• Elaine Kelly

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 womens views and within feminist movements.

1st Wave: 1870-1940: Focus on suffrage, right to vote, access to education and literacy, work in factories, 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 to 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 where 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. In 1936 Lydia Emelie Gruchy became the first female ordained minister of the United Church of Canada.


Ebb out: 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 - 1977: Rights to equal pay, addressing gender pay gap, allowing women to hold a credit card and apply for a mortgage, exercise creative and intellectual faculties, permit use of birth control, reproductive freedom (legalizing abortion and ending forced sterilizations). In 1969, homosexuality in Canada was decrimialized. 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, Christian feminists and feminist theology begain in the 1960s with writing and publishing articles that addressed the 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: 1980s Feminists 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 Womahood 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 women's sexuality over her intellectual gifts and talents. Exodus International Ministries ran in the 80s and 90s with a focus on conversion therapies to make gay people straight.


3rd Wave: 1989 - 2000 The word "feminist" took on new meaning as the 3rd wave activists criticized the 2nd wave feminists for ignoring the struggles of women of colour, queer and trans communities. Some activists carried on the work of 2nd wave feminists, with the 1989 publication of the New Revised Standard Version, one of the first Bible translations to use gender-neutral English in translating form Greek and Hebrew. Feminists still worked to increase the number of women or minorities in positions of power. However, some 3rd wave activists 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 focussed on women's rights, but 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.on LGBTQ2S+.


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: 2010-2021 Largely online campaigns with blogs and hashtags such as #MeToo. 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 fogive her attacker. In contrast to past eras where women sought to have power among men, today's feminism seeks to dismantle white male power structures in pursuit of equality for all races, all abilities, and all genders.


Today, the word feminist 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, as well as discrediting the teaching that the Bible endorses different roles based on gender alone. Feminist theology argues that true Biblical interpretations show that God endorses equality, regardless of gender. Today, both women and men are speaking against injustice and standing up for the equality that Jesus demonstrates.


Elaine Kelly