Feminism: One Movement in Four Waves (Part 3)

This is part of an ongoing series. In case you missed them, here are Part 1 and Part 2.

Wave Three: 1990 – 2016 – Women Fight for Multiple Ideas and Individuality
Key Figures: Anita Hill, the Riot Grrrl bands, Sarah McLaughlin, Hillary Clinton, and others.

By RockCreek [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

With the advent of the Internet, the agenda of the feminist movement became fragmented as the world became smaller. This was a time when many issues were brought to the fore, including (but not limited to) gender violence (including rape and rape culture), reproductive rights, the meaning of derogatory language (such as bitch and slut), equal pay, and gender expectations. A key feature of the third wave of feminism was a focus on intersectionality, recognition that the movement should include women of all races, nationalities, religions, and sexual orientations. These women were the daughters of second wave feminists and they were determined to learn from their mother’s mistakes.

It can be argued that Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas before the Senate Judiciary Committee was the beginning of this wave, as it brought high profile sexual harassment into American homes through the nightly news and newspaper headlines. The Pacific Northwest punk movement that came to be known as Riot Grrrl is also credited with starting the third wave. These bands helped open a discourse on feminist subjects through their unabashed lyrics that took on rape, the patriarchy, sexuality, women’s and empowerment. In addition, the divisive issue of sex and sexuality blossoming into the so-called “feminist sex wars” in the early 1990s was another force driving feminism into a third wave.

The popularity of the all-female music festival Lilith Fair and the goddess movement of the 1990s placed a cultural emphasis on Girl Power (Spice Girls, anyone?) and gave women safe havens (both spiritually and at traditionally male-dominated music festivals) that were difficult to ignore. At the same time, The Vagina Monologues drew attention toward female sexual desire and raised money for support services for battered women.

The late 1990s and especially the early 2000s were marked by a backlash against feminism, which caused some in the media to name it the “post-feminist era.” Within the realm of popular imagination, feminists had gained a reputation for militancy and man-hating, which many women wanted to distance themselves from and Rush Limbaugh famously termed “feminazis.” Celebrities came out as openly saying they did not identify has feminist, even though they were for equal rights. It many ways, it began to look as though the movement was dead.

Controversy stalked the third wave in the form of accusations of creating a “culture of raunch,” which grew up around the sex-positive aspects of the movement. Pornography, strip clubs and risqué fashions were taken by many feminists and turned into symbols of female sexual empowerment, rather than being seen as degrading. In a similar vein, in 2015 and 2016, women sought to take back the word “slut” and to end the practice of “slut shaming” through public “slut walks” in which they proclaimed their sexuality and spoke out against victim-blaming and rape culture.

It was into this chaos that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign marched, reigniting the hopes of many and reviving the call for women to vote. Clinton’s election to the presidency was seen by many as the inevitable crowning achievement of the feminist movement. While she was certainly not universally adored and many societal issues still remained against women, the idea of finally having a woman in the highest role in the land – 144 years after Victoria Woodhull first tried – trumped (no pun intended) those concerns for those who viewed her election as the strongest victory for women, perhaps since we were granted the right to vote nearly a century before. This sense of optimism reigned until results started coming in and the unthinkable began to suddenly appear unavoidable.

Hillary Isn’t the 1st: Meet Victoria Woodhull, America’s 1st Female Presidential Candidate

Victoria C. Woodhull, first American to run for President. Ran against Grant and Greeley, 1872.

Victoria C. Woodhull, first American woman to run for President. Ran against Grant and Greeley, 1872.

After keeping this under my hat for almost a year, I’m very excited to announce the main character of my next historical fiction novel is none other than Victoria C. Woodhull, the first woman to run for president, in 1872. I chose today to finally reveal who I was writing about since Hillary Clinton made her candidacy announcement yesterday and my book is out in the world (not published, but it’s circulating, trying to get published).

Over the next several weeks, I’ll share information with you on this fascinating woman, who was born the dirt-poor daughter of a con-man and an insane Spiritualist, but by the age of 33, was a self-made millionaire and had racked up an impressive list of “firsts:”

  • First woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street
  • First woman to testify before Congress
  • One of the first women to run a weekly newspaper
  • First female presidential candidate

She is quite a character, and so is her family. Seriously, they could have been on Jerry Springer. Maybe next week I’ll introduce you to the whole cast of characters in  Victoria’s life – they made for interesting writing. She is one of those cases that proves you couldn’t make up a story as juicy as the truth history gives you. Like Hillary, she had her fair share of detractors, and also her fair share of qualities we wouldn’t think would make the ideal Presidential candidate. But on the balance, I think she was a good person who really did want to change the country for the better.

Why haven’t you heard of her? Good question. I hadn’t either until one day my friend Liv Raincourt pinned a picture of her on Pinterest. The caption, “Known by her detractors as ‘Mrs. Satan,’ Victoria Claflin Woodhull, born in 1838, married at age fifteen to an alcoholic and womanizer. She became the first woman to establish a brokerage firm on Wall Street and played an active role in the woman’s suffrage movement. She became the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872. Her name is largely lost in history. Few recognize her name and accomplishments.” captured my imagination, and as I began to research this fascinating woman, I knew I had the subject of my next book.

No one knows for certain why she has been lost to the pages of history. But two things are likely to blame: 1) the first “biography” published about her shortly after her death in 1927 painted her as a brazen, manipulative whore, so no one wanted her held up as an example of feminine capabilities and 2) she really pissed off Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the ladies who literally wrote the 900+ page book on the history of the suffrage movement. In revenge, they relegated her to a literal footnote. What did she do to make them so angry? The short answer is what didn’t she do, but that’s the subject of another week’s post…

Are you interested in learning more about her? Have you heard of Victoria Woodhull before now? If so, how/where? If not, what do you want to know about her? Let me know and I’ll make sure to answer you over the next few weeks as we dive deeper into this fascinating woman’s story.