Feminism and Women’s Rights in North America Essay
Over the past century women have made huge accomplishments in the fight for equal rights. Over the past one hundred years woman have won the right to vote, the right to work and they have shattered the stereo-type that women must be ‘baby producing house keepers’. However, even with the success of the feminist movement there are still numerous issues that exist in all areas of life. Women occupy 50% of the work force but earn up to 20% less than males, 53% of the world’s population is female however females only hold 1% of the world’s wealth.While feminism has come a long way in the previous years many believe that there is a long way to go before we can accurately say men and women have equal rights.
The term Feminist has been around since the early nineteenth century. Since the beginning of time women have been demanding respect and equality, but it wasn’t until about a little over a century ago when women began to make any headway in their fight for equality. In the late 19th and early 20th century women first organized their fight against the wide spread abuse of alcohol, this was known as the Women’s Temperance Movement.During this time women were not allowed to work and were expected to stay home and take care of the household duties. Women were forced to rely on the incomes of their male counter parts however, alcohol abuse sustained a huge threat to the financial stability of the family. In the 19th Century Americans spent about 2 million dollars on education, 9 million on food, and one billion on alcohol. Women were forced to struggle to put food on the table and had virtually no say in how alcohol consumption was being dealt with.
Women were unable to state their concern as they did not have access to political town meetings where the women were forbidden to go inside. Women from across the world fought for their voice to be heard and in 1920 feminist across Canada celebrated the prohibition of alcohol. This act would forever be known as the first major reform in the first wave of feminism.
The first wave of feminism focused mainly on the woman’s suffrage, however that was not the only goal of the first wave.Women demanded to have rights in regards to their children, the right to own and inherit property, to achieve a higher education level, the right to a job and of course the right to vote. As the men went off to war and women became more influential members of society the government granted the Suffragette’s appeal and in 1918 women across Canada were given the right to vote. While for many, mostly those within patriarchal societies, believe that the first wave was a tremendous success for women across the nation there were still several issues regarding equality among men and women alike.
Equality for all women was still a hopeful battle in the eyes of the Suffragette’s as Aboriginal women living on reserves still were not given the equality shared among their fellow female citizens. Aboriginal women were not given the right to vote and would not win this right until 1960. With the reforms following the first wave of feminism women began to integrate themselves into the society and out of the home. Women became employers and consumers and they were given more rights than they ever had before. However there was still wide spread inequality across Canada.Job ads were segregated by sex, battered women’s shelters were non-existent and the public service fired female employees who got married. Feminist across Canada were left distraught at the inequality that they faced, this sparking the beginning of the Second Wave of feminism.
Second Wave Feminists focused on a broad range of issues spanning from the 1960’s to the early 80’s. Although Canadian women could now work and vote they faced new challenges with discrimination in the workplace and in broader society.Some of the demands of the second wave were, equal pay, rights and protection in cases of rape and domestic violence, pornography and sexism in the media, and reproductive choice. The fight for reproductive choice included a fight to have information about, and access to, birth control, which had been illegal in Canada until 1969, as well as the struggle to decriminalize abortion. To many the second wave seemed to be a tremendous success, however paper and practice are two different things.In the book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi she claims that after the second wave the media portrayed a growing trend in unhappiness in women across North America. The media claimed that this unhappiness was due to the recent acts of the feminist movement.
The media claimed that by embracing their independence and focusing more on perusing a career, women had damaged their chances for marriage and a family. News papers claimed that women who were unmarried were more likely to experience depression and mental breakdowns. In the 1986 Newsweek even ublished an article claiming that you had a better chance of getting killed by a terrorist than getting married if you were a college educated woman of 30. Even with the new legal equalities achieved by the second wave, equality in the media and in society was still a distant dream. In fear of losing their patriarchal power, the media scared women away from feminism and women feared that if they too were outspoken proud feminist that they would be the next victim on the cover of Newsweek. As more and more women began to back away from the feminist wave, feminism was once again set back on its heels.
Author Naomi Wolf, writer of the best seller The Beauty Myth, claims that myths surrounding female stereo types have been around for centuries in order to keep women in their place. During the second wave of feminism myths such as chastity and passivity were strongly enforced on women. But once feminism had done away with those myths the patriarchy quickly created new ones to enforce upon them. One of these myths is known as the beauty myth. Wolf believes that the media and society as a whole enforces these unattainable standards in order to keep women insecure, self doubting and most importantly, distracted .Patriarchies pumped out images of stick thin models with perfect skin and straight teeth in order to make women believe that being perfect does not make you perfect, being perfect only simply makes you average. In recent years women have been facing an all new form of oppression. Portrayals of women in the media, whether it be music videos, advertisements or television appearances, have cast a new standard of a woman’s role in society.
More than ever women are being objectified and used as sex objects in the promotion of music and new products.Advertisements portray women with thin waists and large behinds and breast disproportioned and unrealistic to their body frame. The women in these adds are usually dehumanized and appear nearly flawless.
From 2006 to 2007 there was a staggering 51. 4% increase in breast augmentation alone. Face lift procedures increased by 42. 1% and rhinoplasties surgeries followed behind with a 34. 7% increase. As women struggled to adapt to the image they were being forced in to, a small group of feminist rose again to put a stop to the media backlash.
This movement was known as the third wave of feminism.The third wave started in the early 1990’s and is continuing to develop even into 2012. However, this wave was very unlike the rest. Where the second wave had been largely dominated by white middle class women the third wave was more about race, gender, social class and sexuality.
The third wave was also very youth oriented and run by girls who had grown up in the midst of the second wave. The third wave encouraged sexual freedom, gay and lesbian equality and a widespread belief in acceptance. Feminist demand to be viewed as equals not only in the work force but in politics as well.In Canada only 21% of the seats held in Parliament are held by women.
While the movement seems less announced in this current wave there is no doubt that the fight for women’s equality is far from over. However, with the accomplishments of the three waves of feminism many skeptics question, what more could women want? In 2012 a study was conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) to discover if 40 years of feminism later, women still do more household duties than men. For most women, the result wasn’t surprising.
The study discovered that only about 13% of men do equal or more house work than their female partners. Even though these women have full time careers only 3% said that they dedicate less than 3 hours a week to housework. according to the IPPR, real equality in society will never be reached until a man “picks up the vacuum cleaner and does his fair share”.
Over the past century woman’s rights have grown exponentially. Women now have the right to express their beliefs, give their opinion in government and they now have the strength to stand against the pressing ideals forced upon us by the media.With the rapid and generally positive growth in women’s right, feminist can’t help but be eager to see the reforms from the previous waves completed and complete and total equality achieved for all those who live in Canada. Women’s rights and feminism will be a constant battle and feminist will continue to fight for not only the rights of their fellow women but also the rights of all citizens whose voices have yet to be heard. As Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be nominated as Vice President of the United States, once said.
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