Feminism: History and Important Figures

When discussing feminism, I often hear people say that it died after second-wave feminism. I’ve had a lot of people look at me confused and quietly ask me what that meant after the discussion, so I thought it would be important to talk about the history, the waves of feminism, and some important figures.

Feminists around the world have different causes, goals, and intentions depending on the culture, country, and the time. Most of the Western feminist historians consider all of the movements that fight for women’s rights feminist even if they do not apply the term to themselves.

Modern Western feminist historians split the movement into three time periods, or waves. Each wave had different aims based on prior progress.


First-wave Feminism

19th and early 20th century feminism mainly focused on the legal issues, primarily on gaining the right to vote. The seed was planted that women can contribute to the society as much as men. After achieving their goal they broadened their views to second-wave.

Some Important Figures:

  • Simore de Beavoir: In 1949 de Beavoir wrote a book which is credited with paving the way for modern feminism, called The Second Sex. The book critiques the patriarchy and social constructs faced by women. It was banned in the Vatican. It was a fearless start to the fight for feminism
  • Eleanor Roosevelt: From 1935-1962 Roosevelt wrote My Day, a newspaper column addressing women’s work, equality and rights before the term Feminism even existed. She was seen as a controversialist, and deemed inappropriate.
  • Rosie The Riveted: The most popular feminist poster from the 40’s is Rosie saying We Can Do It. She stood as an empowering female symbol, representing women who worked throughout World War II.


Second-wave Feminism

In the 1960-80’s the debate included cultural inequalities, gender norms, and the role of women in society. The issues addressed domestic issues such as clothing, employment, sexuality, family, workplace, official legal inequalities, domestic violence and marital rape. Due to intra-feminism disputes regarding sexuality and pornography, third-wave feminism was born in the early 90’s.

Some Important Figures:

  • Betty Friedan: Her writing and activism is credited for sparking the second-wave feminism that began in the 60’s and 70’s. She spent her life working to establish women’s equality, helping popularize the feminist movement throughout America.
  • Gloria Steinem: Often referred to as the Mother of Feminism, Gloria Steinem led the women’s liberation movements in the 60’s and 70’s, and continues to do so today.
  • Angela Davis: The voice for black women and a crucial part in the Civil Rights movement, Angela Davis was a key leader in the Black Power movement. She fought to champion the progress of women’s rights for over six decades, and in 2017 served as an honorary co-chair for the Women’s March on Washington.
  • Bell Hooks: She was an American author known for her social activism that was mirrored through her writing. She declared “Feminism is a movement toe end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.”
  • Barbara Walters: Walters was the first co-host of a news show, although at the time she earned only half of her male co-workers. She became the first female co-anchor of an evening news broadcast for ABC news. From the 70’s to today, Walters paved the way for women in journalism and the entire workforce.
  • Coretta Scott King: Even though she was most known for her marriage to Marin Luther King Jr. and her work with Civil Rights, she devoted much of her life to women’s equality.
  • Maya Angelou: Maya Angelou, to this day, is fighting to overcome gender and race discrimination through her literature, public speaking and powerful writing.
  • Audre Lorde: Through her writing and poetry, Lorde explored female identity and issues that affected women across the country during the Civil Rights movement. Her work was based on intersectionality, which she called theory of difference at the time. She said “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Before her tenure as a Supreme Court Justice, Bader Ginsburg co-founded the first law journal to focus exclusively on women’s rights, called Women’s Rights Law Reporter. She wanted women’s voice to be heard in law, and she was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 as the second female Supreme Court justice ever, which she holds to this day.
  • Yoko Ono: She was most famous for her peaceful protests with John Lennon, but she was also a voice for gender equality throughout the years.


Third-wave Feminism

Third-wave feminism sought to be more inclusive of all races and social classes. They introduced the term intersectionality to describe the idea that women experience layers of oppression cause by gender, race, class, and more. As they became more global due to the internet, they broadened their goals, focusing on abolishing gender-role stereotypes and expanding feminism to include women from all cultures and races.

Some Important Figures:

  • Oprah Winfrey: She was motivated by the unequal pay she received in the start of her broadcasting career, she set out to start her own television show, through which she helps women grow, develop, and thrive.
  • Madonna: Madonna spent her whole career unapologetically breaking gender stereotypes, pushing the limits of women and sexuality through her songs and music videos, and empowering women all over the world.
  • Sheryl Sandberg: Sandberg is famous for speaking about women in the workforce, and their setbacks due to the gender stereotypes. She recently teamed up with Gloria Steinem to empower young girls after the 2016 presidential election.
  • Malala Yousafzai: Malala became famous as a teenager due to her memoir I Am Malala which documents her fearless journey fighting for access to education in Pakistan. Since then she’s been traveling the world advocating for education rights for women and children.
  • Angelina Jolie: Aside from her work as a UN diplomat, actress and philanthropist, Angelina Jolie chose to shared her double-masectomy story which empowered other women to share their breast cancer stories.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: She was mentioned in my previous post about feminism, she was most famous for her TED talk We Should All Be Feminists, and became a vital part of the feminist movement advocating for women’s rights and representing the African culture.
  • Beyonce: Beyonce managed to bring the feminist movement to modern day pop culture, on the track Flawless she sampled author Chimamanda Ngozi Adhiches TED talk We Should All Be Feminists.
  • Christina Hoff: Or the Factual Feminist who represents the real feminist ideas and not the extremist groups. See one of her talks here. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Gsxjaa1P9kI&feature=youtu.be
  • Roxane Gay: She is a crucial voice for modern-day women. Her writing tackle issues like race, gender identity, sexual identity, sexual assault, and disability. She is the author of the Bad Feminist and a participator of numerous public speaking events.
  • Emma Watson:


So why do people tend to say that feminism died after the second-wave? Because of the split that happened within the feminist movement which was made to look like “feminists can’t even agree with each other, why should be listen to them” by the mass media. Modern third wave feminism is often seen as the extremist groups who created “reverse” sexism (even though it’s just plain textbook sexism, but it’s called reverse because men are being oppressed) since they are the loudest from the bunch, while that’s not what feminism is fighting for. I asked a friend of mine, a very open-minded man who adores his wife, and is advocating for justice through social media, why he thought feminism is dead. See the screenshot of a small excerpt from that conversation below. He is basically saying that due to the extremists he believes that modern feminism is dead.

But isn’t that the same as saying that some religions are dead due to their loud extremists?

I want the initial idea of feminism to again become the meaning of the word. I want equality, for men and women, with equal representation. But I will call it a feminist movement because in the world women suffer more than men due to oppression.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but oppression and harassment needs to end, and that’s what we’re fighting for. If we stand together, all women and men, then we will be able to achieve a much better and inclusive world for everyone, regardless of their gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or anything else. Lets fight for each other to make life better for everyone around us.

Graphs and Citations:

Fisher, Lauren Alexis. “30 Inspiring Women Who Shaped Feminism.” Harper’s BAZAAR, Harper’s BAZAAR, 28 Mar. 2018, http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/g4201/famous http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/feminism-femhist/-feminists-throughout-history/.

Walters, Margaret (October 27, 2005). Feminism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. W

Witt, Charlotte (2012). “Feminist History of Philosophy”. In Zalta, Edward N. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 ed.

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