For centuries, women have been changing our culture as active feminists – some in small private ways, and some in spectacularly public ways – but all extraordinarily powerful.
According to mainstream media, there are four waves of feminism, the first taking place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (1830s-1900s). Well-known women’s right activists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton emerged, while others remained under the radar, like their spokespersons Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, the heroines in my books, Outrageous and Scandalous, volumes one and two of The Victoria Woodhull Saga. They made a huge impact in their time, and today most people don’t even know their names.
These sisters were the first two women to own and operate a stockbrokerage firm on Wall Street. They were active advocates and created the first woman owned, edited, and published weekly publication, the radical “Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly.” The Weekly published the first #MeToo-type exposé. Woodhull was the first woman invited to address a Congressional Committee, and in 1872, she was the first woman nominated by a national political party to run for President of the United States. Today they would be rock star-type celebrities.
Within this first wave, there were dynamic changes. The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 declared to the world that women are equal to men and must have the right to vote, but little legal or social change followed that daring assertion. Then, dynamic social changes, such as the business careers and lives of Victoria and Tennessee tore down the assumptions that women could not compete with men. Finally toward the end of Nineteenth Century the radical and violent British Suffragette movement founded by Emmeline Pankhurst, who consulted with both Victoria and Tennessee, assaulted English society. The sisters lived long enough to witness the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote in America.
The second wave of activism took place between the 1960s and 1980s and was a more radical movement that unfolded in the context of anti-war and civil right movements. The energy of this wave focused on passing the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing social equality regardless of gender.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, and other feminists led big movements, while others— such as Carol Hanisch, who was one of four women who hung a woman’s liberation banner over the balcony at the Miss America Pageant in 1968—made lesser-known noise with their influence.
The third wave, which began in the early 1990s and embraced individualism and diversity (while redefining women’s rights from “feminism” to “equal rights”) rolled straight into the fourth wave, which began in 2012 and continues today. Now, “feminism” is part of a larger consciousness of oppression racism, ageism, classism, and sexual orientation.
Today, news coverage, television, Internet, and social media connect women forming a shared voice to move mountains. Emma Watson, who has become a feminist icon known for her UN Women campaign, #HeForShe, are doing just that, while others, such as the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle, are making smaller marks for the same movement.
Markle’s women’s rights actions have remained on a smaller scale, such as supporting the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, walking part of the way down the aisle at her wedding by herself (in an effort to make a feminist statement), and advocating for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women—but her actions are no less important in their meaning… and she is just getting started.
No matter the wave, big or small, thousands of women have played their own role in contributing to the history of feminism in our country and around the world. Learn more about many of them at my daily post #WomenCan found at Outrageous The Book page on FB and @NealKatzAuthor on Twitter.