Skip to main content

You are here

New Wave of Feminism

Are you a feminist? The feminist movement has evolved a lot over the years. In some ways it is very much still where it began: a fight for equal rights for women. In other ways it is very different as the movement evolves to embrace equity for all.

First Wave

The Women's Suffrage Movement was considered the "first wave of feminism" and led to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919. As our country grew, women’s civic roles slowly grew too. Women joined many movements to rally for reform; including abolition, securing the vote for African American men, workers’ rights, temperance and better access to healthcare and education for women. By the early 1900’s the focus increasingly became securing their own right to vote. The majority of first-wave feminists worked within the political system to affect change (Although there were notable exceptions; to read a fuller history of the women’s suffrage movement please refer to our voting rights website: (Your Vote, Your Voice -soon to be released in November 2015). The success of the first wave provided women their voice to fight for future rights.

Second Wave

The Second Wave of feminism began in the early 1960s and lasted through the early 1980s. Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on suffrage and overturning legal obstacles to gender equality (i.e., voting rights, property rights), second-wave feminism broadened the debate to a wide range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities. The personal became the political. The publication of Betty Freidan's "The Feminine Mystique" started a groundswell amongst feminist activists that the status quo could stand no longer. Women leaders rallied their power to start political and social diologue around issues not attempted by the first wave of feminists. It was a  time when women (primarily white women) began making professional gains in the workplace, the military, the media and sports - in large part because of second-wave feminist advocacy and social movement. Organizations like the National Organization for Women and Activists also drew attention to issues like domestic violence and marital rape, establishing rape crisis and battered women's shelters, and fought for reforms to custody and divorce law. A major effort of feminist actvists of the time was the attempted passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States Constitution, which failed (by 3 states) to obtain 2/3 majority approval by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Legislative successes included the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, an achievement of the civil rights movement begun in the mid-1950s, was also an early success of the feminist movement. Title VII of the act prohibited employers from discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as race, color, religion, or national origin. Roe v Wade in 1971, legalized abortion and organizations such as NARAL (National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) and National Organization for Women (NOW) were founded.

Next- Wave  

Some historians believe the 1990’s was a third-wave of feminism with a new focus on identity and being inclusive. That focus continues in present day feminism. Previous waves of feminism were dominated by white, straight middle-class women and there has been little progress in including more diverse voices. In order for the movement to grow and change today’s feminists have new approaches to be inclusive. One of the key issues is intersectionality –that in our increasingly diverse country women identify in many ways. Gender alone is no longer a sound basis for identification for many people. 

In order to broaden the conversation to include more voices today's movement leaders also focus on making sure we cannot and should not speak for others; magnifying community voices is the best way for many voices to be heard. In addition today’s feminists are trying to recognize when our unconscious biases create unjust policy; employing a tactic of privilege checking or trying to ensure that people consider how their privilege impacts their choices. As this video link depicts Privilege-checking is about reminding ourselves that we cannot and should not speak for others; all individuals speak from a very specific viewpoint. The emergence of ‘privilege-checking’, however, reflects the reality that mainstream feminism remains dominated by the straight, white, middle-classes.The next wave aims to disperse the power amongst a much wider net. 

These issues are not new but an attempt to deal with it in an open manner is. The acknowledgment that women are not a homogeneous group presents new challenges for organizations such as League of Women Voters. Admittedly, the organizational model was structured around the participation of white middle-class women. Yet if LWV Minnesota is to be relevant into its second century, it must reflect the changes being expressed by the next wave of feminism.

Change is never easy and like our foremothers who responded to the injustices within their social framework, LWV Minnesota today must reflect the needs of young feminists seeking to continue making positive changes for all women. LWV Minnesota is recommitting itself to being inclusive and reflective of the rapidly changing Minnesota demographic. People from all communities are welcome to explore opportunities within the League. There are a variety of leadership roles available if interested public policy development, voter service work, or get-out-the vote activities.Interested? Call us at 651-224-5445, email us, or click here to complete a short interest survey form.