” in February 1963 served as the necessary spark for this feminism movement. Friedan, who had her first taste of adult responsibility while the men were away at war, captured the sentiments of many women during this time by writing, “Each suburban wife fought with it alone.” She was too terrified to ask anyone, including herself, the silent question “Is this all?” when she cleaned the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, ferried Cub Scouts and Brownies, and snuggled next her husband at night (Mohajan 7). Movements against the Vietnam War and for civil rights, as well as the rising self-awareness of many marginalized communities, provided the backdrop for this movement. At this period, people started thinking about the possibility of women exercising political and economic power.

The second wave of feminists concentrated on sexuality and reproductive rights, and one of their key goals was to achieve the Equal Rights Amendment, which ensured equality regardless of sex. The biological definitions of sex and gender were deconstructed. The spirit of the second wave of feminism centered on women’s solidarity, but liberal and radical feminist theories were also introduced at this time (Azcona 349). It is well knowledge that liberal feminists have long advocated for women’s equal access to higher education, voting rights, and professional opportunities. Radical Feminists, on the other hand, believed that sexual oppression is the underlying cause of all other types of social injustice, including classism, capitalism, racism, and sexism (Mohajan 6). These radical feminists, tired of spending their time preparing coffee rather than discussing policy, were the ones observed burning the bra. However, unlike the first wave, this one began to witness the participation of women of color. It began in the United States and did not spread very far outside the Western World.

The third wave of feminism began in the middle of the 1990s, and Generation Xers served as its leading figures. Typically, people look to 1991, when American Anita Hill accused US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, as the genesis of the movement (Mohajan 6). Seeing the trial on television and hearing the attacks on Anita Hill’s credibility galvanized American women into action. The confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court was similarly divisive. The third wave sought to eradicate violence against women and promote sexual freedom. While women did gain ground after the first two waves of feminism, many of them thought more needed to be done and were ready to condemn the movement’s founders (Mohajan 7). Feminists fought for the freedom of women to make decisions about their own bodies with regards to issues like birth control and abortion throughout the third wave (Azcona 345). Women took back the insulting labels and marched, including the now-famous “slut-walks,” to get their point heard.

Feminists of this era were typically strong, self-sufficient women who, due to the word’s negative connotations, often went to great lengths to conceal their feminism. It was during the third wave that feminism entered the mainstream and when media like television and film began to include prominent feminist protagonists (Azcona 339). Influential women like Mary J. Blige, Madonna, and Queen Latifah emerged during this period. Madonna has been quite vocal about her feminism. She has spoken up about the sexism, bullying, and misogyny she has experienced in the workplace (Mohajan 8) This third wave of feminism marked a departure from the previous two waves, which tended to prioritize causes that mostly affected white middle-class women. Feminism was gaining popularity in nations like India, where laws of equality existed but were weakened and injustices were uncontrolled due to deeply held cultural and religious beliefs.

Modern Day Feminism

The Last Wave(s) of Feminism

One may make the case that feminism is not relevant in the modern world. Western societies have made considerable efforts in removing barriers linked to feminism. Kamala Harris’s election as the first woman and the first person of color to serve as vice president of the United States is symbolic of the breaking of another barrier, the glass ceiling. While this is encouraging news for feminism’s core problems, a lot of women still face discrimination and other difficulties in many parts of the world. Many argue over whether there have been four or five waves of feminism. Aiming to increase women’s agency, the fourth wave of feminism emerged around 2012 (Azcona 339). The issues of body shaming, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape culture were at the center of it. The public is more vocal against abuse by those in positions of authority in business and politics.

Modern feminism is a worldwide phenomenon that takes into account all the various lived experiences of women. Its primary concerns are with comprehension and equity (Singh, 2020). Feminism, in its current form, promotes the equal treatment of women and calls for them to be accorded the respect and status they rightfully deserve in society. This is less about erasing the distinctions between sexes than it is about recognizing and appreciating them. Feminism in the modern era attempts to raise awareness of the fact that, despite the fact that men and women are different in many ways, this does not in any way make one gender superior to the other (Azcona 348). Violence against women, including sexual assault, is still an issue that contemporary feminism seeks to address (Maguire). Feminism in the modern era emphasizes encouraging and facilitating women’s participation in all spheres of society, from the workplace to the political arena. Modern feminism has evolved to be more inclusive of people of many races, sexual orientations, and ages (The Second Angle). Feminism now is more varied and changeable to account for the greater spectrum of women’s individual experiences, and as a result, it has no concrete aims like feminism of yesteryear.

The so-called fifth wave of feminism has evolved into a movement that enforces the battle for gender equality by combining the forces of economics, media, politics, and many other variables (Azcona 345). Feminists would need to have more allies in order for the fifth wave of feminism to succeed if they were to cease competing with one another. Modern feminism is more inclusive of all people; it is no longer just about privileged white women. Gender norms for both sexes are at issue here; men can cry and experience all of a woman’s feelings without feeling ashamed (Azcona 340). The use of social media to combat misogyny is one of the largest developments that the current wave of feminism has witnessed. Feminism has changed and will continue to grow over time in many different directions.

#MeToo Movement

The Me Too movement is a feminist campaign that speaks out against sexual harassment and assault. Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement so that other women who had experienced sexual assault could talk to one other freely. By bringing attention to the widespread nature of sexual assault and harassment against women, especially in the workplace, they hoped to help women of all ages and stages break the silence and gain strength from one another in the face of oppression (Leung et al. 352). In October of 2017, the hashtag #MeToo began trending on social media as a means of drawing attention to the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment. Actress Alyssa Milano’s tweet in 2017 prompted women around the world to speak up about their own experiences with sexual assault for the first time (Leung et al. 361). The #MeToo movement began at that time and has now gone global.

Actress Alyssa Milano gave Burke’s rallying cry a boost in 2017, turning it into the now-ubiquitous hashtag #MeToo, which is still widely used on Twitter and other social media sites today. Milano took this move because several women in Hollywood have recently spoken out about having experienced sexual harassment at the hands of famous film producer Harvey Weinstein ((Leung et al. 367). Milano’s use of Burke’s remarks may have been a powerful spark, while Weinstein’s accusers were crucial to starting the movement. Even now, anyone who have experienced sexual harassment can find comfort in the campaign’s resources (Leung et al. 368). Every day, new tweets and Instagram posts with the #MeToo hashtag are published, which is a sobering reminder of how frequent sexual assault is.

After hundreds of women used the hashtag online to declare themselves as victims of sexual harassment or assault, it gained widespread attention. But Milan was not the starting point for the Internet revolution. Initiated more than ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke (Leung et al. 370). According to Burke, those who have suffered sexual abuse are not to be ashamed, and the hashtag MeToo sends that message loud and clear. Media discussions have occurred in many countries once the #MeToo movement began. Many people utilized the hashtag on various social media platforms (Leung et al. 352). There was an outpouring of public solidarity for the women, which served to embolden them to stand up for themselves.

Feminist Activists of the Twenty-first Century

As a result of her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, Emma Watson is now a household name. She is well-known for her current feminist activism, but her role in the popular film series is what brought her the most acclaim. As Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, she was given the honor in July of 2014 (The Second Angle). She gave a speech in September 2014 to introduce the HeForShe movement, which encourages more men to join feminism so that we can all benefit from greater gender parity (Maguire). Watson has incorporated her feminism into every facet of her public persona.

As a prominent activist, Malala Yousafzai is no stranger to the spotlight. Following her shooting by the Taliban for defying their prohibition on education, she became a global celebrity. Malala realized that providing women in Pakistan with access to quality education was the key to improving their quality of life. Malala initially denied that she was a feminist because of her acts. Malala, like many of her contemporaries, found the label “feminist” to be laden with misconceptions. She did not understand what feminism was about until she heard Emma Watson speak at the United Nations (The Second Angle). Malala, who was the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize after the incident with the Taliban, is now an international role model for young people everywhere (Maguire). Malala thinks that every child, everywhere has the right to an education, and that the voice of a woman should be heard and respected.


In conclusion, all the progress made by modern feminism is due to the experiences and labors of earlier feminists. Today’s feminist movement can trace its roots back to the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft, Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan. This generation has access to technology that makes it possible for voices to be heard all over the world. It is up to everyone, male, female, Black, White, Asian, non-binary, and trans, to use the power of social media to make a positive change and not just ignoring. Strong women who can effect change are at the forefront of feminism, which has taken on the characteristics of a cultural phenomenon. Contemporary feminism advocates for greater gender equality, not their exclusion. It is about more than simply a fight between the sexes; it is also about raising consciousness of all forms of oppression around the world, not just sexism. The current state of feminism is the result of the cumulative influence of many people, many movements, and several waves of feminism. It is about so much more than parity, and it is growing and improving every day.

Works Cited

Mohajan, Haradhan. “Four Waves of Feminism: A Blessing for Global Humanity.” (2022): 1-8. Web.

O’Neill, William L. Feminism in America: A history. Routledge, 2017. Web.

Azcona, Ginette, and Antra Bhatt. “Inequality, gender, and sustainable development: measuring feminist progress.” Gender & Development 28.2 (2020): 337-355. Web.

Maguire, L. The Changing Face of Feminism. Philosophy Talk, 2018. Web.

The Second Angle. How Feminist Goals Changed Over the Decades. The Second Angle, 2020. Web.

Leung, Rebecca, and Robert Williams. “# MeToo and intersectionality: An examination of the# MeToo movement through the R. Kelly scandal.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 43.4 (2019): 349-371. Web.

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