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The Fascinating Evolution Of Feminist Waves Throughout History

Updated 14 Jun 2019 10.4k views11 items

Though it doesn't create the most representative picture of what can broadly be described as the women's movement, it can be helpful to visualize the vast, complicated birth and evolution of feminism in terms of the "wave narrative." What are the waves of feminism, and how are the feminist waves different? The first way to think about the waves is in terms of historical period or epoch – in other words, putting rough date ranges on the moments in time when self-identified feminists (though the nomenclature varies) began organizing, either in general or in a notably new way. Of course, that doesn't mean that feminism went away between the waves; rather, in the off seasons, ideas and practices were changing and adapting to need the needs of their particular context. 

Another way to think about the waves of feminism is to combine historical time period with a particular set of organized, codified goals for which feminists were fighting. For example, the First Wave focused on suffrage, while the Second Wave roughly equated to the quest for equal rights – a piece of men's pie. But describing the waves only through an exclusive agenda misses a lot of the subtleties of this movement – namely, the specific platforms adopted by women of color, which, just like the goals of mainstream, white feminism, have existed as long as women have been subjugated, and there has been a need.

In other words, the feminist movement is multifaceted, so much so that using the article "the" feels almost irresponsible. If you want to really understand the waves of feminism, combine their time period with their agenda while remembering that the mainstream narrative has flaws. Keep reading to learn more about feminist waves, but keep in mind that no singular agenda could ever capture the complexity of this movement.

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