Hey guys, yes we dropped the F-word. Nope, not f*ck, f*minism! Did you know it was the most searched word of 2017? After US President, Donald Trump made headlines for his infamous statement of “grab ‘em by the pussy” and women started coming to the forefront with media narratives, feminism too started being discussed, and that’s why according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘feminism’ was the word of the year with a 70 percent rise in searches on the website since 2016.
While most of us are aware of the term, the big question still looms - what does it mean? Feminism in its definition refers to a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal and social equality of sexes.
Yes, it’s not about male-bashing, it’s not about women wanting to be superior to other genders, rather it’s about achieving the simple goal of equality. Personally, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
The term feminism first appeared in the English language only in the 1890s even though the struggle against gender-based discrimination has been much older. The movement has been divided into four phases, the first, second, third and fourth wave of feminism. Each of these waves fought for different rights and took us one step closer to the goal of equality. The contribution of these people can obviously not be overlooked when we are looking at where women as a people are standing today.
This was a period of feminist activity that occurred during the 19th and early 20th century throughout the Western world. Their main focus was on legal disparities between men and women, and they fought hard mainly to gain the right to vote. The domain of politics and business were completely dominated by men who didn’t even consider women as plausible options in the said field. They were confined to the four walls of their houses but even there they didn’t have any control. Unmarried women were considered as properties of their fathers and married women were under the control of their husbands. They didn’t have the ability to file for divorce or be granted the custody of their children. Women who did work; did low-paying jobs such as secretaries in factories. While it lacked inclusivity, it gave the world some of the fiercest women to look up to like Susan B Anthony, Sojourner Truth, who was a black former slave and activist for marginalized communities, and Maple Lee, the first Chinese woman to graduate from Columbia University.
The second wave of feminism started in the late 1950s and moved into the 1980s. It all began with the men leaving overseas to fight in the World War II and this mobilized women into taking up jobs especially in sectors like manufacturing and business. In Europe, due to the loss of so many male lives, working women even started getting benefits like maternity leave, day care, and counseling. In the United States, women, too, started helping in the war effort by keeping the economy going in the country. However, once the war ended and the men were back, they wanted to reclaim their old jobs and were even getting paid better for the same work, further broadening the wage gap. They fought for equality within political spheres, like the legalization of abortion and efforts to make women more established in the workforce. Another movement called radical feminism also gathered momentum and divided the feminist movement into two parts. They fundamentally saw society as patriarchal and sought to change it. Both movements together contributed in moving towards a more inclusive space for women as minorities like black, Asian, Latin women also joined the movement which was earlier mostly restricted to white women.
In the mid-1990s the third wave of feminism took shape. Most women from the second wave of feminism raised their children to be aware of the disparity between genders in terms of labour, racism, classism and taught them to be to fight and redefine ideas of beauty, procession and expression. Hence, the third wave feminist movement was mainly defined by sexual liberation and inclusivity of all races. Instead of showcasing women as shy, passive, weak, virginal and faithful, or on the other hand being defined as slutty, demanding and manipulative, the third wave feminists owned their aggressive, assertive and sexually liberated identities. Pop culture too was a defining factor for third wavers, with plays like Vagina Monologues and shows like Sex And The City, Disney heroines like Mulan Helen and Violet from The Incredibles being depicted on the big screen.
The fourth wave of feminism is defined as the resurgence of the movement post-2012. The main defining factor of the movement is that it’s basically online and has been spearheaded by social media movements on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter where women are standing up virtually to fight sexual abuse, workplace harassment, rape culture, campus sexual assault and as whole challenging misogyny. Some projects that gained a lot of momentum during this phase were ‘Free the Nipple’, #YesAllWomen, One Billion Rising, #MeToo and the #TimesUp movement.
This wave is all about the queer movement and was defined by the queering of gender and sexual identity. It redefined gender binaries and focused ‘feminism’ on the fluidity that comes from personal choice. Before this, the waves were struggling with inclusivity for women itself but now the movement has taken in the transgender community as well. Together, we fight for trans rights and make them an important talking point in the feminist narrative. The fourth wave is also defined by being anti-misandry. Radical feminists used misandry as the single way of being anti-misogyny. However, nowadays, women are challenging gender stereotypes, even those which affect men. Body positivity is also a key factor in the fourth wave movement. With Instagram and social media becoming more and more real and women opening up about their own stories, different shapes, sizes, colours and abilities are coming to the forefront. Hashtag activism is at the forefront with women rallying together against any sort of discrimination.
The #MeToo movement was a major tipping point for the feminist movement. While it all started with actor Alyssa Milano sharing two everyday words ‘Me Too’ on social media to talk about the sexual harassment she and so many others faced at the hands of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, it soon grew into so much more than that. These two words when stitched together spoke about a revolution of women coming out in the millions and saying that they too had been harassed, abused or violated at some points of their life. Survivors shared their #MeToo stories and almost said, “This happened to them, this happened to me, this happened to us. And it’s not okay.”
As a response to this movement, another campaign came up called the #TimesUp movement was started. It raised a sum of $20 million and gathered over 200 volunteer lawyers to fight for women, LGBTQAI+ and other marginalised and underrepresented communities in the media.
Also Read: 65 facts about feminism, 'cause nariwadi hoon main!
Earlier even if celebrities identified with the main goal of equality, they refused to call themselves feminists. However, with public movements, stars and pop culture idols, have stood up and openly accepted themselves as feminists demanding equality in all spaces of the public sphere. So here are the different types of feminist celebs that we all look up to!
Emma Watson’s speech at the United Nations called for a movement called ‘He For She’. She said, “I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Apparently, I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and unattractive. If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are - we can all be freer and this is what ‘He For She’ is about. It’s about freedom. Ask yourself if not me, who? If not now, when?”
Beyoncé, a pop star who has widely been accepted as our time’s feminist The pop goddess also has written many songs about gender-based discrimination in our society. She has spoken about the rigid beauty standards that women are upheld by saying, “You’re a pretty girl, what’s in your head - it doesn’t matter. Brush your hair, fix your teeth, what you wear is all that matters.” She even sampled the award-winning Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie entitled “We Should All Be Feminists” in her song. She said, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise, you’ll threaten the man.’”
Indian-American star, Mindi Kailing has also been at the forefront of these movements in Hollywood and we couldn’t be more proud. Kailing in an interview in 2013, said, “For everyone, men and women, it’s important to be a feminist. It’s important for women to mentor men and vice-versa.”
The celebrity chef, food critic, mother, and writer, Padma Lakshmi once said that she’s shocked that women hesitate to call themselves feminists. Recently she even opened up about how she was raped at the age of sixteen as a part of the #WhyIDidntReport movement.
For far too long, feminists have been viewed as this radical group of women who run around burning bras, hating on men, chanting anti-patriarchy slogans all the time, but that’s not the case. Actor and activist Kalki Koechlin is one of those women who just try to explain the f-word as it is. In an interview, she quoted, “I feel one should come up with a basic ABCD video on feminism. If you are not a feminist you are a bad human being. Being a feminist means asking for equality. But people take it the other way at times. It is looked down upon is because it is seen as man-hating. But feminism is a really crazy idea that suggests men and women are equal.” She has brought the debate to India with doing empowering videos like ‘It’s Your Fault’ which was about victim blaming and even narrated a poem written and performed by her which showcased the hypocrisy about International Women’s Day.
Nandita Das has been a long and strong advocate for women’s rights in the country. The actor-director once remarked jokingly, “I am a feminist by default.” She has been a strong believer in promoting wheatish complexion in India where fairness seems to be an essential prerequisite for every woman. She even started a campaign and NGO called ‘Unfair and Beautiful’. Nandita is proud to be a feminist icon for girls all over the country.
Konkana Sen Sharma is one of those people who observed the intricate ways patriarchy has seeped into our society. She calls it out and isn’t afraid of letting people know the subtlety in which misogyny affects us. “Right now, patriarchy is part of our being in such an insidious way, in things as simple as design! I’ve read that cellphones are larger because they’re designed for male hands (why are bigger than ours) and even seatbelts are as uncomfortable as they are because they weren’t designed with breasts in mind. I think the day we start to really make a place for women, only then will feminism actually becomes redundant,” she said.
Known for doing bold roles in films like Masaan, Love Sonia and Gangs of Wasseypur, Richa Chadda has always been a role model for young girls in the country. She has owned her feminist personality from the time she walked into the film industry. She has even commented on how there’s a wave of actors standing up for each other and it’s calling for a wave of equality. She too has called out the deep-rooted misogyny in the characters, scenes and plot points written in the industry. She once said, “Is feminism only a woman's prerogative? Shouldn't it be the other way round? Who propagates patriarchy and causes women to be oppressed? It's not women, but often men. So, why don't we say that everybody should write better characters and better content. I know Beyoncé Knowles has been called a terrorist because of how she portrays sexuality. Madonna has been called a woman who sets back women. There are people who question why sexuality can't be expressed and things like that. So, I don't feel an added burden [to pick an ethical project]. I won't do a film which has a titillating scene for the sake of it."
In the Bollywood film industry, if there’s a poster girl for feminism it’s got to be Radhika Apte and no I’m not saying it in a bad way. After doing films like Parched, she went on to become Netflix’s fave gal by acting in Lust Stories, Ghoul and Sacred Games which she owned. She has spoken about the wage gap in the industry. She once spoke about being a feminist and said, “Feminism is about equal rights, about humanity, it's about how you are. You just have to be equal, that's how you contribute to society. You just have to behave equally and have a self-image that is based on equality. In every action, in every word that comes out of my mouth, I make sure that it's based on what I believe in. Everything has its own influence. This is something you can't teach to anyone.”
So, girls, these are your feminist idols. Aren’t they just the bold and sassy and all things bad-assy!?
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This story was updated in January 2019.