The 21st century has brought an increase in media coverage. Articles are getting online faster and opinions are published easier. While some may think feminism is an old-fashioned trend that is getting more than enough headlines in magazines, the foundation of this movement is often overlooked for what is believed to be today.
First-wave feminism is thought to have emerged during the 19th century, even though the origins of the fundamental belief in gender equality had been set earlier during the Enlightenment and more largely spread after the French revolution when Rousseau tried to strip women of their rights and properties. This was the first time a collective raised their voice for women’s rights. In the UK, the first organised movement took place in 1865 in a shape of a debating society called Ladies Discussion Society where women discussed whether or not they should interfere in politics and public affairs. They refused to become a suffragette movement as they were afraid of being taken over by extremists. In the last half of the 19th century, a great number of societies promoting votes for women were created across the country from London to Manchester to Edinburgh. Yet in their earlier stages those groups were not designed to get the right to vote for women but to promote political literacy among them.
After women started to campaign for votes, they separated themselves in two main groups: the suffragists who used peaceful methods such as lobbying to get their voices heard and the suffragettes who attracted more publicity due their use of violence.
In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union who often used a campaign of violence which resulted in the Cat and Mouse act which was to protect imprisoned women so they did not end up dying as martyrs. It was only after the First World War when women had replaced men at work that they gained some recognition and some of them obtained the right to vote in an act passed by parliament, but they had to wait until 1928 to fully have the same voting rights as their male counterparts and be eligible for the House of Commons.
This story may seem like a closed chapter of history and feminism has sometimes been stained by the use of violence. Unfortunately, in the wider world women are still deprived of some basic rights.
In developing countries, child marriage is still widespread as one out of nine girls are married before the age of 15, according to UNICEF. Women only just gained the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. Women can still be divorced in India if their husband uses the ‘triple-talaq’, a custom by which if they say, text or Skype them saying three times ‘talaq’ they are automatically divorced. In Europe rape-shaming is still happening – it was reported last year that after being raped by a Stanford student, the judge asked the victim what she was wearing and why did she not just cross her legs.
Feminism has for too long been known as a movement which wants women to dominate men, but this could not be further from the truth. Feminism, in its humanity, simply seeks equality.