Last time we spoke you asked me: When did feminism start? That is why I am writing you today. As I promised in the previous letter, I will continue to share with you everything I learn, so that you see why we need feminism. That way you will not continue to think that feminism is a fashionable idea or a newly formed social movement that unfulfilled women think and talk about.
So, Mom, let’s get started!
Feminist movement or how it all started
Today, I will tell you about the first wave of feminism, which lasted approximately from 1850 to1945. It consisted of several different feminist movements and never took into account only fighting for gender equality, but immediately understood that society differs not only by sex, but also by class, race, religion, and that these play a very important role in the conversation about equal rights for both sexes.
The first official writings on this topic were published much before the 19thcentury. It is considered that the very first feminist writing was a piece written by Christine de Pizan in the 15th century. There were others in the 16th century such as Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Modesta di Pozzo di Forzi. But it is not until the French Revolution that we started thinking more about this matter. As you know, Mom, this huge historical event was a foundation for human rights and equality, and gender equality was also raised as a topic.
One of the most famous works is certainly the “Declaration of the Rights of Women and of the Female Citizen” by Olympe de Gouges. It was published in 1791, and its publication will have many consequences, especially for her. Only two years after the publication of this politically engaged work, Olympe was sentenced to the guillotine, because, according to the law of the time, a woman was considered a member of the second order and any opposition to this was severely punished.
Feminism first wave
The official year of the emergence of the feminist movement is 1848, with a Seneca Falls Convention, the very first women’s rights convention, held at the at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. It is stated that there were around 300 women raising publicly many different issues. These women gathered to discuss not only their condition as women, but also other social, civic and religious topics. Slavery was also one of the main topics. You see, Mom, they understood straight away that we cannot talk only about one social problem, but since they are all connected, solving one is going to bring solutions for the other ones. At that congress, among other things, the voting rights for women were also discussed, which was then adopted for the first time only 70 years later.
Do you see, Mom, how long each fight takes? Do you see now, that feminism is neither a novelty, nor a fabrication of the 21st century. Today, you can thank those first feminists for having the right to get a job, for being able to open a bank account without Dad’s special approval, for having the right to a pension as a woman. Sounds absurd? Thank God it sounds that way to you today! But someone advocated for that, Mom. Let’s continue with the first wave of feminism.
Marx was a feminist
Mom, did you know that Marx was a feminist? No, it is not logical because many socialists and communists were not, nor are they today. Do you know that for many politicians, the equal rights within socialism or communism do not necessarily include women? Throughout history this has actually meant equality among men from different classes. Here is the proof…
After the French Revolution, the motto of the newly created French state became “freedom, equality, brotherhood”. Not humanity or sisterhood, – God forbid – but brotherhood! Well, no, Mom, why would we now imagine that we are involved in that fraternity!? I am not my brother’s brother, but his sister.
Women are completely excluded from that currency, except for the painting ”Liberty Leading the People”, which should give us an impression that freedom is a woman. But woman was everything but free at that time.
Diversity of feminist movement
Let’s go back to Marx. Women became one of the themes in the labor movement because Marx put the issue of women’s work around 1840 on the table. In many countries, women participated in labor and capital creation in the same way as men, but they did not have the same rights. That is why August Bebel wrote a very important piece called “Woman and Socialism” in 1879. Bebel argued that the social emancipation of women was an integral part of transforming social relations and overthrowing capitalism. Female workers begin to unite and demand equal rights, they notice that they are less valued than men, they organize and are not willing to put up with social injustices anymore.
Mom, this is where the catch comes in, the one that points to the diversity of the feminist movement and therefore its complexity.
On one hand, we have female factory workers, the women from lower social classes, and on the other hand, housewives from the upper class who “do not have to work”. Feminism is inseparable from socialism and class struggle, which is especially true for those fighters who come from lower social classes. That is why at the end of the 19th century, two movements emerged – the free civic movement for the women’s issue and the workers’ women’s movement, which often clashed with each other.
The goal of the free civil movement was to provide women with the same civil rights that men already had. Some of these rights were: freedom of expression, freedom of movement, the right to vote, access to education and working life. This movement, which will call itself the feminism of diversity, believed that women and men are different and should remain that way, but that the role that women have in society, their contribution as mothers, housewives, contribution to the organization should be more appreciated. They believe that the state should pay them for their work in their households. Does this shock you, Mom? Where would they get this money from, you are wondering? From taxes. The same one used for deep political pockets, military and wars, for example. Feminists of diversity value virtues traditionally considered feminine such as care, responsibility, decency, sensitivity, and so on. Values that are not so easy to give importance to and materialize because they are invisible, abstract and above all unprofitable in the capitalist world that we live in.
Does it shock you that there were such feminists? Did you imagine that they all have the same ideas? This attitude of feminists of diversity is even more understandable if we look at the fact that we are at the end of the 19th century and that many women still do not work, work is not seen as it is today. There are not so many jobs for women in the labor market, they have the role of housewives and as such they want their housework and effort to be respected. Being a housewife is a job, Mom, unpaid, invisible, but still a job. You know that better than I do, how many times have you complained about it!
On the other hand, there are women factory workers who work at least 10 hours a day in very difficult conditions for less money than men. They have to work because their husband’s salary is not enough. When they come home, they have to prepare, cook, clean, wash and take care of the children’s education, when they have just spent at least 10 hours in a factory. Do you understand now the difference? They are fighting for what is within their realm and their socio-economic situation. Women from all different categories have the right to fight and ask for what they specifically need and struggle with.
Not only were there differences between women belonging to different feminist movements, but there were also differences within the same movement. I know, Mom, yes, I understand that the situation is getting quite complicated, but wait, I’ll explain. For example, while some feminists within the labor movement wanted to reform the capitalist system and make it more humane, others felt the need to change it radically. There were also some that thought that female workers should be provided with special protection because they are physically weaker, because they are mothers and have work at home as well. They thought that their working hours should be shortened. Equality feminists strongly condemned this because they believed that these changes would put women in an even more subordinate position. They thought they would distance themselves from the social and economic struggle and their voice would again be diminished and limited.
As you can see, feminism is not simply a movement where it is possible to put all women in the same basket. That is why it is important to understand that there are different feminists, that it is difficult to give a single definition or unite all fighters into a single movement. It’s like that in politics as well, Mom. You always have politicians inside the right or the left who do not completely agree on all the important issues, so they form other political parties with similar, yet different ideology.
Do you who Emma Watson is? You know that actress from the movie “Harry Potter”? Yes, the little girl. Well, that girl has grown up and has been fighting for women’s rights. At one point, she said that she did not understand why many women do not identify with the same feminist movement as she does and why they include her in the white feminist movement. Then she finally realized that the strength and significance of her voice cannot be compared to the invisibility of a black woman who lives in very difficult conditions in, for example, a favela in Brazil. Do you understand? First of all, their problems are not the same, so the fight cannot be the same. It can be similar, interconnected, they can support each other, etc., but might need to also have separate combats. What do you say? That it would be probably much better if they were together? Together we are stronger? Probably, but, as I explained, the problems spread on other parts of life, so it is complicated. If all these movements were people on Facebook, they would have as a relationship status complicated. They are all connected, they do have a relationship, but a very complicated one.
What the first wave of feminism brought us
Despite numerous disagreements and in some cases very sharp, all these feminists were the initiators of many changes, thanks to which we, women, have, the right to vote, the right to inheritance, the right to decide the most banal things for ourselves, like going out. Hey, Mom, we have the right to be educated! Do you realize how big and significant this is! Only two generations ago, women couldn’t even think about going to school!
At the end of the 19th century, women got organized, went on strikes, they said NO, enough is enough! And although they did not often manage to get what they wanted, they did not give up and fought again. Through a feminist movement run by workers who raise the question of class and social rights, we come to the conclusion that feminism is a political question and as such cannot be separated from class, race, and religion.
Women have entered politics, universities, various areas of working life, which is very important because only from within we can change the system. Mom, we should be thankful, because they fought for a number of rights that we take for granted today, because we think we always had them. And we need to continue the fight, each one of us in our own way. It can be simply through conversations with our friends, you talking bit by bit with dad, me discussing certain events with my niece. It does not have to be always taken to the streets and be revolutionary. Small steps count as well.
Until the next letter,