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Waves of Feminism Ebb and Flow

The word Feminist or Feminism means different things to different people. It is nothing new to have divisions on women's views and within feminist movements.

waves of feminism
Waves of Feminism

1st Wave: 1870-1940:

Focus on suffrage, right to vote, access to education and literacy, work in factories, and run for political office. In 1884 married women were granted the same legal rights as men and unmarried women, enabling them to sign legal contracts and buy and sell property. In 1929 British Parliament declared that women were considered "persons" under the law in Canada and could be named as Senators. In 1918 Caucasian women had the right to vote in federal elections; the right to vote was given to minority groups over time until 1960 when all Canadians were granted the right to vote. Women became itinerant preachers when they were not permitted to preach at a church. The Salvation Army ordained both men and women from its inception in 1865. The Assemblies of God (USA) has ordained women since 1935. Lydia Emelie Gruchy became the first female ordained minister of the United Church of Canada in 1936.

Ebb out 1940-1962:

Men returning from war had priority on hiring; Baby boom, women idealized to be working in the home (if they were white and could afford it).

2nd Wave: 1963 - 1979:

Rights to equal pay, addressing the gender pay gap, allowing women to hold a credit card and apply for a mortgage, exercising creative and intellectual faculties, permitting the use of birth control, and reproductive freedom (legalizing abortion and ending forced sterilizations). In 1969, homosexuality in Canada was decriminalized. The Canadian Human Rights Act was amended and by 1979 it gave all Canadians the right to equality, free of discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. The US Equal Rights Amendment banned discrimination on the basis of sex in 1972. Feminists fought to be called women rather than girls; to be recognized as adults, not children. They chose Ms instead of Mrs or Miss so that their marital status was private. They wore flat shoes and workboots as a statement that high heels put women at a disadvantage. While many feminists left the church in the 1960s, Christian feminists began writing and publishing articles that discussed feminist theology, religious hierarchy, inequality in marriage, and reproductive rights. The United Nations declared 1975 as International Women's Year. Victoria Matthews became the first Canadian Anglican woman to be ordained as a priest in 1976.

Ebb out: 1976-1990

Feminists were positioned as bitter, angry and unhappy; Focus on the Family was established in 1977 promoting women staying at home; The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was published in 1989. This statement promoted women as subservient and their husbands as their masters and heads of the home. Promise Keepers was formed in 1990, an organization teaching men to build strong marriages by showing leadership and ideally having a submissive wife. It provided seminars for male pastors while ignoring female pastors. Purity culture and purity rings were promoted in this era, tying a person's virginity to their spiritual salvation and maturity. Purity culture put a focus on a woman's sexuality over her intellectual gifts and talents. Exodus International Ministries was founded in 1976 to offer conversion therapies and promote freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ.

3rd Wave: 1989 - 2000

Christians for Biblical Equality was established in 1988, laying out the biblical rationale for equality. The New Revised Standard Version was published in 1989, one of the first Bible translations to use gender-neutral English in translating from Greek and Hebrew.

Feminists still worked to increase the number of women or minorities in positions of power.

However, the word "feminist" took on new meaning as some 3rd wave activists criticized the 2nd wave for ignoring the struggles of women of colour, queer and trans communities. They opposed 2nd wave feminists by wearing makeup and high heels and embracing the term "girls". This flaunting of sexuality made 2nd wave feminists distance themselves from the 3rd wave, feeling they were giving up the gains in fighting sexual objectification. The 3rd wave activists were not necessarily focused on women's rights, but on lobbying for human rights for all genders and many minorities.

In 1992, the first gay person became ordained in the United Church of Canada. In 1995 same-sex couples won the right to claim spousal pensions under the Old Age Security Act, and Ontario made it legal for same-sex couples to adopt. In 1996 the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 2003 Ontario ruled that the right to marry could not discriminate based on sexual orientation. In 2013 Exodus Ministries was closed and most people reject imposing conversion therapies.

Ebb out: 2000-2010.

Feminists were called shrill, militant, man-haters. The ESV translation of the Bible is released in 2001 by a team of men who wanted to focus on "literal" translations, without regard for context. The ESV uses the words man and men to show a male meaning; 'brothers' is used with a footnote indicating that includes men and women, and 'sons' is used with a footnote to say that includes all Christians. Study guides, devotionals, and movies were released to reinforce the idea that scripture intended women to be subservient.

4th Wave: 2010-2022

Largely online campaigns with blogs and hashtags such as #MeToo and #Churchtoo. Feminists fought workplace sexual harassment and called to hold men accountable for their behaviour. In 2018, Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson was removed from his job as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after thousands of women signed a letter demanding his dismissal. He had stated female students needed to focus on looking attractive, women should stay with husbands even if they are being abused, and advised a woman who was raped to keep silent and forgive her attacker. In 2013, Exodus International was closed and conversion therapy for homosexuals was widely rejected and there is increasing consideration for the or on LGBTQ2S+ communities.

In contrast to past eras where women sought to have in a man's world, today's feminism seeks to dismantle white male power structures in pursuit of new structures providing equality for all races, all abilities, and all genders. This reminds me of Mary in Luke 1:52 singing praises that God "brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble".

Feminism waves
Ebb and Flow of Waves of Feminism


The dictionary defines feminism simply as the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. Women and men have advocated for the equality of rights for centuries. Argula Von Grumbach taught in the 1500s. Katharina Schutz Zell preached in the 1500s. Early women preachers show that churches accepted women in leadership, grew and thrived. Some churches began to ordain women in the early 1800s.

Complementarian Christians may say they began pushing for the return of traditional roles for women in reaction to 1960s secular feminism. However, women began speaking, leading, and advocating for equality long before the 1960s. Many of those on the battle for equal rights were not secular, but were motivated by their Christian faith. The recent push for women to stay at home, home-school, and stay out of the public eye is repeating the patriarchal structures of ancient Greece.

Feminism has different meanings, depending on the wave that most influenced you. Activists work on a variety of issues and may disagree on other issues. One feminist is not the same as another. Christian feminists may fight for women's equality, and oppose any form of patriarchy or role definition based solely on gender. Feminist theology argues that true Biblical interpretations show that God endorses equality, regardless of gender. My novel, Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, shows Jesus equipping and empowering women as students, teachers, disciples and apostles. Today, both women and men are speaking against injustice and standing up for the equality that Jesus demonstrates.


Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:


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