What’s with the waves?

Feminism comes in waves. I don’t really know what this means. Waves of cool? Waves come in and then get sucked back out again so maybe this is talking about the two-steps-forward-one-step-backwards nature of feminist struggle. Maybe feminists are really in tune with lunar phases. I heard that 78% of all feminists are Wiccan. Everyone’s scared of them because they are Wiccans who don’t follow that pagan creed about not harming anyone. But let’s talk about waves. We know that feminism isn’t a monolith. People who identify as feminist can believe completely different things (some of them even think that Pacific Rim was a good film?) but the important thing is that we’re all fighting for the same thing – to eradicate social and economic inequality. There are lots of different possible approaches, and over time we can identify trends in the concerns and ideologies that have dominated feminist discourse. When a notable and divisive shift in that thinking happens, we start talking about waves.

Waves are a way of separating and measuring periods of history in the feminist movement. Kind of. Except waves overlap, and ideas from earlier ‘waves’ can still be strongly voiced and believed by feminists existing in later waves. We’re not talking about measuring just time, but about measuring dominant ideology within the movement. And this is always changing.

The first wave was basically the suffragette movement. Women demanded the right to vote, own land and receive education – pretty basic requests but also pretty damn important. The second wave was a big one; it went from about the early 60s to the end of the 80s. It was really cool because it widened the struggle’s concerns significantly, demanding things like reproductive rights, real good jobs, equal pay, maybe even the end of homophobia and sexual violence. Second wavers rejected traditional gender roles. They argued that women are not here to be looked at – our place is not in the kitchen, there is no requirement for us to wear makeup, or shave our legs, or smile. We can be doctors or lawyers or astronauts and economic freedom is paramount.

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