It Takes Generations To Raise A Feminist: Women’s History Through The Generations
During my time writing with Femonomic, I can definitely be a lot more serious than I set out to be. I like to stay light-hearted, but honestly, there are so many heavy-hearted topics concerning women in our world today, and I can definitely be a feminist-kill-joy!
I take social issues seriously, and I—along with many feminists that I know—care deeply about other people. But, empathy and kindness, don’t just happen, it’s taught. Caring about others is like an heirloom that’s passed down generation to generation. I have a multitude of women and men in my life to thank for my perspective on the world. Without their experiences, vision, and thoughtfulness, I would not be who I am today.
I am an accumulation of the women and men before me and their experiences and wisdom. With every generation of women comes a new wave of feminism and social issues to tackle. From my great-grandmother’s working independence through the second world war to my own mother’s strength to raise three girls as a single mother—feminism through generations takes many forms. Ultimately, I am a product of all of these women and their generations of learning before them.
It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes generations to raise a feminist.
My Great-Grandmother and First Wave Feminism
Born in 1918 in Saskatchewan, the same year that Saskatchewan women were granted the right to vote, my great grandmother was a modern western-Canadian woman. Many experiences would’ve shaped her view of women and equality, from early life with the large population of indigenous peoples in rural Saskatchewan to experiencing a new form of women’s liberation as women joined the workforce and war-efforts in the forties.
For anyone who isn’t familiar, first-wave feminism took place between the mid 19th and early 20th century; this is when women’s liberation movements became mainstream. Unlike 2nd and 3rd wave feminism, 1st wave feminism holds more rigidity, focusing mainly on legality and women’s rights to vote. The main issue with first-wave feminism is its lack of inclusivity beyond middle-class white women; even voting rights champion Susan B Anthony once said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ask for the ballot for the Negro and not for the woman,.”
What She Would’ve Lived Through:
- Margaret Sanger wins her NY suit, allowing her to recommend birth control to married patients for health purposes in 1918.
- The change in the US constitution that declares “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” on August 18th, 1920.
- Federal Divorce laws in Canada give women the same rights and grounds for divorce as men in 1925.
- Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo on May 20th, 1932.
- Women are encouraged to join the workforce during World War II, starting in 1939.
- Record numbers of women are employed in traditionally male-dominated fields as part of the war efforts from 1939 through 1945, giving women a newfound sense of freedom.
- Civil rights activist Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on the bus on December 1st, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama.
- The FDA approves birth control for regular consumption.
My Great Grandmother was a head-strong first-wave feminist with the right to vote and a baby on her hip. She raised her first child as a single mother while her husband was at war and continued to work and earn her own money after the war ended. She voted, volunteered, and lived a life of compassion. All the history she’d watched being made and all of the women’s milestones she participated in have been passed down to me at this moment, from her experiences, her stories, and her feminism.
My Grandmother and Second-Wave Feminism
Born in 1950 in Ontario, my grandmother’s feminism has always been interesting to me. She speaks about the starch-sounded dresses of the fifties (the unbending gender roles), and the rigidity of the 1960s (the looseness of the music, the love, the peace, and the rock-and-roll).
In the 1950s, my grandmother was a tough and rambunctious tom-boy who totally reminds me of Scout Finch from Harper Lee’s famous book To Kill A Mockingbird. She liked playing with boys and shooting toy guns; there was a rejection of traditional femininity and strict gender norms imposed by the white-picket-fence-fifties.
In her teens in the sixties, however, she has fabulous stories about teaching the other girls in her class how to use tampons, when she had first learned what marijuana was, and a few stories about handsome beaus she had acquired. My grandmother fits the mold of a sexy second-wave feminist, which I always thought would be an enjoyable feminist wave to take part in.
Again, a brief synopsis of second-wave feminism: second-wave feminism took place in the early to the mid-20th century and took the next step beyond just legality. Second-wave feminism tackled issues of equality, discrimination, sexuality, and independence.
What She Would’ve Experienced:
- The Equal Rights Pay Act was passed by the United States Congress in June of 1963, making it illegal to pay women less than men for the same job. (this still happens, but we’re working on it)
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination based on race or sex in the workplace illegal.
- The Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York City started a new era of LGBT+ rights and visibility.
- Canadian Medicare introduced in 1966, later leading to the fantastic universal health care system that Canada has today.
- Roe v. Wade is passed in the United States, guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion in January 1973.
Like my great-grandmother, my grandmother is a product of her wave of feminism. Her openness to sex and menstruation, her unapologetic sense of self, and her love for Joni Mitchell were all products of her teenage years in the sixties. However, my grandmother’s feminism is also a product of the work and generations’ experience before hers. She is also a product of the legality and rigidity of her mother’s first-wave feminism.
My Mother and Third Wave Feminism
Born in 1978, my mom got a true and unrelenting third-wave feminist experience. As a 90s teenager she indulged in grunge, dark make-up, chokers, and plenty of cigarettes. The 90s were a pretty badass time for music, arts, and culture, and feminism definitely followed suit with the third wave of the feminist movement.
Third-wave feminism is said to have begun in the 1980s and rocked all the way through the millennium, characterized by sex and reproductive rights and I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, women were done with being polite and formal and wanted what was rightfully theirs.
What My Mom Has Seen:
- Dr. Sally K. Ride becomes the first woman sent into space in 1981.
- Riot Grrrl brings a new meaning to punk rock with their own feminist subculture in 1991.
- Anita Hill testifies against Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas, accusing him of sexual harassment.
- Madeleine Albright becomes the first woman to be secretary of state in 1997.
My mom is a pretty badass feminist in my opinion. She’s a total product of her upbringing and the wave of feminism she’s been closely affected by. My mom is a single mother of three girls with an MA and a successful career; she’s unapologetic and pro-women; she’s got her own brand of feminism. My mom is the feminist that she is today because the door had been open by generations before her and the women who raised her.
Me, My Sisters, and Fourth-Wave Feminism
I was born in 1997, and my youngest sister was born in 2007—the same year that Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as the first woman to serve as speaker of the house—we’ve lived through a lot of historical events throughout our lives, but especially this year alone.
Fourth-wave feminism is the current wave we’re riding and the wave that will define my brand of feminism for my life. I hope to keep up with feminism and where it is going, like my mom and grandmother have done so gracefully, but I’ll always be a fourth-wave feminist kind of lady in my heart.
Fourth wave feminism has been started around 2012 and has used the internet as a catalyst for education and furthering feminist movements. Fourth-wave feminism is all about intersectionality, meaning every person being included in the movement; fourth-wave feminists like myself work to empower and raise marginalized voices.
What I’ve Seen So Far
- In 2006 Tarana Burke coined the term “me too,” and in 2017, the #metoo movement tractioned throughout the world.
- The United States removes the military ban on women in combat situations in 2013.
- Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman to receive a presidential nomination in a major party in 2016.
- January 20th, 2021, Kamala Harris becomes the first woman and the first woman of colour to be sworn in as vice President of the United States.
I absolutely adore my own wave of feminism as I’m sure the women before me felt pride and passion in their own waves of feminism. I love where feminism is going, and I love how far it’s come, from my great grandmother joining the workforce to my mother seeing the legalization of same-sex marriage. All of these women before me have taught me their own feminism, leading me and women like me to open doors for more women ahead of us.
It takes a village to raise a child; it takes generations to raise a feminist.