The history of feminism

Fourth Wave Feminism

Fourth-wave feminism (?)


Today, many people celebrate the label ‘feminist’. The approaches to the label are however still very variable. In this much discussed fourth wave of feminism there’s an attempt to unite the numerous different types of feminism as well as the equality-battle that the third-wave ended up fighting for, based on their original and fundamental understanding of feminism. They define it as follows: “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” (Web). This means that a feminist is “A person who supports feminism” (Web). The mission however is not yet complete since there are many branches and individual interpretations of what feminism is today as well as what it should be doing for women that cannot coexist.

The third-wave’s large focus on neoliberalism and postfeminism is something that recurs within parts of the fourth-wave. Some of the new feminists still dissociate themselves from the political part of the second-wave feminism – mainly because they associate this with man-haters and homophobia:

The homophobic rejection of the 1970’ers raises questions about the new feminism’s critical and emancipatory potential. It seems that the new feminism do not sufficiently interrogate the social constellations that initially gave rise to the felt need for a new feminist politics

(Scharff 2013: 265)

In contrast to this approach there is an academic intake which is slowly moving back towards more mainstream media – with themes such as sexual assaults, rapes, violence against women, equal pay, body ideals, masculinity and femininity (Rampton 2015). Rampton outlines this understanding of feminism as:

Feminism no longer just refers to the struggles of women; it is a clarion call for gender equity (…) They speak in terms of intersectionality whereby women’s suppression can only fully be understood in a context of the marginalization of other groups and genders

(Rampton 2015)

We see a connection between feminism and the fight for all oppressed groups, whether it’s gender-, race- or class-wise (Web 2017: 27:23).

At the same time it’s important to be aware of one’s own position as well as privileges when participating in a feminist debate. The more academic voice is however often drowned by those feminists that hold on to third-wave’s focus on ‘girlie feminism’ (equality between the genders is about reconquering feminine activities while still being a feminist); hence ‘choice-feminism’ and liberation through female sexuality. That is, sexuality for her own sake in order to fight the stigma surrounding an active female sexuality. An example of this way of interpreting feminism is the danish ‘Girl Squad’: Nikita Klæstrup, Louise Kjølsen (‘Twerk Queen’) and Katja Krarup Andersen, who among other things fight towards (re-)conquering women’s right to a distinct and visible sexuality (Von Sperling 2017).

These two approaches collide when talking about feminist icon, singer, independent academic object of study, and businesswoman, Beyoncé Knowles’ and her brand:


In relation to sexuality, Knowles has expressed:

I don’t have any shame about being sexual and I’m not embarrassed about it and I don’t feel like I have to protect that side of me. Because I do believe that sexuality is a power that we all have

(Knowles 2013: 04:18)

With a statement like this, Beyoncé mirrors a mindset where sexuality is understood as a symbol of empowerment and women’s liberation. On the contrary, there’s a stance in which Beyoncé is seen as someone that presents herself in a degrading way because she is steering herself towards a specific hyper-sexualised subject-position created for African American women (within the time of slavery) (Hooks 1990: 29, 60).

This discussion is especially relevant in relation to Beyoncé as a ‘brand’. With songs like Independent Woman and Run the World she has given the world a powerful and independent, black female role model that young girls and women can look up to. On social media, she is praised for promoting a different ideal ideal for women. hooks however states that Beyoncé is anti-feminist in her appearance, since she doesn’t change any of the historically constructed structures within an ‘imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ by doing what she does in her subjective interests – she reproduces them (ibid.: 38:20) by using her hypersexualized subject position, which is exactly one of the few positions, African American women are ‘offered’ (Harris 2010: 33:58). hooks adds to this that:

Viewers who like to suggest Lemonade was created solely or primarily for black female audiences are missing the point. Commodities, irrespective of their subject matter, are made, produced, and marketed to entice any and all consumers. Beyoncé’s audience is the world and that world of business and money-making has no color

(hooks 2016)

Beyoncé as well as many of her fans can be seen as representatives of a focus on sexuality as liberating as within the third-wave’s focus.

What makes Beyoncé especially controversial is her choice to mix academic feminism with her own feminist agenda. For instance by ‘quoting’ a different feminist and writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the song “Flawless” whose message is that young girls’ upbringing is centered around one ting; boys/men: they cannot be too successful, marriage is the most important thing, and they have to compete for men’s attention. At the same time she makes it clear that a feminist is someone who wants social, political as well as financial equality between genders. Adichie however does not solely agree with Beyoncés feminism:

Still, her type of feminism is not mine, as it is the kind that, at the same time, gives quite a lot of space to the necessity of men. I think men are lovely, but I don’t think that women should relate everything they do to men: did he hurt me, do I forgive him, did he put a ring on my finger?

(Adichie in Kiene 2016),

which only gets more apparent when we take a look at the critique scholars like bell hooks face when trying to question Beyoncé’s cultural impact. It seems as if the debate surrounding women’s liberation is controlled by a patriarchal mindset where the label ‘woman’ means all women (except from the fact that you have to look like a ‘woman’ from birth).

Julia Serano however, talks about how many people today understand femininity and feminism as two opposites, which can been seen as the feminist movement’s biggest tactical mistake: “It’s high time we rectify this mistake by purposefully putting feminine back into feminism” (Serano 2016: 320) as well as make sure that those two conceptions no longer are subjected to manliness nor masculinity (ibid. 326). She also states that the critique of femininity as being related to feminine attire in reality reflects the anti-feminist tendencies because it reduces women to objects of the man’s interest instead of calling it self-development (for instance saying that a rape-survivor ‘asks to be raped’ because they dress in a revealing manner) (Serano 2016: 328).

Therefore there is an interesting field of tensions in which the neoliberal and postfeminist approaches are put across from a queer-theoretical starting point which is trying to break with binary understandings of gender, compulsory heterosexuality as well as dominating understandings of masculinity and femininity.

In that way the third-wave and the academic feminism collide which is also why they might not be able to coexist when taking the question about the subject’s options into consideration: is one free to choose or is one assigned to oppressive structures that are steering one towards a certain choice? This is evident when looking at religion. Is religion oppressive because some women have to cover themselves – or is it liverating since it might be their own choice? Is make-up and focus on the ideals of beauty created by the media in reality even more oppressive? Are both oppressive in their own different ways? (Chakravarty & Mortensen 2016: 94).

Women’s liberation is, in our perspective, about being aware of the structural oppressions (patriarchal discourses) that are sustaining women in a role, where they first and foremost choose to present themselves as sexual objects as well as buy themselves to womanliness and femininity.

Continue reading “Fourth Wave Feminism”

The history of feminism

1st Wave Feminism

It is worth noting, that we are aware of the fact, that the fight for women’s rights has existed long before what we now call first wave feminism.


(In the picture: Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603), Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), Aleksandra Kollontaj (1872-1952)) and  Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Before first wave feminism:

First Wave Feminists were inspired by the early fight for women’s rights in 1770-1850, that included a spirit of resistance and rebellion in the fight for independence from Great Britain (which resulted in the Declaration of Independence in 1776) – fought by men and women. It also included the release of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Thoughts on Education of Daughters (1787) in England and the French Revolution (1789) (Chakravarty and Mortensen 2016: 9), and the abolitionist movement in the States, in which African Americans fought for liberation from ‘white supremacy’ and racism from the 1830s to 1870. From the abolitionist movement emerged prominent Women’s Rights activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) og Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) who became prominent figures within the Women’s Rights Movement (Web). One problem within the movement was:

[w]hile men led antislavery organizations and lectured, women were not allowed to hold these positions. When women defied these rules and spoke out against slavery in public, they were mocked

(Lange(a) 2015)

By the end of the 1830s many women had achieved experience as leaders, organizers, writers, and public speakers, despite the discrimination they were met with. These experiences became vital when it came to creating a new movement that fought for women’s rights (Lange(a) 2015).

First wave (1848-1920)

This lead to, among other things, The Seneca Falls Meeting in 1848, which has later been considered the meeting that sparked life into the women’s movement; The Suffrage Movement, whereby the fight for women’s rights reached both a national and international level of organizing. The idea for this convention already occured in 1840 at the World Anti-Slavery Conference in London, where Americans Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott participated (early American and British activists continued to stay in touch and be inspired by eachother) (Web).

Women were still being discriminated against at that time since they had no rights to economy, children, nor property and still did not have equal opportunities for education (Lange(b)).

Subsequently, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was founded in 1869 (Web). The fourteenth alteration in the constitution guaranteed the protection of the rights of all citizens and the suffragettes therefore believed that women had the right to vote. They tried to register as voters for the 1872 election. Susan B. Anthony succeeded in voting but was later arrested because of it. Her unsuccessful defence was to argue that she was put in front of a judge based on laws made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, for men, and against women. This was evident, she argued, because of the fact that women were not considered citizens, since they were not allowed to vote (which was the right of any citizen) (Susan B. Anthony).

Sadly, they did not win the right to vote and therefore had to develop other strategies (Lange(c) 2015). They spoke in favour of birth control, education for African American children, laws for the protection of women in the workplace and so forth (Lange(c) 2015).

After 1913 the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) (an organisation formed in 1890 by the merging of NWSA og AWSA) broke up since a small part of the organization wanted to follow the methods of the militant, British suffragists (Lange(b) 2015): The National Society for Women’s Suffrage (NSWS) founded in 1871 (Andersen 2016).

By 1916 most suffragist organizations were in favour of a change in constitution that allowed women the right to vote. In 1920, the League of Women Voters was formed (Web) and women in States was granted the vote the same year (Chakravarty og Mortensen 2016: 40).

In 1923 suffragist leader Alice Poul suggested an alteration in the constitution, ERA, that would guarantee legal equal rights for all: Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” (Web) – Once again, with no luck!

Internal disputes

The participation of African American women in women’s movements is often devalued (Lange(d) 2015). Dr. in English Literature, writer, feminist, and activist, bell hooks, elaborate on this, when she points out how former slave, abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) addressed the double standards imposed on African American women in her 1867 speech. This was in large due to the fact that the African American fight for equal rights ultimately was the fight for African American men’s rights. On the hand, working with white feminist organisations meant tolerating and accepting their racism (hooks 1990: 3). White feminist also saw African American women as a threat to their own womanhood (hooks 1990: 130). At the same time, white women’s fight for work opportunities did not include African American women, since they were seen as competitors. White women did not wish to compete against – or work with – African American women (hooks 1990: 132).

The Time In Between 1st and 2nd Wave

After winning the vote, a backlash happened. One De Beauvoir questions in 1949:

Enough ink has been spilled in quarreling over feminism, and perhaps we should say no more about it. It is still talked about, however, for the voluminous nonsense uttered during the last century seems to have done little to illuminate the problem. After all, is there a problem? And if so, what is it? Are there women, really?

(De Beauvoir 1997: 13)

De Beauvoir points to the fact, that women are ‘the Other’, since she is the opposite of man, the subject, the absolute (De Beauvoir 1997: 16). She wonders why women continue to allow for a continuation of being seen as ‘the Other’, when they are in fact the majority.

She finds, that one explanation is, that women had not been able to gather as a group since they lack their own history, religion and work/interest community. This, because women live of and with the man – and hence; separated from her sisters. Women were depended on man because of abode, economic interests and (man’s) social position.



De Beauvoir, Simone (1997): The Second Sex. Vintage Classics, London. ISBN: 9780099744214

Lange(a), Allison (2015): Women’s Rights Movement Emerges from the Abolitionist Movement. Found at

Lange(b), Allison (2015): Suffrage and the Seneca Falls Convention. Found at

Lange(c), Allison (2015): The Legal Case of Minor v. Happersett. Found at

Lange(d), Allison (2015): National Association of Colored Women. Found at

Mortensen, Hanne & Chakravarty, Dorthe (2016): De danske kvinders historie. Aarhus C, Systime. ISBN: 978-87-616-5846-3