Throughout almost all (if not all) of recorded history, society has existed to at least some extent as a patriarchy. In such a societal set-up it is the man who is in control, not only of government, of religion and of business but also of the household. Up until the 19th century it was assumed that this was simply the natural order of things, it was not until the time which roughly coincided with the first beginnings of the feminist movement that these patriarchal assumptions began to be challenged. Many women discuss the ancient days when society was matriarchal and followed the law of the woman rather than the man. It is often said that many of the problems in our society are caused by the fact that men are running the world and not women.
In the beginning of the feminist movement feminism had a very simple cause: women’s suffrage. In the United States of America it was a fact that 50% of the country had no right to vote for the majority of the country’s history. This was of course a grave injustice and women from around the country began to band together to get real changes to the way that society viewed women and their role in governance.
Many of the women who are still seen as poster girls of the feminist movement arose during this period. These include such women as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth and of course Susan B. Anthony who for decades graced the American silver dollar.
Although suffrage was their main goal, women also sought to tear down some of the boundaries which defined “the feminine” during this period. At the height of the Victorian Era women were severely restricted not only by law but by societal norms, it was the goal of feminism to break down these norms and liberate women to be their true selves and not just what society determined they should be.
Women achieved the vote in the United States in the 1920’s and this paved the path for what is known as the second wave of feminism. This is mostly seen to have begun during World War 2 and the postwar period. It sought to redefine women’s roles, especially in allowing women to work outside of the home, sexual liberation and other major issues. This movement of feminism also saw the creation of NOW: the National Organization of Women. This remains of one of the central organizations in the feminist movement.
The third wave of feminism began in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. It seeks to achieve a liberation of women of all races and religions, as well as women around the world. One of the major issues of the third wave is that of abortion. Basic human rights, including the right over one’s own body is seen as a cornerstone of the third wave of feminism and thus the right to an abortion is one of their primary platforms.