A Brief History: The Three Waves of Feminism

While the roots of feminism are buried in ancient Greece, most recognize the movement by the three waves of feminism. The third being the movement in which we are currently residing.

The first wave (1830’s – early 1900’s): Women’s fight for equal contract and property rights

Often taken for granted, women in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, realized that they must first gain political power (including the right to vote) to bring about change was how to fuel the fire. Their political agenda expanded to issues concerning sexual, reproductive and economic matters. The seed was planted that women have the potential to contribute just as much if not more than men.

[Image from Pixabay]

The second wave (1960’s-1980’s): Broadening the debate

Coming off the heels of World War II, the second wave of feminism focused on the workplace, sexuality, family and reproductive rights. During a time when the United States was already trying to restructure itself, it was perceived that women had met their equality goals with the exception of the failure of the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (which has still yet to be passed).


This time is often dismissed as offensive, outdated and obsessed with middle class white women’s problems. Conversely, many women during the second wave were initially part of the Black Civil Rights Movement, Anti Vietnam Movement, Chicano Rights Movement, Asian-American Civil Rights Movement, Gay and Lesbian Movement and many other groups fighting for equality. Many of the women supporters of the aforementioned groups felt their voices were not being heard and felt that in order to gain respect in co-ed organizations they first needed to address gender equality concerns.

Women cared so much about these civil issues that they wanted to strengthen their voices by first fighting for gender equality to ensure they would be heard.

The third wave (1990’s – present): The “micropolitics” of gender equality

Today and unlike the former movements, the term ‘feminist’ is received less critically by the female population due to the varying feminist outlooks. There are the ego-cultural feminists, the radicals, the liberal/reforms, the electoral, academic, ecofeminists… the list goes on.


[Image from Pixabay]

The main issues we face today were prefaced by the work done by the previous waves of women. We are still working to vanquish the disparities in male and female pay and the reproductive rights of women. We are working to end violence against women in our nation as well as others.

We are still fighting for acceptance and a true understanding of the term ‘feminism,’ it should be noted that we have made tremendous progress since the first wave. It is a term that has been unfairly associated first, with ladies in hoop skirts and ringlet curls, then followed by butch, man-hating women. Due to the range of feminist issues today, it is much harder to put a label on what a feminist looks like.

Quite frankly, it all comes down to the dictionary’s very simple yet profound definition: “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” If that’s what a feminist is – who wouldn’t want to be called that?

Learn more about how Feminism is defined:  Feminism: Why Not ‘Egalitarianism’ or ‘Humanism’?

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  1. happysipuka87@gmail.com'HAPPY SIPUKA says

    I real like this handout about empowering women and they fight for there emancipation, I would like to join or to work with different organizations which concerns about women Issues as am pursuing my degree in gender and development

    • ruthagala58@gmail.com' says

      I really like this handout too I think it’s due time we continue empowering the grassroots women on the importance of their reproductive rights and encouraging women to participate and work together with men so that we may achieve gender mainstreaming… I’m a student undertaking a degree in gender,women and development studies…

      • Nicole Teillon Riegl says

        Ruth – Great response. It’s all about the grassroots about moving the women’s movement forward both in the workplace and academic settings.

    • Nicole Teillon Riegl says

      Happy Sipuka – Thank you for response. We hope that this and our other articles inspire you to follow your passion of working on women’s issues.

  2. support@monikahogando.com' says

    I appreciate the light being shed on women’s issues and how elevating and empowering women leaders is imperative not only socially, but to our companies’ bottom lines.

    However, I must note that the inaccuracies and generalizations in this article render invisible an entire culture and generations of women. Feminism most certainly DID NOT start in Ancient Greece – if anything, they appropriated adoration to and elevation of the feminine from their teachers, the Egyptians, whose documented matriarchal culture predates Greeks and Romans by thousands of years.

    Secondly, the “first wave” you reference (from 1830’s to early 1900’s), black and brown women couldn’t fight for property rights because they were considered property, and didn’t gain the right to vote along their white counterparts. They didn’t get the right to vote until about 50 years ago.

    You are right to mention that many racial equality and civil rights movements challenged middle class white women in their hypocrisy. Being considered offensive or outdated was not a misconception, and it was not a dismissal. It was a call to the carpet for essentially saying “let me do me and I’ll consider your issues later”. Or as you so demurely put it, “[white] Women cared so much about these civil issues that they wanted to strengthen their voices by first fighting for gender equality to ensure they would be heard.”

    I agree that feminism is far too broad to be pinned down into one monolithic point of view. Feminism will be better served (and thought leadership more trusted) when we own up to our own biases, especially when being checked by team mates fighting the same cause.

    • Nicole Teillon Riegl says

      Monikah – Thank you for the reminder that African-American women in the South had a longer fight on this issue because of lingering racism. We appreciate our careful readers who help to further educate us all.


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