The issue regarding the rights of women is not a new one. In the past, there were distinctive differences between men and women, between their roles in society and their models of behavior. However, considerable changes have been found since those times. Today gender roles have been shifted, making strong impact on society. Women in the Western culture are now no more satisfied with the role of a homemaker; they prefer to make their own careers and share the same rights with men (Howie, 2010). This fact means women’s rights are based on freedom that can be viewed as a virtue, but not as a burden. Women continue to fight for their rights. The emergence of feminist movements and ideologies united under the title of feminism (Gillis & Hollows, 2008). Today, there is a continuous discourse on the behalf of both opponents and proponents of feminism, but the main thing is to understand the very roots and reasons of the phenomenon (Gillis et al., 2007). Therefore, the major goal of this study is to find out the objective state of the problem and conclude whether women do win by acquiring the equal status with men in human society. For that end, the existing literature covering different perspectives will be analyzed. In particular, the study will be focused on proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century; passing the Representation of the People Act in 1918; demonstrations on women’s suffrage; women’s efforts during the First World War and the Second World War; the first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism on the whole. The research is expected to prove that although social reconstruction of sex and gender is not always beneficial neither for women nor for men, the struggle for equal opportunities has become a historically determined stage of social development. These events reflect the changes in feminist movements and help to better understand the successes and failures of women in fighting for their rights. The impact of each event or development that will be discussed in this paper is connected with the changing role of women and with their changing opportunities in achievement of the established goals. Thesis statement: Women’s role in the struggle for equal opportunities highlights the positive effects of feminism on the social reconstruction of sex and gender that was caused by a number of important historical events and developments, such as the development of proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century; passing the Representation of the People Act in 1918; demonstrations on women’s suffrage; women’s efforts during the First World War and the Second World War; the development of the first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism.
The major goal of this article is to review the historical events and developments which involve women from 1865 to the present. It will explore six specific events or developments that span the years covered by this course, based on their impact on the topic “women’s role in history”. The research is focused on the analysis of both European Women’s rights and the women’s rights movements launched in the U.S, defined as the first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism.
Proto-feminist movements in Europe :
The development of proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century played an important role in the promotion of the philosophy of feminism. Women were inspired by proto-feminist concerns that women should be equal to men. Proto-feminist movements contributed to women’s achievements in different spheres of human activity. Actually, in the 19-th century, women’s condition under the law differed from that of men. In economics and politics, women had no power. However, women’s consciousness was more progressive compared with that of women who lived earlier than the 19-tyh century (Worell, 2000). In other words, the development of proto-feminist movements is connected with the development of feminist consciousness focused on the expansion of women’s rights and development of women’s rights movements. The Female Moral Reform Society is an example of effective proto-feminist movement aimed at representation women in a powerful position, placing emphasis on the public advocacy of personal ethics (Gillis & Hollows, 2008; Worell, 2000).
Representation of the People Act in 1918 :
The Representation of the People Act (1918) criticized the limited rights of women and continued to call for equal rights. This act provided an opportunity to establish fair relationships between men and women, promoting the idea of equal pay for equal work. New reforms of the 1900s contributed to the growth of feminism. According to the Representation of the People Act of 1918, all women included in the local governmental register, aged 30 and over, were enfranchised (Gillis & Hollows, 2008; Worell, 2000). The right to vote was granted to women who were householders, the householders’ wives, and who occupied the property with an annual rent of L5 and more, and who were the graduates of British universities (Gillis & Hollows, 2008).
Moreover, the debate regarding the passage of the Representation of the People Act raised the issues about the effects of the law, but it failed to change the established culture of parliamentary politics. Many women politicians did not criticize male-dominated political parties, remaining loyal to men’s power (Early video on the emancipation of women, 1930). In the 1900s, men remained in the positions of power, although the political movement regarding women’s suffrage in the U.K. began before the WWI (Worell, 2000).
On women’s suffrage :
Many demonstrations were organized to address women’s suffrage rights. The first demonstration was the parade organized by Blatch in New York in 1910. Harriot Stanton Blatch was one of activists who promoted the idea of bringing a new suffrage bill, which could become the first step to women’s voting rights. In 1907, she established the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women. In 1913, the suffrage match was held in Washington D.C. More than 5000 women activist took part in this match, hoping to win public support for suffrage. In 1916, the Women’s Political Union organized many demonstrations on women’s suffrage. In the U.S., President Wilson agreed to support the idea of women’s suffrage in 1918 after numerous protests organized by feminists. As a result, women’s rights activists were aimed at equality in all spheres of human activity based on women’s suffrage. In 1919, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed by the U.S. Congress (Howie, 2010; Worell, 2000).
Role of Women during the First World War :
Women’s role during the First World War reflected their social and economic position. Feminists were not satisfied with the idea that women’s work was classified as less important than men’s work. Besides, the working class women who were the representatives of the first wave feminism promoted the ideas of feminism at work and in homes, in stores, halls and local newspapers. They believed in their rights and were focused on the promotion of collective actions aimed at realization of their agenda. However, men opposed women’s involvement into male jobs during the First World War. Male trade unions defended the division of labor based on gender (Gillis & Hollows, 2008).
Finally, women’s activism in the era of the First World War, the considerable increases in the cost of living in that period, as well as the recognition of the established trade unions and the passage of the constitutional amendment to support women’s suffrage contributed to women’s mobilization during the war. According to Howie (2010), patriotic women highlighted the importance of the ideas of feminism. Due to the diversity of experiences during that period, women could become more independent in their choices. Although many women realized that their rights were limited, they supported feminism and motivated others to join wartime mobilization (Howie, 2010).
Role of Women during the Second World War :
Women’s efforts during the Second World War were focused on more radical changes. Unlike in the First World War, during the Second World War women’s position was more stable. The governments allowed women to join the armed forces and be involved in the war-related production. All women aged under 40 years old were divided into two categories: mobile and immobile. Mobile women were allowed to join army and carry out war work duties. Immobile women were responsible for caring children and elderly people. Many of them were involved in voluntary work, either in industry or in voluntary organizations (Howie, 2010). Women were allowed to work 16 hours a day and perform men’s duties. However, women were paid less than men. Besides, they were discriminated in the workplace. Thus, women played an important role in the war effort, although their position in society was still less valuable, comparing with men’s position (Howie, 2010; Gillis & Hollows, 2008).
The three waves of feminism :
As the American women’s movement is characterizes as “waves”, there is a necessity to refer to three waves of feminism and identify certain differences between them. Actually, the development of the first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism highlight the importance of women’s involvement in social reconstruction of sex and gender (Howie, 2010). Although these waves are closely connected with one another, there are some differences in their philosophies. It has been found that each wave of feminism is based on the successes and failures of previous generations of women. For example, the first wave feminism is reflected by the following successes: suffrage and voting rights. These developments occurred in the late 1800s- the early 1900s, influencing further changes in women’s representation (MacKinnon, 1995).
In addition, the second wave feminism, which was launched in the 1960s, placed emphasis on the role of personal politics in human society. The banner of the second wave feminism was “the personal is political”. Actually, it was based on women’s rights, such as abortion rights, child care rights, as well as other issues, including women’s recognition of unpaid labor, access to health care services and equal pay for equal work. Catharine MacKinnon, the Professor of Law at the University of Michigan and the author of the book Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, argues that women’s rights are still limited and there is a necessity for broader horizons for women. A variety of issues of concern remain unsolved. Women continue to fight for their rights (MacKinnon, 1995). According to Hollows, and Moseley (2006), there is a close relationship between the second wave feminism and popular culture, but feminism cannot be viewed as a “monolithic and homogeneous movement” (p. 3).
Moreover, the first wave and the second wave feminism created certain challenges, such as the concerns about racism and discrimination, tensions between generations, etc. These concerns can be found in the next wave of feminism – the third wave feminism, which was launched in the 1990s (MacKinnon, 1995). The third wave feminism is based on criticism of collective past of women’s movement and building more diverse and dynamic movement. In other word it is characterized by the increased role of multiculturalism (MacKinnon, 1995). Alice Walker (1983) helps to assess the role of virtues, beliefs and values in the creation of a womanist virtue ethic, which forms the basis of third wave feminism. She states that social activism helps in promotion of feminist ideas and addresses the challenges caused by diverse society.
Thus, it is necessary to conclude that women have always played an important role in the development of history. This article is based on providing evidence regarding the effects of social reconstruction of sex and gender on women and their participation in the struggle for equal opportunities, which has become a historically determined stage of social development. The history that involves women has been developed over centuries, constantly changing its goals and forms, increasing the popularity of women’s movement, mainly in the 20-th century, when suffrage and voting rights were popularized. The role of women in the 19-th century differed from their roles in the 20-th century. The events that occurred in the 1900s contributed to the developments in the later decades. For example, proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century contributed to the development of more independent views on women’s rights and duties. The third wave feminism completely changes women’s views on their role in social development through the relationship between feminist movement and popular culture. Generally speaking, women’s role in the struggle for equal opportunities throughput the history emphasizes the positive effects of feminist ideas on the social reconstruction of sex and gender that was caused by a number of important historical developments, including the development of proto-feminist movements in Europe of the 19-the century; passing the Representation of the People Act in 1918; demonstrations on women’s suffrage; women’s efforts during the First World War and the Second World War; the development of the first wave, the second wave and the third wave feminism.
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