Feminism: The Agenda Exposed (Part I: The Background Research )

Compiled by Waseem Hussain (Computer Science graduate and working as a Research Analyst, New Delhi)

As defined by Mary Hawkesworth in her book Globalization and Feminist Activism (2006), Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes.

Firstly let us have some background knowledge of the subject we will be delving in deeply. Where does it all began? What were the reasons to start off with this massive movement which has now spread its branches all over the globe.

Historically the feminist movement was divided into 3 Waves (with the initiation of its 4th Wave in 2012):

  1. First Wave Feminism – First-wave feminism was a period of feminist activity and thought that occurred during the 19th and early 20th century throughout the Western world. It focused on legal issues, primarily on gaining the right to vote. The term first-wave was coined in March 1968 by Martha Lear (“Marsha”) Weinman Lear post-hoc in The New York Times Magazine. By calling it the first wave, we imply that women’s rights began in 1792, and so the notion that women deserved rights also must have begun in 1792–after the writing of The Wealth of Nations, after the completion of the American Revolution, and after the beginning of the French Revolution. We imply that no women’s movements meant much before 1792. We imply that a young, wealthy, married, heterosexual white woman was the ideal catalyst to represent all women.

First Wave Feminism in the United States did not include contributions from Black women to the same degree as White women. Activists, including Susan B. Anthony and other feminist leaders preached for equality between genders; however, they disregarded equality between a number of other issues, including race. This allowed for White women to gain power and equality relative to White men, while the social disparity between White and Black women increased. The exclusion aided the growing prevalence of White supremacy, specifically White feminism while actively overlooking the severity of impact Black feminists had on the movement.

The first phase Feminism got much popularity in the following countries: Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Netherlands, Persia, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States.

2.. Second Wave FeminismSecond-wave feminism is a period of feminist activity and thought that began in the United States in the early 1960s and lasted roughly two decades. It quickly spread across the Western world, with an aim to increase equality for women by gaining more than just enfranchisement.

Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on suffrage and overturning legal obstacles to gender equality (e.g., voting rights and property rights), second-wave feminism broadened the debate to include a wider range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities.

Some important events laid the groundwork for the second wave. French writer Simone de Beauvoir had in the 1940s examined the notion of women being perceived as “other” in the patriarchal society. She went on to conclude in her 1949 treatise The Second Sex that male-centered ideology was being accepted as a norm and enforced by the ongoing development of myths, and that the fact that women are capable of getting pregnant, lactating, and menstruating is in no way a valid cause or explanation to place them as the “second sex”.

In 1960 the Food and Drug Administration approved the combined oral contraceptive pill, which was made available in 1961. This made it easier for women to have careers without having to leave due to unexpectedly becoming pregnant.

In 1963 Betty Friedan, influenced by The Second Sex, wrote the bestselling book The Feminine Mystique. Discussing primarily white women, she explicitly objected to how women were depicted in the mainstream media, and how placing them at home limited their possibilities and wasted potential. She had helped conduct a very important survey using her old classmates from Smith College. This survey revealed that the women who played a role at home and the workforce were more satisfied with their life compared to the women who stayed home. The women who stayed home showed feelings of agitation and sadness. She concluded that many of these unhappy women had immersed themselves in the idea that they should not have any ambitions outside their home.

The perfect nuclear family image depicted and strongly marketed at the time, she wrote, did not reflect happiness and was rather degrading for women. This book is widely credited with having begun second-wave feminism in the United States.

In 1963, freelance journalist Gloria Steinem gained widespread popularity among feminists after a diary she authored while working undercover as a Playboy Bunny waitress at the Playboy Club was published as a two-part feature in the May and June issues of Show. In her diary, Steinem alleged the club was mistreating its waitresses in order to gain male customers and exploited the Playboy Bunnies as symbols of male chauvinism, noting that the club’s manual instructed the Bunnies that “there are many pleasing ways they can employ to stimulate the club’s liquor volume”. By 1968, Steinem had become arguably the most influential figure in the movement and support for legalized abortion and federally funded day-cares had become the two leading objectives for feminists.

One of the major Social changes that happened as a result of this phase was establishment of co-education.

Second-wave feminism ended in the early 1980s with the feminist sex wars and was succeeded by third-wave feminism in the early 1990s.

Just a brief on “Feminist Sex Wars”,  also known as the lesbian sex wars, or simply the sex wars or porn wars, are terms used to refer to collective debates amongst feminists regarding a number of issues broadly relating to sexuality and sexual activity. The sides were characterized by anti-porn feminist (who considered pornography as a symbol of hetrosexuality and patriarchy) and sex-positive feminist groups (who considered pornography as a symbol of freedom) with disagreements regarding sexuality and other censored issues.

Another debate of the feminist sex wars centered on prostitution. The women in the anti-pornography camp argued against prostitution, claiming it is forced on women who have no other alternatives. Meanwhile, sex-positive feminists argued that this position ignored the self-agency of women who chose sex work, viewing prostitution as not inherently based on the exploitation of women.

3. Third Wave FeminismThird-wave feminism is an iteration of the feminist movement that began in the early 1990s United States and continued until the fourth wave began around 2012. Born in the 1960s and 1970s as members of Generation X, and grounded in the civil-rights advances of the second wave, third-wave feminists embraced individualism and diversity and sought to redefine what it meant to be a feminist. The term third wave is credited to Rebecca Walker, who responded to Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court with an article in Ms. magazine, “Becoming the Third Wave” (1992).

Violence against women, including rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment, became a central issue. Organizations such as V-Day formed with the goal of ending gender violence. Third-wave feminists wanted to transform traditional notions of sexuality and embrace “an exploration of women’s feelings about sexuality that included vagina-centred topics as diverse as orgasm, birth, and rape”. One of third-wave feminism’s primary goals was to demonstrate that access to contraception and abortion are women’s reproductive rights.

Third-wave feminists voiced more for “Sexual Liberation”. Third-wave feminism regarded race, social class, and transgender rights as central issues.

One issue raised by critics was a lack of cohesion because of the absence of a single cause for third-wave feminism. The first wave fought for and gained the right for women to vote. The second wave fought for the right for women to have access to an equal opportunity in the workforce, as well as the end of legal sex discrimination. The third wave allegedly lacked a cohesive goal and was often seen as an extension of the second wave. Some argued that the third wave could be dubbed the “Second Wave, Part Two” when it came to the politics of feminism and that “only young feminist culture” was “truly third wave”. One argument ran that the equation of third-wave feminism with individualism prevented the movement from growing and moving towards political goals.

After reading about the 3 waves of Feminist Agenda we can clearly state that most of the issues that were raised on the first hand were the result of injustice done against women in the West and Europe but the way those issues were dealt took a wild, animalistic path to degrade the delicacy, dignity and purity of women and woman-hood as a whole. Feminists framed women as a sexual beast who wanted to be freed from the cage of socio-religious laws and wanted to exercise whatever she wished for. The concept of family, motherhood and the responsibility of women were disregarded and defamed and instead a new form of woman-hood displaying the wild nature of a woman was framed and preached in the garb of freedom and movement against injustice.

In the next part of Feminism: The Agenda Exposed, we’ll talk about the political aspects of the movement and how then the political leaders of the time paved way for such movements for their own benefit.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism#Late_twentieth_and_early_twenty-first_centuries
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-wave_feminism
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third-wave_feminism
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_sex_wars
  5. http://the-taryntory.com/tag/first-wave-feminism/
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-wave_feminism