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Feminism today: The Wave of Movements

Prishita Shah, Aashya Abubaker Kar, and Aarti Shyamsunder


At a time when it’s almost equally tempting to call yourself a ‘feminist’ or be repelled by the term and hurl it as an insult on social media (‘feminist pishachini’, ‘feminazi’, ‘pseudo-feminist’), we at Team Metamorphosis want to take a step back and understand the idea of feminism especially seen in historical context! At its core, feminism is the social, political and economic equality of sexes. Feminism has been fundamental in the fight for equality around the world, and while the roots of feminism date back to ancient Greece, most people recognise it by its four waves.

  • The First wave of Feminism (1830s - 1900s) – Getting the Vote

  • The Second Wave of Feminism (1960s - 1980s) – The Personal is Political

  • The Third Wave of Feminism (1990s - Early 2000s) – Grrrrl Feminism

  • The Fourth Wave of Feminism (ongoing) – The Wave of Movements

In all movements there comes a point of confusion and contestation. For feminism, it seems to be the fourth wave we find ourselves in. We’re not entirely sure how it began or where exactly it came from or if the ‘wave’ metaphor is even an accurate one anymore. But, for the most part, we can agree a fourth wave is happening. And it seems to be an amalgamation of all its predecessors. As April Sizemore-Barber, a gender studies scholar, said in a Vox interview, “I think that now feminism is inherently intersectional feminism — we are in a place of multiple feminisms.”


If the first wave fought to get women to be seen as human beings, the fourth sees feminists questioning and redefining what it means to be a woman in itself. The fourth wave occupies the space at the intersection of multiple conversations that are happening across the globe. These conversations go beyond “women’s issues” to also highlight sex positive, queer, trans inclusive, body positive, anti-misandry, race-gender politics, caste and gender, and so on. Fourth wave feminism goes beyond previous feminist demands on multiple fronts. From Laura Bates’ work on the ‘Everyday Sexism’ project back in 2012 to present day conversations about victim blaming, toxic feminism, internalized misogyny and insidious microaggressions, modern feminism has taken on multiple forms. Moreover, somewhere around the #MeToo and #TimesUp Movements, the fourth wave has also emerged strongly as an internet phenomenon and a social media driven movement.


It has also meant that there have been those many new challenges for women to deal with as well. Consider the year 2020 itself. The world was hit with one of its most defiant and unprecedented crises - COVID 19. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected women more profoundly than men in several areas, both at the workplace (especially in the health and social sector), and at home with an increased workload due to lockdown and quarantine measures. Even pre-pandemic, the prevailing “work devotion schema” or “ideal worker” norm has long penalised women for being forced to work fewer hours, or requesting flexible alternatives, and that too has been exacerbated in the pandemic. 1 in 4 women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workplace due the impact of the pandemic (Women in the Workplace, 2020). Research showed that by August 2020 most of those who had reported being employed pre-pandemic were back in work. But women’s economic recovery lagged behind that of men.


Not to forget the rapid increase in cases of domestic abuse for women who considered their work to be their refuge. Research showed that women who were already experiencing violence before the pandemic had a higher rate of violence during lockdown. In India, between March 25 and May 31, 2020, women reported 1,477 complaints of domestic violence (and these were only the recorded ones.) This 68-day period recorded more complaints than those received between March and May in the previous 10 years. It was also observed that about 86% of women who experienced violence never sought help, and 77% of the victims did not even mention the incident(s) to anyone.


According to Martha Rampton, the fourth wave of feminism is emerging because (mostly) young people of all genders realize that the third wave was either overly optimistic or hampered by blinders. And based on what we gather from the varied takes that people have on the fourth wave, is that somewhere along the line feminism moved from an intellectual space into the public sphere. Social media and hashtag-driven activism, created a community where debates could be sparked and discourse could take on more than just one form. The previous waves were characterized by specific goals, but this one seems to be tackling all of them all at once. Fourth wave feminists can take forward past conversations with increased access to resources and knowledge than our predecessors. And so, the fourth also seems to be giving feminists and “humanists” and “equality activists” alike a chance to pause, find common ground and redefine the movement for themselves. Our hope is that the vastness and diversity of this fourth wave of feminism fortifies us to get us back on track, stronger than ever.

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