Feminism Evolved: How Feminism has developed over a century

Modern Suffragettes: Gunn Students parade as the suffragettes for Vote-A-Palooza (Feb. 22) Photo by Karlene Salas.

Introduction

Since childhood, we have been conditioned to adhere to oppressive gender roles.  Phrases such as “boys will be boys” and “that’s not very ladylike” have been used to portray the place of young girls in society. The feminism movement, since it’s conception, stood to give women a better place in society. One hundred years ago, women in America took their first national vote thanks to the activism of the suffragettes. Now, a century later, where does feminism stand on a social and political level? Where will it end up in the future? 

Social

A hundred years ago, there were only a few things more scandalous than a flapper. With their hair cut short, cigarettes dangling off their painted lips, their knee-length dresses daringly showing off their ankles, flappers were a symbol of female rebellion and consumerism.

Although they were a figure of female empowerment and a rebellion against the stiff traditions of the Victorian Age, their actions led to even more resentment and hatred toward women.

“The boys today must be protected from the young girl vamp,” a mother said in a New York Times article from 1922.

Women were expected to fit into the stereotype of the perfect housewife, hindering them from the right to vote, the right to their own body, and the freedom to think and decide for themselves which are rights that are seen as common today. In just a hundred years, we have conquered many obstacles that hindered female advancement. So the question commonly asked is: Do we still need feminism at this day and age?

The short answer? Yes. But in order to truly dive into it, let’s go back to the 1970s when Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment. Designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex, the Equal Rights Amendment seemed like the answer to many feminists’ troubles. However, being short of only three states, it was never ratified.

During the 70s, most people believed that women were unsuited for politics and their participation in the labor force was unnecessary. The idea of gender equality was not only foreign but also absurd. Traditional gender roles had authority over societal rules. However, in just 40 years, we have gone from merely a quarter of the population believing that gender equality is important both at home and at work to two thirds, according to a survey conducted by General Social Survey.

The idea of feminism is a broad one, spanning many different themes and issues. However, a common theme with feminism is an agreement to fight against prejudice and inequity.


“Feminism from my view is a movement to end gender inequality and related inequalities. People experience inequality very differently from one another,”

-Alison Crossley

“Feminism from my view is a movement to end gender inequality and related inequalities. People experience inequality very differently from one another,” said Alison Crossley, gender studies professor and author of “Finding Feminism: Millennial Activists and the Unfinished Gender Revolution.” 

Politics

Women’s participation in American politics has skyrocketed since the suffragettes. In just this past decade alone, we have had our first female presidential primary candidate in 2016. In 2018, an historic number of 103 women were elected for the House of Representatives, as reported by the New York Times And now in 2020, the New York Times endorsed two female candidates, both who have since dropped out. The first female vote was cast in 1920 and changed the history of democracy forever. Now 100 years later, democracy and feminism are still ever-changing. 

However, it is a major misconception that all women were allowed to vote in 1920 when in actuality only white and black women were given that right. It wasn’t until 1952 that women of all races could vote, and not until 1965 that racial discrimination in voting became illegal. 

Despite significant legal reforms, discrimination in the polls did not disappear; it just became more discreet. It manifests itself in the form of voter suppression, which specifically targets marginalized groups, especially women of color, as reported by NPR during the 2018 Congressional Election.This forceful under representation in politics makes it easier for conservatives to pass laws on issues such as abortion and equal pay without the consent of the people it affects the most, and diminishing the chance for accurate representation when passing legislation.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states, require some form of Voter ID to cast a ballot in national elections. This has been used as some of the most effective voter suppression of marginalized minority groups. In the United States, roughly 90 percent of married women have assumed the last name of their husbands, according to the National Organization of Women, meaning that these women will have different names on their birth certificates and ID cards. In some states, this warrants the ability to turn women away at the polling stations, making women a target of voter suppression. 

A recent example of lack of representation, in 2019, Alabama’s Human Life Protection Act was signed into law by 25 white male politicians, restricting abortions under almost any circumstance, including rape and incest, making it the strictest abortion ban in recent history. Regardless of the majority of the state’s population being pro-life, according to the data recorded by Pew Forum,  this bill is a complete disregard for a woman’s right to her own bodily autonomy, especially since no woman representative had political say in the matter. 

Fortunately, the League of Women’s Voters, a century old organization dedicated to helping women and others have a larger part of the political process, have taken actions across the nation to fight against voter suppression. According to the website, the League “actively opposes discriminatory voter photo ID laws, fights against attacks against the voter registration process, and holds lawmakers accountable when they try to institute last-minute Election Day barriers” through methods of “advocacy,  grassroots organizing, legal action and public education.”


I think just having women at the table, even if they’re not in my political party, is important.

Terry Godfrey

If we truly want to be a feminist nation, it is imperative to have women of diverse backgrounds, who hold varying viewpoints represented in politics. “It doesn’t matter what my political affiliation is,” said Terry Godfrey, President of Palo Alto branch of the League. “It’s important to have a diversity of thought … and so I think just having women at the table, even if they’re not in my political party, is important.”

The Future

For feminism truly evolve, the movement must emphasize more than just sexual discrimination but discrimination unique to race, gender, class and sexual orientation. It is clear that the fight for inclusivity in the feminist movement is far from over, as feminsim is continues to be seen as a white woman’s movement. Many, such as Prof. Crossley, are hopeful that feminism will move in that direction. 

“Feminism is going to continue to be very vibrant, exciting, relevant, energetic, energising–and I think that it will become very coalitional.” Crossley says. “In many ways feminism has already been coalitional and intersectional for sure, but I think that those parts of feminism will become even stronger.”  

This progress can already be seen with what has happened with the Women’s March. In 2019, three of its board members stepped down due to accusations of anti-semitism, and faced critisism to not being inclusive enough. In response, Women’s March created a bigger, more diverse board, sparking feminists to give the organization a second chance, as reported by NPR. 

However, the future of feminism also lies in how we will view feminism’s history.

“There is a tendency to look for one particular mode of doing feminism or one particular person who can be the spokesperson. And, sometimes that means that we rush to define it so quickly that we then shut out people who might be able to be included in the movement who haven’t been.”  Crossley said.

 In order to move forward, we must re-examine what we see as feminism, who were pushed aside and who we champion as feminist icons. 

 For example, International Women’s Day (March 8) is widely celebrated, but the origin of the day is rarely discussed. Vice credits the origin of the day to a Jewish socialist named Theresa Malkiel in 1909. Despite inventing the day, her name is not even mentioned on the official International Women’s Day website.

On the other side of the coin, is Susan B. Anthony, who is arguably one of America’s most famous feminist. She was a suffragette, and a racist who was against Black Suffrage, as reported by the ACLU. Part of how feminism can become more inclusive is by accurately acknowledging its history. Not only so that we can focus more on feminists who were marginalized, but think critically of who we see as heroes and not repeat their mistakes.  

Another way we can do this is by rethinking the “wave” structure.  

“What happens [with the wave framework] is that we have this period of time where no feminism is happening.” said Crossley.

“And then all of a sudden out of nowhere, this gigantic surge of feminists and feminism emerges for a defined period of time, and then all of a sudden it’s dead and all the feminists disappear. And then again, something will happen. And all the feminists reappear.” 

“What I think is important to acknowledge is that feminism never disappears. Those people who are active at the peak of a movement, they do not just disappear. They continue with their communities and their networks, etcetera.”


“What I think is important to acknowledge is that feminism never disappears.”

Alison Crossley

Essentially, the view of feminists in “waves” is largely inaccurate, and keeping that mindset alive is only diminishing the work of past feminists, driving wedges between older and newer feminists and even contributing to the erasure of prominent feminists of marginalized groups.

One person’s feminism cannot be seen as an all encompassing definition. The only constant? The strive for equality. 

Written by: Josie Andersen, Karlene Salas, and Michaela Seah

Art by Michaela Seah