In Depth Society, 22/08/2020

Feminism: From Origin to New Wave

In recent centuries, the status of women has changed significantly. Notably, the opportunity to study at university, right to inheritance, suffrage, employment opportunities within the labor market which are now taken for granted has been fought for many years in various countries around the world. It is precisely feminism, a phenomenon little-known and “scary” to most of society in which people should be grateful for such progress. For centuries, feminist activists have argued and still continue to prove the fact that a woman is equal to man.

What does feminism mean to us?

According to the International Women’s Development Agency, feminism is about all genders having equal rights and opportunities. It’s about respecting diverse women’s experiences, identities, knowledge and strengths, and striving to empower all women to realize their full rights. It’s about leveling the playing field between genders, and ensuring that diverse women and girls have the same opportunities in life available to boys and men.

Background of Feminism

Encyclopedia Britannica highlights that throughout most of Western history, women were confined to the domestic sphere, while public life was reserved for men. In medieval Europe, women were denied the right to own property, to study, or to participate in public life. Among the facts, surprising for many modern readers, Britannica reveals that, at the end of the 19th century in France, they were still compelled to cover their heads in public, and, in parts of Germany, a husband still had the right to sell his wife. Even as late as the early 20th century, women could neither vote nor hold elective office in Europe and in most of the United States. Women were prevented from conducting business without a male representative. Married women could not exercise control over their own children without the permission of their husbands. Moreover, women had little or no access to education and were barred from most professions. In some parts of the world, such restrictions on women continue today.

Waves of feminism

Martha Rampton, a professor of history and director of the Center for Gender Equity at Pacific University, considers that it is common to speak of three phases of modern feminism. However, there is little consensus as to how to characterize these three waves or what to do with women’s movements before the late nineteenth century. So, we can now start to talk about a new fourth wave of feminism silhouette emerging on the horizon.

Some researchers have sought to locate the roots of feminism in ancient Greece with Sappho (d. c. 570 BCE), or the medieval world with Hildegard of Bingen (d. 1179) or Christine de Pisan (d. 1434). Certainly, Olympe de Gouges (d. 1791), and Jane Austen (d. 1817) are foremothers of the modern women’s movement. All of these people advocated for the dignity, intelligence, and basic human potential of the female sex. However, it was not until the late 19th century that the efforts for women’s equal rights united into a clearly identifiable movement.

Olympe de Gouges

The first wave of feminism refers to the West’s first sustained political movement dedicated to the attainment of political equality for women: the suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

For 70 years, the first-wavers would march, lecture, and protest, and, in return, face arrest, mockery, and violence as they struggled for the right to vote.

The wave formally began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 when 300 men and women rallied to the cause of equality for women. Discussions about the vote and women’s participation in politics led to an examination of the differences between men and women as they were then viewed. Some claimed that women were morally superior to men, and so their presence in the civic sphere would improve public behavior and the political process.

A first-wave feminist was Emily Davison who fought for gaining equal voting rights for British women. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1906, then quit her teaching job to work full-time for equal voting rights. A militant member of the British suffragette movement, Davison was jailed several times for protest-related offenses and attempted to starve herself while serving time in Manchester’s Strangeways Prison. In 1913, she stepped in front of the king’s racehorse during the Epsom Derby and died of her injuries. Roughly 15 years after her death, Davison’s dream was finally realized. Britain gave women the right to vote in 1928.

The second wave of feminism started in the 1960s and continued into the 1990s.

As Vox explained, this movement was initially concentrated in the USA and then spread to other Western countries. While the first wave was largely concerned with the suffragette struggle for the vote, the second wave focused more on both public and private inequalities.

Issues of rape, reproductive rights, domestic violence and workplace safety were brought to the forefront of the movement.

The movement was triggered by the publishing of Betty Friedan’s book, “The Feminine Mystique.” It rails against “the problem that has no name:” the systemic sexism that taught women that their place was in the home and that if they were unhappy as housewives, it was only because they were broken and perverse. “I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have an orgasm waxing the kitchen floor,” Friedan admits.

The book was not revolutionary in its thinking, as many of Friedan’s ideas were already being discussed by academics and feminists but it was revolutionary in its reach. It permitted 3 million readers who mostly were well-educated middle-class white women with beautiful homes and families to be angry which resulted in a struggle for social equality.

But probably just as central was the second wave’s focus on changing the way society thought about women. The second wave cared deeply about the casual, systemic sexism ingrained into society — the belief that women’s highest purposes were domestic and decorative. The social standards which reinforced that belief in naming sexism and ripping it apart.

In the 1980s, the image of feminists as angry and man-hating and lonely would become canonical as the second wave began to lose its momentum, and it continues to haunt the way we talk about feminism today. It would also become foundational to the way the third wave would position itself as it emerged.

According to Martha Rampton, the third wave of feminism began in the mid-’90s. Feminists tried to fight against many social constructs, including heteronormativity and ideal body types. It was also marked by more sexual liberation and Riot Grrrls [Kh.O.: The word “Grrrls” coined by Bikini Kill singer and activist Kathleen Hanna, is a spontaneous young-feminist reclamation of the word “girl”] those who rejected the notion of being sex objects.

Many third-wave feminists also avoided calling themselves feminists to avoid a so-called “us-them” construct. Grrl-feminism [Kh.O.: It is an underground feminist punk movement that began during the early 1990s within the USA. Riot grrrl is a subcultural movement that combines feminism, punk music and politics.] tends to be global, multi-cultural, and it shuns simple answers or artificial categories of identity, gender, and sexuality. Its transversal politics means that differences such as those of ethnicity, class and sexual orientation are celebrated and recognized as dynamic, situational and provisional.

All in all, the third wave feminism breaks boundaries.

The line between the third and fourth wave of feminism is blurry. The fourth wave still fights for many of the third wave’s causes and some from the first two as well — but it also highlights sexual aggression against girls and women.

Major milestones for this wave were the Women’s March in Washington, the #MeToo Movement and the Time’s Up initiative.

Women’s March in Washington

Kristen Solleein in her “Bustle” article highlights the acknowledges of body positivity, sex positivity and LGBTQ inclusion from the third wave — though these ideals are arguable more increased in social consciousness with the fourth wave. She also highlights the fact that the current wave pushes against misandry or hatred against men.

According to blog founder Jessica Valenti, “maybe the fourth wave is online.” In the years following its proclamation, there has been more discussion about the Internet being a force for fresh feminist discourse.

The fourth wave Sollee calls “hashtag activism.” It is shown through the abundance of tweets and Facebook posts with the hashtag #MeToo that have been seen during recent years and are still being used today.

The top 10 most feminist countries in the world

According to Erica Sanchez and Leah Rodriguez from the Global Citizen movement, Sweden is a country which is close to achieving gender parity, 46 percent of people consider themselves feminists.

In 2014, Sweden became the first government to use the word “feminist” to describe a policy approach. On its official website, the authorities even refer to themselves as “a feminist government.”

The most self-identifying feminists live in Sweden, France, Italy, the UK, Australia, the USA, Turkey, Denmark, Mexico, and Germany. But people who live in countries that are further along in achieving gender equality don’t necessarily consider themselves feminists, according to a new survey.

Despite ranking as the best country for women in 2016, neighboring Denmark was rated as one of the least feminist nations in the developed world. A poll found that just one in six Danes consider themselves a feminist.

Why do people who live in countries close to achieving gender equality still might not identify as feminists?

BBC published a report on the topic in February by Dr. Christina Scharff, a senior lecturer in culture, media, and creative industries at King’s College London. Scharff found that in Europe and the USA, where there’s recently been increased attention to feminists movements, some women do not feel the term “feminist” speaks to them.

Outdated stereotypes about feminists might deter people from associating with the term. Race plays a part as well. Scharff noted that three-quarters of all women in one poll said that the feminist movement has done “a lot” to improve the lives of white women, which might prevent non-white women from associating with the term. Feminism is also likely to appeal to working-class women but those from lower-income backgrounds are just as likely to support equal rights.

How did feminism in Ukraine emerge?

According to the first part of “Feminism in Ukraine: Steps towards Oneself” study, conducted by Oksana Kis, the president of the Ukrainian Association of Researchers of Women’s History, Doctor of Historical Sciences, gender studies as a field of science and education have emerged, as well as the women’s movement has progressed from a conservative vision of femininity to feminist political action during 30 years of independence of Ukraine. As a result, Ukrainian feminism has acquired many ideological trends and groups.

In Europe and North America, it was second-wave feminism that led to social changes and the formation of women’s and later gender studies in universities in the 1980s and 1990s. In Ukraine, this process took place differently. At the beginning of the 1990s, female scientists intensively mastered the achievements of Western feminist studies, founded academic centers and publications to transmit this knowledge further. This period is characterized by a rather conservative vision of women – primarily through the prism of the role of mother as well as the active cooperation of women’s NGOs and the state in order to change the law and implement desired changes. In the late 2000s, the Ukrainian women’s movement became increasingly critical of the ruling establishment. At the same time, the first feminist street campaigns began.

First women and gender studies were launched in Ukraine in 1991–1994. It was really hard to catch up with the West due to the unavailability of classical works on feminist and gender theory, lack of funds for participation in international scientific forums, information isolation, language barrier, prejudice of the Ukrainian academic environment to women’s issues. Anyway, Solomiya Pavlychko, Svitlana Oksamytna, Lyudmyla Smolyar, Oksana Malanchuk-Rybak, Natalia Chukhym, Ludmyla Lobanova, Tamara Melnyk managed at least partially to meet that challenge.

In 1995-1999, several independent centers for gender studies in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa and Lviv were established, several national scientific conferences gathered, the first scientific periodical – the journal “Gender Researches” – was launched.

In 2000–2005 self-affirmation and consolidation of gender studies took place during these years, the number and qualification of scientists who thoroughly studied gender aspects in various fields, defended thesis in various subjects, published monographs, collections and textbooks for universities increased dramatically.

The author considers 2006 as a turning point in many ways. The Law of Ukraine “On Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men in Ukraine” came into force and the “State Program for Gender Equality in Ukrainian Society until 2010” was adopted. The opening of the master’s program in gender studies at the Faculty of Sociology of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv in 2017 should be considered a real breakthrough. The qualitative movement of gender studies is evidenced by the fact that in recent years several Ph.D. theses on women’s/gender issues have been defended. More and more Ukrainian researchers published their works in international scientific journals and collections, participated in international academic forums and received prestigious scholarships for research internships at the world’s leading universities.

What feminist organizations are there in Ukraine?

Oksana Kis in the second part of her study mentions that restoration of pre-Soviet and creation of new women’s NGOs began in Ukraine in the late 1980s and became widespread in the early 1990s.

In Ukraine, a woman has long had to speak from the perspective of a mother who protects the interests of her children in order to be heard and to have social weight. This very strategy was chosen by the first post-Soviet women’s organizations such as Komitety Soldatskikh Materiv (Soldiers ‘Mothers’ Committees), Mama-86, Unions of Mothers with Many Children.

National organizations like Soyuz Ukrayinok (Union of Ukrainian Women), Zhinocha Hromada (Women’s Community), Zhinoche Obyednannya imeni Oleny Telihy (Olena Teliha Women’s Association) focused on raising the Ukrainian national culture. Proclaiming their mission to revive the traditional values of Ukrainian culture, these organizations promoted the idea of the eternal matriarchy of Ukrainian society, embodied by Berehynia. The image of the goddess-patron of women and the family hearth was invented in those years and subsequently presented to the public as an authentic ideal of Ukrainian femininity.

Purely feminist organizations specialized in certain sectors emerged in Ukraine in the late 1990s. Some of them focused on the protection of women’s rights: International Women’s Human Rights Center “La Strada-Ukraine,” others deal with raising of women’s self-awareness and gender education: the Women’s Information Consultative Center or worked on involving women in political participation: Liha Zhinok-Vybortsiv Ukrainy 50-50 (League of Women Voters of Ukraine 50-50), Women’s Consortium of Ukraine and others.

Funding of feminist organizations in Ukraine

Since the 1990s, Ukrainian women’s organizations have been funded for their projects and initiatives from the Soros Foundation, UNDP, MacArthur Foundation, Heinrich Boll Stiftung, Network of East-West Women, Mama Cash, Global Fund for Women, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and others, as well as from the embassies of Canada, Switzerland, Sweden and other countries which provided specific programs for democracy development and civil society in Ukraine. Since 2000, the Ukrainian Women’s Fund has been operating. It accumulates funds from a number of donors structures and distributes them on a competitive basis among NGOs for the implementation of specific projects.

Other means of financing such as government grants, charitable, and membership fees could not be a stable source of funding in the harsh economic conditions of the 1990s. So, without grant support, the women’s movement would have developed much more slowly and its impact on society would have been significantly weaker.

Is feminism unique to women or men can be a feminist, too?

Tamara Martsenyuk, Ph.D. in Sociology Sciences, Associate Professor of Sociology at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, raises this issue in her book named “Why There is No Need to be Afraid of Feminism,” published in 2018.

“There are quite a lot of such men. I teach about this issue in my “Masculinity and Men’s Studies” course. In 2012, I researched the men’s movement, men’s organizations, particularly those that fight gender-based violence under the Carnegie program in New York. In addition, my academic advisor was Michael Kimmel, a well-known public sociologist and feminist. I was pleasantly impressed by the scale and specificity of the male feminist movement,” recalls Tamara.

“Ukrainian men also raise pro-feminist issues such as sexism in higher education, Ivan Prymachenko from Prometheus, the involvement of men in fatherhood by their own example, “Dad in Paternity Leave” book by Artem Chapay, and many others,” she continues.

Artem Chapay

Tamara can’t help but mention Roman Veretelnyk, a professor at the Department of Philology of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. He is also one of the first to initiate Ukrainian feminist studies, defending his Ph.D. on “Feminist reading of Lesya Ukrainka’s drama” in the University of Ottawa in 1989.

Tamara Martsenyuk arose with the idea to create the “Fearless: They are Creating Feminism in Ukraine” project which aims to recreate the history and diversity of feminism in Ukraine, to draw attention to the peculiarities of promotion ideas of equal rights and opportunities for women and men in Ukrainian society.

Kharkiv Observer: Tamara, what initially led you to create the project?

Tamara Martsenyuk: I decided to establish it because I was faced with the fact that new activists don’t always know what has happened in Ukrainian society over the past 30 years regarding feminism, especially when it comes to the 1990s. Since I joined gender issues in the early 2000s, I discovered lots of interesting facts.

In 2017-2018, as a guest researcher at Columbia University under the Fulbright program as part of the study “Feminism as a Social Theory and Social Movement: World Experience and Ukraine,” I decided to take in-depth narrative interviews with researchers and activists who study and fight to ensure equal rights and opportunities for women and men.

Kh.O: Who are at the project’s spotlight?

T.M.: They are representatives of such areas as education and science, government bodies and state structures, grassroots activism and mass media, etc. The project’s heroines belong to different generations starting from the 1990s when Ukraine became an independent state and ending in 2010. The series of interviews also included respondents from the Ukrainian diaspora and feminist researchers in Ukraine living in the USA and Canada, as I was able to communicate with them live at the time. Having lived in the USA for nine months, I was pleasantly impressed by the Ukrainian diaspora women’s movement. One such activist, Marta Kebalo, was my “guest mother” in New York.

Kh.O: Tamara, when was the project started?

T.M.: Launching the project in spring 2018 was timed to International Women’s Day. Then, on March 8, 2019, we organized a photo exhibition and lectures with the project’s female participants.

Kh.O.: How many women have you interviewed for two years?

T.M.: For more than two years of the project, we were able to communicate with 20 heroines. About 10-15 prospective participants either refused the interview or could not be interviewed immediately, there was some delay.

Kh.O.: Were the interviews interesting and useful for you? Have you experienced any challenges during the work on the project?

T.M.: For me, all the conversations were interesting, they reflect various aspects of feminist activism in Ukraine and abroad. It is exciting to read about certain historical and intercultural parallels. Among the challenges of this project, I would like to highlight the fact that I spent much more resources and effort on it than I expected. Long oral interviews take a long time to organize because long reads aren’t read very well. Then, when participants looked through their texts, some of them weren’t satisfied, some rewrote or tried to add some information. But this is a genre of the oral interview, it’s hard to include everything, so we had to make some compromises. It also took a lot of time to write bibliographic information about the heroines, search for links to sources, texts, interviews, videos, etc. This is not always a thankful job, because, again, all the information is difficult to include, you have to choose the main thing, although you always want to provide more information.

Kh.O.: Tamara, are you going to continue the project?

T.M.: Definitely! I’m going to continue this project interviewing activists and researchers of a “middle” and “younger” generations who started working in the 2000s and 2020s.

Kh.O.: Who helped implement the project?

T.M.: The project was implemented with the support of the Gender v Detalyakh (Gender in Details) resource and funding from the Heinrich Boell Foundation Kyiv Office Ukraine. I am sincerely grateful for the help in its implementation the Fulbright program, Tamara Zlobina, Gender v Detalyakh resource coordinator, Anna Dovhopol, Heinrich Boell Foundation Program Coordinator in Ukraine, photographer Olena Anhelova, technical support with interview transcripts and their placement on the site as well as all the female participants.

The heroines of the “Fearless: They are Creating Feminism in Ukraine” exhibition are Svitlana Oksamytna, Tamara Melnyk, Tamara Hundorova, Natalia Karbovska, Marianna Rubchak, Oksana Duzher, Marta Chumalo, Ella Lamakh, Marta Bohachevska-Khomyak, Tetiana Isayeva, Bohdana Stelmakh, Larysa Kobylyanska, Natalia Karbovska and others. Interviews with heroines are available on the Gender v Detalyakh site.

“The issue of [Kh.O.: gender] equality is becoming more and more popular nowadays. It is actively discussed at different levels, and feminism is becoming more and more tolerable in public space. More women are not afraid to declare themselves as feminists and it’s for the best,” states feminist Maria Dmitriyeva, who started the group on Facebook.

Nowadays, there is such a great diversity of feminism in Ukraine as well as worldwide. There are many varieties of it such as eco-feminism, anarcho-feminism, radical feminism. Still, women face many problems like discrimination, violation of rights and freedoms, so the topic of feminism remains relevant.

Text: Natalia Ivanova

Photo:,, TSN,,,,

The material was prepared as a part of Gender Sensitive Space of Modern Journalism, implemented by the Volyn Press Club in partnership with the Volyn Gender Center, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Internews international organization.