It is a testament to the power of institutional sexism that women, despite making up 51% of the population, are a minority group. This is changing, but not fast enough. In fact, our culture seems to be moving backwards sometimes--clinging to theories of gender that paint women as irrational and feeble-minded, laws that exercise lurid control over women's bodies, and school policies created to resegregate the next generation of girls into subservience. We need a feminist movement in this country.
When people ask whether something is relevant, that usually means they don't like it. People who ask whether religion is relevant, for example, aren't usually the same people who wash the chalices in the sacristy; people who ask whether the civil rights movement is relevant aren't usually the same people who pound the pavement at NAACP rallies; people who ask whether politics is relevant don't usually run for office. But many people, both inside and outside of the feminist movement, have questioned its relevance. What does this mean?
The key to understanding feminism in the United States is to realize that it consists not of the feminist movement, but rather of multiple feminist movements. Brush up on the history of feminism with this illustrated guide to 12 pivotal events in feminist history, from the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 to the monumental March for Women's Lives in 2004.
The dominant voices in the feminist movement have historically been those of upper-class heterosexual white women with economic means living in industrialized countries. In recent years, the scope of feminism has broadened to better include women in developing nations, indigenous women, immigrant women, women of color, lesbians, bisexual women, and transwomen. In 1993, the term "third-wave feminism" was coined to describe this new, more comprehensive feminist movement.
The most obvious violations of women's rights are the laws that tell women what medicines they may take, which diseases they may vaccinate themselves against, and so forth. Reproductive rights includes the right to abortion, which poses unique bioethical concerns, but abortion is far from being the only reproductive rights concern on the women's rights agenda. There is a comprehensive movement afoot to restrict women's reproductive rights in other ways as well, and the feminist response must be equally comprehensive.
The 550 autonomous local chapters that comprise the National Organization for Women (NOW) represent a wide rage of local cultures and ideologies, but collectively they form the backbone of a national organization known for direct action. While NOW is primarily associated with the women's liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, it remains the nation's largest and most visible feminist organization.