A Brief Look at the Three Waves of Feminism

Updated on December 27, 2017
JenniferWilber profile image

Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.

Feminist symbol, March 2010 by Lori
Feminist symbol, March 2010 by Lori | Source

Feminism is a collection of different social and political movements aimed at creating equality for women in society. Modern feminism began with women fighting for the right to vote, and continues today with women fighting for true equality between women and men. Feminism is generally thought to include three distinct “waves,” each with a slightly different goal.

First Wave Feminism

First wave feminism began in the 1830s and focused mainly on women’s suffrage. During this time, women were still regarded by society as the property of their father or husband. Women recognized that, to gain equal status in society, they first must gain some level of political power. This movement mainly consisted of well-educated middle class white women, though in the early stages it was “interwoven with other reform movements, such as abolition and temperance, and initially closely involved women of the working classes (Kroløkke, 2006).”

The woman-suffrage movement in New York City. Society leaders securing signatures to petitions to be presented to the constitutional convention - scene at Sherry's. May 3rd, 1894
The woman-suffrage movement in New York City. Society leaders securing signatures to petitions to be presented to the constitutional convention - scene at Sherry's. May 3rd, 1894 | Source

Second Wave Feminism

Second wave feminism began right after World War II, and focused mainly on sexuality, the workplace, and reproductive rights. Many women involved with this movement were already involved in other civil rights movements, but felt that their voices weren’t being heard because of their gender and felt gender equality issues needed to be addressed before any real progress could be made. The feminist movement of this era was widely criticized for focusing primarily on the problems of middle class white women, and ignoring concerns of other marginalized groups, though many women involved in feminist causes were also involved in other civil rights movements (Dorey-Stein, 2015).

Swedish feminist, 29 August 2013 by Lenagerner
Swedish feminist, 29 August 2013 by Lenagerner | Source

Third Wave Feminism

Third wave feminism began with women who were born with the privileges that first and second wave feminists fought for. Third wave feminists continue fighting for equality for women. Primary issues that third wave feminists are concerned with include closing the pay gap between male and female workers, reproductive rights, and ending violence against women in the United States and abroad (Dorey-Stein, 2015).

Feminist In Training - Women's March Washington D.C. January 21, 2017 by Anthony Quintano
Feminist In Training - Women's March Washington D.C. January 21, 2017 by Anthony Quintano | Source

The Future of Feminism

While feminism throughout history has gone a long way in the fight for equality, we still have a long way to go. The pay gap between men and women still needs to be addressed, as does fighting to make sure women continue to have access to necessary health care services. Feminism needs to focus on dialogue between men and women, since many men today misunderstand feminism as being an “anti-men” movement, and try to fight against feminism. Feminist organizations also need to be more inclusive of all races, social classes, and sexual orientations to avoid the pitfalls of earlier feminist movements that became mostly “white middle class” movements.


Dorey-Stein, C. (2015, September 22). A Brief History: The Three Waves of Feminism. Retrieved from https://www.progressivewomensleadership.com/a-brief-history-the-three-waves-of-feminism/

Kroløkke, C., & Sørensen, A. S. (2006). Chapter 1: Three Waves of Feminism: From Suffragettes to Grrls. In Gender communication theories & analyses: From silence to performance (pp. 1-23). Retrieved from https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/6236_Chapter_1_Krolokke_2nd_Rev_Final_Pdf.pdf

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Jennifer Wilber


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    • dashingscorpio profile image


      2 years ago from Chicago

      Nice article.

      "Feminism needs to focus on dialogue between men and women, since many men today misunderstand feminism as being an “anti-men” - I wonder why that would be? hmmm

      The truth is every movement has some "loud mouths" who espouse things that go beyond the pale of their goal.

      Back in the 1970s author Marilyn French said:

      "All men are rapists"

      Catherine MacKinnon was quoted as saying in the 1980s:

      "All sex, even consensual sex between a married couple, is an act of violence perpetrated against a woman."

      Believe it or not some women enjoy having a "battle of the sexes" and they despise (other women) who are "pro-life", lack desire to join the corporate world, or would rather have men treat them as though they were "special" rather than "equal".

      The biggest challenge to feminism has been the divide between progressive and traditionalist women.

      Some traditionalist women believe they are being put down by their progressive counterparts. They feel the need to tell the world: "Being a mother is the hardest job in the world."

      This is because progressive women make them feel like gender traitors for not wanting to compete against men.

      Donald Trump was caught on tape admitting he forcibly kissed women and grabbed them by the p...y and still he won the (white woman vote) in a presidential election! (Against a woman)

      Equality is about having the opportunity live as one wants. There is no unity among women.

      Any woman who puts another woman down for her (choices) is attacking feminism.

      Life is a (personal) journey!

      One man's opinion! :)


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