Real Feminism(tm): A Short Primer on the First Wave

Nearly every conversation about Feminism hits a wall when the Feminist in question argues that the critiques are not representative of “real feminism,” but instead some kind of misguided straw-man that only someone very unfamiliar with First Wave Feminism would spout.

So a bit about First Wave Feminism.

In the early nineteenth century First Wave Feminism had two mothers: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

These women initially had very different goals and ideals. Anthony had the working woman in mind, and wanted equality of workers rights:

“Anthony concentrated her attention on the economic needs of women and, in 1868, helped to form a short-lived but pioneering organization of working women. At a time when most middle-class women were unsympathetic to the emergent labor movement, Anthony tried to integrate feminist and trade union goals.” (DeBois, x).

The italicized text stands out to me like a sore-thumb: “At a time when most middle-class women were unsympathetic to the emergent labor movement.”

To be clear, the “working woman” at this time was synonymous with the unmarried woman, or the ugly woman. Just like how today’s third-wave Feminists feel a deep resentment toward widening the beauty standard enough to allow “fat acceptance activists,” first-wavers did not want to be associated with spinsters.

Even if the end-goal of Feminism is to widen the beauty standard as far as possible, there must be an excluded class in-order for beauty to have a shred of credibility. Women do not want to be associated with ugly losers and they never did.

Stanton focused her attack on what would closely mirror today’s Feminism:

“Stanton, following in the tradition of…Utopian feminists, concentrated her attack on the sexual oppression of women. She championed the concept of “women’s control over her own body,” which she termed “self-sovereignty,” and… understood the right of women to control their own bodies in the marriage relationship. Stanton advocated easier divorce laws, an end to prostitution, women’s control over the frequency of sexual intercourse in marriage, and redress for wives against the excesses of violent drunken husbands.” (DeBois, x).

Note the cognitive dissonance wanting both “self-sovereignty” and “an end to prostitution.”

Of the two, Anthony “became increasingly pragmatic” and wanted the push for suffrage to “stay aloof from other reforms” (DeBois, xi).

I interpret this as “free of Stanton’s militant mumbo-jumbo.” However, to her credit, Stanton understood the average woman; women who were “unsympathetic” to the working conditions of the less fortunate needed a cookie too.

This cookie involved the emerging destruction of marital responsibility, femininity, and the traditional role women had in relation to men. If true Feminism stands as the desire for greater power with less responsibility (or, you know, entitlement), Stanton was the forerunner of this concept.

This is how Feminism started from a small minority of angry and entitled women and grew to include nearly everyone.

Women initially gave no fucks for their ugly, spinster sisters… but the promise of additional social power met with less responsibility made it an easy sell.

If you still think there is merit in First Wave Feminism, Stanton demanding both the absolute freedom of a woman’s sexuality (“self-sovereignty”) and the absolute end of a woman’s ability to earn money using her sexuality (prostitution) must be a real noodle-scratcher.

Quotes from The Elizabeth Cady Stanton-Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches (Women’s Studies)

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5 comments

  1. davidson30000 · April 13, 2015

    Reblogged this on welcometothelionsden.

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  5. Tarnished · November 26, 2015

    If you still think there is merit in First Wave Feminism, Stanton demanding both the absolute freedom of a woman’s sexuality (“self-sovereignty”) and the absolute end of a woman’s ability to earn money using her sexuality (prostitution) must be a real noodle-scratcher.

    Indeed it is, unless she was under the impression…like a not-insignificant number of feminists are nowadays…that women would never choose to have sex with men unless they were forced into it.

    Have you ever read truly radfem blogs? They are fevered writings from a twisted mind. I’ve seen ones where the writers state that heterosexual sex is always violent, always painful, always a surrendering of bodily autonomy by the woman. That she is *necessarily* submissive during sex with a man, and that any physical lust she has for her partner plus the pleasure she experiences is “not real”, and only the product of her protective imagination.
    Truly, it is horrifying to read.

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