When people hear the word “feminism,” many usually believe that women just have nothing better to do, and are bringing up problems that have already been solved. Learning about feminism in Junior High School, I was one of those people. After hearing about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and all that she has done, and everything she was fighting her, I thought wow, this lady resolved everything! Her movement made women equal to men! And then my utopia bubble bursted and I realized that while there may be formal equality (although not always), there will never be socially equality between men and women.
The society we live in today has progressed in many ways in just a few decades. Since the women’s rights movement, women can now vote, and have full time jobs, and not be the “Stepford wives” that everyone expected in the past. However, while society has changed since the days of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the Seneca Falls convention, there is just as much inequality today as ever before.
At the convention in 1848, Stanton stated various ways in which social inequality was being displayed upon the women in American society. She said that men were the “masters” of women, and made women civilly dead. The women had to become the caretakers of the household, without actually being in charge, since their husbands practically controlled them. She argued that women were not appreciated, and that women must “lessen [their] self respect, and to make[themselves] willing to lead a dependent and abject life.” Stanton and others believed it was time to change everything, since they were so oppressed socially, and politically as well. Stanton stated, “We have worked long enough for man and at a most unjust and unwarrantable sacrifice of self, yet he gives no evidence of gratitude, but has, thus far, treated his benefactors with scorn, ridicule, and neglect.” While these women of the past were experiencing social and formal inequality, they began opposition against the latter. They led the Women’s suffrage movement, which was part of the first wave of feminism, and it focused primarily on the right to vote. Formal inequality deals with laws, and any type of legal inequality between all people, in this case men and women. Social inequality deals with society, and how women are not treated as the equals of men. While women gained the right to vote, the social inequality between men and women was still quite extreme, as Emma Goldman pointed out in “Marriage, Love, and Women’s Suffrage.”
To reform the social inequality between the genders, the second wave of feminism began in the 1960’s. Betty Friedman’s “Femininine Mistique” highlighted the social oppression of women. While they had more rights, and were living comfortably, women were still suffering in that it wasn’t enough. They needed to do something outside their homes, but once they got this, the women still faced oppression because they were not taken seriously within the work force. The third wave of feminism of the 1990’s introduced the idea of intersectionality; this idea states that women should be grouped into many cohorts that are defined by race, class, and sexuality, and that oppressions that women faced were not additive, meaning that each form of oppression should be divided and taken into account. Introduced by Becky Thompson in “Multi Racial Feminism,” modern day women understood that while there was still oppression amongst women, there were various forms of it.
These ideas regarding feminism and women’s rights may be brief, but they are all additive in that they constructed our society today.