24 March 2021

Feminism: Are We Taking a Step Forward or Back?

A women's walk is an everyday fight, from striving for equal rights to America having its first female Vice President. Our walk has been louder than ever but have they always been this loud? History once entitled a woman's purpose as ‘the angel of the house; when and how did it all change?

The First Wave

Throughout years of global history, women's freedom was found between a four-spaced building — a house. Only in the 19th century was feminism centralised as a movement to achieve a woman’s individual identity through equality, suffrage, and women's rights. The first wave was truly a starting block for feminism: questioning the ideology of what freedom was for women through striking for suffrage and women’s rights. 

For that, we’ve feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to thank when they formed the different bodies geared to spread awareness and act as a means to challenge society's view of women’s lack of political identities. 

With the fire to fight for their freedom, feminism rose for women to gain their identity and quickly gained global recognition because women worldwide had a universal ground —  to gain individual identities.

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The Second Wave

Though the suffrage movement was considered a success after The U.S. Nineteenth Amendment's triumphant passage granted all women the right to vote, equality wasn’t treated the same; thus the birth of the second wave of feminism. The 1970’s Women's Strike for Equality was one of the few strikes conducted that questioned workplace equality, access to education, and free childcare. 

The second wave of feminism highlighted women not given equal opportunities because of the expectation to get married and have a family rather than build their career. The strike brought positive results when women were given access to education and allowed to partake in sports after Title IX, a civil law that prohibited sex discrimination in any educational programme receiving federal funds, was passed in 1972. A year later, abortion was also legalised and organisations began to implement policies to ban sexual harassment in the workplace. 

But one of the biggest problems the second wave of feminism brought about is that it only really positively impacted the middle-class white women instead of equality for everyone.

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The Third Wave

Though the definition of feminism stays consistent throughout the years, its purpose evolves based on society's rules and judgement. The third wave rose to address the backlash of the second wave, bringing equality to all. 

After ex-president Donald Trump’s inauguration, the world saw not one, but two marches that fought for equality amongst all. In 2018, the ‘Power to the Polls’ March was conducted to call out limited female representatives in politics. Outraged and concerned by a political system that was misogynistic and attacked equality for people of colour, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ community, hundreds of thousands of women also took to the streets in the Equality March.

Ultimately, a diverse community of women co-founded one of the nation's biggest demonstrations to celebrate the tradition of suffragists, feminists, and other civil rights leaders while pushing for a more decentralised and inclusive movement. Four years later, we’re finally seeing a reduction in political stereotypes, especially when America's first female Vice President, Kamala Harris, was brought into the office. 

In comparison, Malaysia may not have been receiving the same recognition as most European countries do. Yet, this doesn’t stop us from fighting towards our goal. Malaysian women have also come a long way since the country's independence in 1957 — just take a look at Datuk Nicol Ann David, Hannah Yeoh, and many other Malaysian women inspiring us with their personal growth

Though growth is visible, but there’s still room for change.

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As a country, we’re not exactly the most advance in our thoughts — just look at the debate on child marriage and women being told to act demure to their husbands. Yet, we’ve taken a stand, organising several Women’s March to share our disagreement on child marriage and violence against women among other problems in the country. The youth dominant movement was quick to gain political attention as women questioned the doctrine behind political, economic, and health ignorance, through their inspiring and brutally honest pickets’ signs

Though several may assume that the movement wasn’t recognised largely, we did make progress with Malaysia implementing the National Strategy Planning Handling the Cause of Child Marriage

But is that enough?

Three Waves Later — Have We Effectively Progressed?

Women today give their best and actively contribute in almost all male-dominated fields. Yet factors such as gender-gaps still exist in different forms like unequal pay despite changes on pay discrimination being implemented in the 19th century. Abuse and sexual harassment has also been another factor to this regression with one in every five women being subjected to sexual and/or physical abuse by; and the numbers are still increasing.

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Now we have to ask — have we taken two steps backwards with every step forward? 

Women are told to adapt and adjust themselves to face challenges; to be resilient to these changes. But we mustn’t stay silent to challenges that are discriminating. From the murder of Sarah Everards to the Asian American shooting, these incidents have opened our eyes, conveying the constant discrimination women still face. We mustn’t settle for a society that justifies that ‘not all men’ doing something is enough to turn a blind eye towards those who do. Rather, we need to address that hatred and inequality still exists. 

In this era and age, it’s clear that gender-gaps and violence against women must be the next movement vision. In Malaysia, social media has indeed benefitted to act as awareness for the younger generation. However, it isn’t sufficient. Building a bridge between older and younger female generations through strikes and social events can make our voices stronger and louder, fostering confidence, respect, and encouragement for different groups of people to stand united. 

As a student and a teacher, I’d want to teach the next generation on the importance of taking action and the prevention steps. You can do your part too! Join clubs and movements such as Taylor’s Girl Up which educates, supports female empowerment through TED Talks, and volunteering. To vocally express such challenges may be arduous but the louder we get, the quieter they become. 

So, how loud are you going to be?

Ishaanaah Ravi is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Education at Taylor's University. She is also a member of the Taylor’s Leo Club and Girl Up. She enjoys reading and creative writing during her free time but also relishes conducting volunteering work, believing that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Ishaanaah Ravi
Guest Contributor