In this day and age, the word “feminism” is the elder sibling of the now-shrugged upon “suffragette”; a prejudiced word that corners and categorizes women to say the least. Originating as the emasculated morphological variant of “suffragist” and connotatively frowned upon French –ette suffix, the term of “suffragette” had incipiently been branded as a meta-insult towards its followers. Over the course of centuries, –ette has become a marker of things that are short or smaller-than-usual (Steinmetz 2015), denigrating – according to the Head of U.S. dictionaries for Oxford Katherine Martin (Steinmetz), or even “ultimately condescending”, voiced historian Nancy Rohr (Steinmetz).
If a stronger word is now more widely used to refer to the form of activism, it may very well be thanks to the contemporary advocates of the movement for gender equality. Surely, role models for women and defenders of their rights are as old as time: Vashti and Esther, both stemming from the Book of Esther as prominent figures within the celebration of Purim (Ross 2016).. According to Martha Rampton (2015), professor of history and director of the Center for Gender Equity at Pacific University: “some thinkers have sought to locate the roots of feminism in ancient Greece with Sappho (d. c. 570 BCE), or the medieval world with Hildegard of Bingen (d. 1179) or Christine de Pisan (d. 1434)…Certainly Olympes de Gouge (d. 1791)…”
More recent examples in our post-Enlightenment society include Britain’s Mary Wollstonecraft with her magnum-opus from 1792 titled “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”; the work’s purpose was plain and focused: “to explain how men and women are totally equal beings” (Shmoop Editorial Team 2008). Jane Austen deserves to be mentioned as well (Rampton 2015), resulting in a great legacy of suffrage movement started in Great Britain. Important benchmarks stemming from the lasting suffrage outcry includes the foundation of the International Alliance of Women (originally called the “International Woman Suffrage Alliance”), which promotes women’s human rights around the world; the Matrimonial Causes Act 1907 and the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 both amended the law in favor of a more balanced rule of law, irrespective of gender. On a final retrospective note, suffrage was given to all women over the age of 21 in Great Britain in 1928 (Crawford 1999).
The first wave of feminism took place during the late part of the 19th century throughout the early 20th century, with prominent focus on opportunities for women and suffrage (Rampton 2015). During the second wave, from the 1960s on to the 1990s, sexuality and reproductive rights were dominant issues as well as striving towards social equality (Rampton). The third wave of feminism wanted to adopt the notion of “universal womanhood” (Rampton). Women were to be considered feminine for their attire, personality and skillset and not because of their sexuality.
Late 2014 marked the inception of a new era within the trending fourth-wave of feminism-movement for many reasons, yet two stand out. The first one is Emma Watson’s poignant speech as introduction to her role as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and spokesperson for HeForShe – a solidarity movement for gender equality which calls upon men and boys to help end the persisting inequalities faced by women and girls globally (the UN’s own definition of the movement). The British actress’ appearance for the NGO has sparked worldwide praise and attention ever since her appointment as ambassador and spokesperson.
Secondly is the Sony Pictures Entertainment Hack Scandal. The leak may have shed light on countless of Hollywood projects-to-be (notably inside information pertaining to blockbusters like 2015’s “Spectre” being over-budgeted from production onwards), or instilling the lukewarm debate regarding the acting categories at awards show, pertaining to a perennial question: do actresses win awards easier than actors do, having to fight off less heart-shrieking performances within their category? Another analysis for another debate for another time. The Sony-scandal might perhaps be the sacrilege feminism has been waiting for. Actresses are seemingly less paid than their male counterparts in Hollywood productions. Hannah Minghella, co-president of production at Sony’s Columbia Pictures division, earns less than her male counterpart, according to hacked Sony documents (Copeland 2014). Additionally, the leak showed magnate Marvel Studio’s apparent distaste for relaunching female-driven superhero movies (Goodman 2015). However; aHowes of now, things have evolved towards the better side: a female version of Captain Marvel is scheduled to be incorporated into the vastly successful and ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Also, Charlize Theron renegotiated her fee for 2016’s “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”, in order to be equally paid as her male co-star Chris Hemsworth, joining stars Patricia Arquette and Emma Watson who advocate equal gender payment (Lewis 2015 and Smith 2015).
The year of 2014 marked significant international top news stories: the Ebola outbreak, the rise of the Islamic State’s insurgency, the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram or the passing away of beloved comedian Robin Williams (Shkimba 2014). Yet, editorial apex The Guardian has labeled the year of 2014 as a watershed one, where “the power of social media can be a new force for good for gender equality” (The Guardian 2014). In parallel, Time has stapled 2014 as “the best year for women since the dawn of time … but there’s a long way to go.” (Alter 2014). And indeed there will be and there is.
Since the watershed year, a lot of progress has been made. The Church of England has ordained its first female bishop in 2015. In July 2015, on her 18th birthday, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai opened a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon, in the Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border (Mendoza 2015).
Emma Watson has taken her HeForShe commitments to the next level by taking her cause to the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2015 and 2016, whilst organizing a widely covered Q&A session on International Women’s Day, in 2015. On the same date, in 2016, Watson jointly inaugurated the HeForShe Arts Week: “a new initiative to leverage the arts for gender equality”. Subsequently, the British actress has taken a year off acting in order to pursue her work on feminism as well as curating her brand-new feminist “Our Shared Shelf” book club.
For or against feminism, only one thing is sure: feminism is here to stay. Now, the true question can be asked: how will the movement evolve next? Towards genuine social-professional equality, or towards a newest form of social discrimination? We shall have to wait and see.
Author: Lee Grauls
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Retrieved from http://time.com/3639944/feminism-2014-womens-rights-ray-rice-bill-cosby/
- Copeland, L. (2014) Sony Pictures Hack Reveals Stark Gender Pay Gap. Slate.
Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/12/05/sony_pictures_hack_reveals_gender_pay_gap_at_the_entertainment_company_and.html
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Retrieved from http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Why-Captain-Marvel-Movie-Looking-Even-Better-Retrospect-68142.html
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Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/05/sony-emails-female-superhero-movies_n_7212386.html
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Retrieved from http://bigstory.ap.org/article/319a0f04946149fa8063bf06199c1968/church-england-ordain-first-female-bishop
- Lewis, H. (2015). Charlize Theron Talks Gender Pay Gap in Hollywood: “This is a Good Time for us to Bring This to a Place of Fairness”. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/charlize-theron-talks-gender-pay-794470
- Mendoza, J. (2015). Malala Yousafzai’s birthday request: investment in ‘books, not bullets’. The Christian Science Monitor.
- Rampton, M. (2015). Four Waves of Feminism. Pacific University of Oregon.
Retrieved from http://www.pacificu.edu/about-us/news-events/four-waves-feminism
- Ross, A. (2016) The Feminist History of the Jewish Holiday of Purim. Time.
Retrieved from http://time.com/4269357/queen-vashti-feminist-history/
- Shkimba, M. (2014) SHKIMBA: Outrage prompts new era for women. The Hamilton Spectator.
Retrieved from http://www.thespec.com/opinion-story/5236625-shkimba-outrage-prompts-new-era-for-women/
- Smith, E. (2015). Charlize gets more than $10M deal after fighting for equal pay. Page Six.
Retrieved from http://pagesix.com/2015/01/07/charlize-hemsworths-earning-10m-for-huntsman-and-so-should-i/
- Steinmetz, K. (2015). Everything You Need to Know About the Word ‘Suffragette’. Time
Retrieved from http://time.com/4079176/suffragette-word-history-film/
- Shmoop Editorial Team (2008). A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Retrieved from http://www.shmoop.com/a-vindication-of-the-rights-of-woman/
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Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/31/guardian-view-year-feminism-2014-watershed
- Website of UN Women.
Retrieved from http://www.unwomen.org
- Website of HeForShe along with mission statement.
Retrieved from http://www.heforshe.org/en/our-mission
- Website of HeForShe, with information regarding HeForShe Arts Week
Retrieved from http://www.heforshe.org/en/newsroom/news/arts-week-2016-live