Feminism and the African Female Writer

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This article guides you through the history of feminism, encompassing early forms outlined in the three waves of feminist movements.


- Trace the history of feminism from a general perspective.

- Discuss the main concern(s) of the first wave of feminism.

- Identify the features that make up the second wave of feminism.

- Discuss the tenets of the third wave of feminism.

- Differentiate between the three waves of feminism.

History of Feminism

Feminism is a term that highlights gender relations between men and women in a given society. Many societies operate under patriarchy, upholding the dignity of the male sex over the female sex. Consequently, belief systems, state structures, and institutions favor men, leading to gender relations based on a superior/inferior, weak/strong, negative/positive social dichotomy that privileges men over women. Feminists generally argue that women's position in society has been structured to favor men to the detriment of women in all spheres of life. The goal of feminism is to raise awareness of these issues and work toward creating an equitable society.

The history of feminist movements is typically divided into three waves of protest. These 'waves' represent the period when a particular brand of feminism emerged, showcasing the ideologies, values, goals, and strategies each wave embodies. Notably, feminists played a crucial role in advancing the philosophy of women's emancipation during these periods. It is essential to understand that despite the 'radical' arm of feminism, the ideology itself is not against men, nor does it advocate for a new world order solely populated by women. Instead, it consistently calls for equality and equity for both sexes, without seeking a replacement of patriarchy with matriarchy.

First Wave of Feminism

Various perspectives exist regarding the inception of feminism. To comprehend it better, the history of feminism is often presented in waves or periods, each characterized by distinct highlights. The First Wave, marking its beginnings, commenced in 1848 during the Seneca Falls Convention in New York, where around three hundred women and men advocated for equal rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted the Seneca Falls Declaration, encapsulating the movement's ideologies, statutes, and strategies.

Primarily led by middle-class white women, initially in the USA and later in Europe, they championed various women's rights, prominently the right to vote. These activists engaged in protests and demonstrations, challenging societal norms as they advocated for women's education, reproductive rights, improved working conditions, and revisions to marriage and property laws favoring women.

This era coincided with civil rights movements and abolitionist activities, with black women abolitionists like Sojourner Truth (1797–1883), Maria Stewart (1803–1879), and Frances E. Harper (1825–1911) actively participating in feminist struggles, advocating for the rights of black women.

A group of First Wave Feminists in America carrying placards in support of women's rights and the right to vote. (Photo Credit: Muhammed Shahid, medium.com)

Additional protests advocating for women's right to vote. (Photo Credit: app.emaze.com)

Second Wave Feminism

This wave of protest spanned from the 1960s to the 1990s, characterized by increased activity, greater demands, and persistent advocacy compared to its predecessor. Feminists during this era expanded the concept of women to include radicals, Blacks, women from Third World countries, and homosexuals. They shed light on a broader range of gender-based violence, including issues like marital rape, domestic abuse, cultural inequalities, and legal disparities.

Second Wave Feminism embraced a diverse membership, incorporating radical voices and advocating for differential rights to address the needs of minority groups. The movement called for sexual and reproductive rights, urging the legalization of abortion and birth control. In the United States, protests targeted the commodification of women as sexual objects, notably speaking out against the Miss America beauty pageant in 1968 and 1969. Additionally, activists pushed for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, aiming to ensure social equality for both men and women if ratified.

They advocated for unity in diversity among women, frequently using terms like womanhood and sisterhood. They praised the nurturing and caring nature of women, coining the term 'ecofeminism' to emphasize the close alignment of women with Mother Earth. A significant contribution was their clarification between sex and gender, asserting that sex is biological, while gender is socially constructed. They popularized sayings such as 'Women’s struggle is class struggle' and 'The personal is political.'

As a result of their efforts, numerous universities and higher institutions worldwide now offer courses and degrees in Gender Studies, Women Studies, Masculinities, among others.

Second Wave Feminism included women of diverse races and cultures. (Photo Credit: liberationschool.org)

Women's Strike for Peace and Equality, Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, August 26, 1970. (Photo by Eugene Gordon/The New York Historical Society/Getty Images)

Third Wave Feminism

The Third Wave emerged in the 1990s to the present, although some argue that feminism is now in its fourth wave. It serves as a continuation of Second Wave Feminism, despite critiquing certain postulations. Notably, it challenged the idea of universal womanhood, with feminists in the post-colonial era rejecting the notion that all women share the same experiences in a patriarchal society. Additionally, they opposed Second Wave feminists' perspectives on gender, the woman's body, and sexuality, favoring notions of diversity, ambiguity, multiplicity, and difference. Embracing experimentation and creativity in gender and sexuality, they aimed to break fixations in meanings and language related to power and social structures. Many members of this wave identify as homosexuals and transgender individuals.

They also criticized the media for their use of language in the portrayal of women, advocating for a more realistic depiction.

Photo Credit: Viewpoint Magazine

Feminism draws public attention to the glaring inequality between men and women, highlighting patriarchal society's resistance to fostering more open, flexible, and equitable institutions and structures, particularly in gender relations.


This article delves into the history of feminism, placing emphasis on the three waves of protest that characterize feminist ideology. It spans from the mid-19th century through the 20th century to the present, providing insights into the evolution of the feminist movement. The exploration includes a detailed examination of each 'wave' of protest, highlighting the distinct features that set them apart from one another.


Acholonu, Rose. Family Love in Nigerian Fiction: Feminist Perspectives. Achisons Publishers, 1995.

Bhabha K. Homi. The Location of Culture. Oxford, 1994.

Chukuwma, Helen (Ed.) Feminism in African Literature: Essay on Criticism. New Generation Books, 1994.

Frank, Katherine. “Women Without Men: the Feminist Novel” . Jones, Eldred and Eustace Palmer (Eds.). Women in African Literature Today: A Review. Africa World Press, 1987, pp. 14 – 34.

Moi, Toril. What is a Woman? And Other Essays. Routledge, 2000.

Rampton, Martha. Four Waves of Feminism. Pacific University Oregon, 2015.

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