In this podcast the Foundation for Change team discuss the topic of feminism. This is something that is very close to our hearts and the topic of gender and power is something that runs thought all of our programmes - but most obviously is central to our Feminism for Change programme.

Since it is such a huge subject the team discuss some of the broader points of feminism that are relevant to people in recovery and personal growth in general, some of the basic principles of feminist theory and briefly touch upon the herstory of its evolution.

Feminist theory isn’t just one idea, but rather covers a lot of different ideas evolving across many different stages. Feminist theory does however hold one common thread which is the desire to challenge existing power structures (“that’s just the way things are”) that oppress people.

Feminism is developing constantly, but this is often talked about as being in 4 different ‘waves’. The First Wave of the Women’s Movement (Mid 1800s-1920s) was very much focussed on the rights of women to vote and to be seen as equal to men in terms of being rational or logical and access to education. There are well documented connections between the early women’s movement and the anti-slavery movement as well as early radical free thinker groups that had proposed new ideas about how society might be changed for the better. These connections illustrate that the women’s movement emerges from understanding that men and women were shaped by environment rather than by nature and recognised the social inequality within this.

Important figures from the Women’s Movement during this period include the campaigner Millicent Fawcett who has recently (2018) been commemorated, somewhat belatedly, by a statue in Parliament Square – making her the first-ever woman to be honoured in this way. The campaign for the right of women to vote took on a much more active approach with the Suffragette movement and the call to ‘Deeds not words’ – meaning direct political action rather than campaigning. Much of the political activity was coordinated through the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) with prominent figureheads such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst and Sylvia Pankhurst and well known members such as Emily Wilding Davison who died after being hit by King George V's horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby when she walked onto the track during the race – there is debate as to whether she intended to take her own life in order to raise awareness, or died in the act of protest. 

Sylvia Pankhurst is an extremely interesting figure, who acrimoniously split with the WSPU and her family since she saw the need for community action and the need to support working class women. Sylvia Pankhurst became increasingly involved in anti-fascist and anti colonialist movements and moved to Ethiopia in 1956 at the invitation of Haile Selassie. She died at the age of 70 and is buried in Addis Ababa. Interesting side note about Haile Selassie is the importance he is given in the Rastafari religion. Rastafarians regard Selassie as either an incarnation of Jah on Earth and as the Second Coming of Christ or regard him as a human prophet who fully recognised the inner divinity within every individual.

In 1918 women in the UK were granted the vote although only if they were over the age of 30, were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5, or graduates of British universities.  So if you were a younger or working class woman you’d have to wait another 10 years to achieve the same rights as men to vote.

Post Colonialism and feminism- although it doesn’t fit neatly into a ‘timeline’ of waves of feminism – it’s worth noting the publication in 1949 of The Second Sex (Le Deuxième Sexe) by the French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir which is often regarded as a major work of feminist philosophy and the starting point of second-wave feminism. The book and Simone de Beauvoir are interesting on several levels. Firstly, from the perspective of existentialism she discusses the idea of authenticity which introduces the idea of gender as socially constructed. So that “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman" and that women ‘learn’ the rules of performing or how to be a woman in the world. The other significance of Simone de Beauvoir is the influence of her friendship with the Algerian philosopher Franz Fanon. Fanon wrote about the economic, political, cultural, and the psychological damage of colonial power and describes the rage of people from the developing world at the brutalization by European and American imperialists. This recognition of the enormous violence and pain inflicted by the economically and politically powerful on the less privileged articulates much of the impact of patriarchy (see later).

The second wave: (1960s -1980s) - Following two world wars in which women had more than shown they were capable of being ‘rational’ and functioning outside the home, women aligned in the 1960s alongside the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam war protests in order to demand radical changes in how society operated. Second wave feminists advocated social, sexual and reproductive change.

Second wave feminism achieved a great deal and was a part of the emerging identity politics of Gay Liberation and Black Consciousness raising groups. ‘The personal is political’ slogan made the connections between personal experience and larger social and political structures. The challenges of second wave feminism to the nuclear family structures – wife stays at home to raise children whilst the male is the breadwinner - were not only based on employment or financial equalities but also identified that much of our (female and male) personal trauma and distress is rooted in these structures. 

By the 1980 there was a growing criticism of second wave feminism as being increasingly dominated by white, middle-class academic women who held most cultural power. ‘Intersectional feminism’ was a term coined in the 1980s when black feminists such as Audre Lorde and bell hooks argued for a more inclusive movement that fought for race, class and LGBTQ rights, creating accessible works that could be understood easily by many people. 

Third wave feminism (1990s) believed that feminism should be for everyone, including LGBTQ and trans women and promoted a feminism defined by the individual. Whatever feminism third wavers adopted (whatever they did) was considered a sign of women exercising their power to choose – this was increasingly an age where ‘self’ was emerging in all forms of social consciousness – when our relationship to technology becomes personalised (walkman/portable music/telephone/pc).

Paradoxically this change in relationship to technology has driven a fourth wave of feminism that was able to connect globally to diverse cultures. For this reason, it is probably the most intersectional, inclusive, and gender fluid of all the waves. The fourth wave has seen people mobilise and organise through social media, starting movements through blogs (Malala Yousafzai), viral videos (Pussy Riot), collectives (Sisters Uncut) and Ted Talks (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‚Äč) and protesting widely against sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence, period poverty, paternity leave and equal pay. 

Fourth wave feminism challenges social norms and practices through movements such as Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism, anti-FGM campaigns by Nimco Ali and Leyla Hussein, the Black Lives Matter organisation and the exposing of common sexual assault across multiple industries resulting in Time’s Up, and it is also most explicit in exploring how patriarchal oppression is also damaging to men.