First wave feminism started in the early 1700s highlighting the inequalities between men and women. The book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by Mary Wollstonecraft illuminated the way for other first wave activists like Susan B. Anthony. Wollstonecraft wrote about “female rights and manners” and how the “improvement [of women] must not be overlooked.” She criticized the way women continued to be treated and the expectations held in the 18th century social environment. Wollstonecraft also stresses the male domination in the
Influential female characters in literature reflect the struggle for equality women have with men. Much like reality, these characters seek individualism and liberty from, or equality with, men in a society dominated by men. These seekers are called feminists and many feminists see Charlotte Bronte’s titular character Jane Eyre as a proto-feminist icon of the Victorian era. Not only does Jane Eyre show the struggle of one woman under one man it represents the struggle of women in a male-dominated society. Reading Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre through a feminist perspective reveals Jane’s fight for independence, individuality, and equality in a society controlled and dominated by men.
For readers who observe literature through a feminist lens, they will notice the depiction of female characters, and this makes a large statement on the author’s perception of feminism. Through portraying these women as specific female archetypes, the author creates sense of what roles women play in both their families and in society. In books such as The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the roles that the main female characters play are, in different instances, both comparable and dissimilar. In typical families of the early to mid 1900s, and even now in many cases, the man held the position of the leader, and the expected role of women was to cook, clean, and follow the orders of their husbands. This can be seen in the very first chapter of The Grapes of Wrath when Steinbeck writes, “And the women came out of the housed to stand beside their men-to feel whether this time the men would break…women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole”.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman is known as the first American writer who has feminist approach. Gilman criticises inequality between male and female during her life, hence it is mostly possible to see the traces of feminist approach in her works. She deals with the struggles and obstacles which women face in patriarchal society. Moreover, Gilman argues that marriages cause the subordination of women, because male is active, whereas female plays a domestic role in the marriage. Gilman also argues that the situation should change; therefore women are only able to accomplish full development of their identities.
Dicker describes the revolutionary movements that brought about the changes in the society in terms of gender equality and women's rights. Although Dicker reveals significant similarities between the types of struggles in the first and second waves of feminism in the United States, ultimately she demonstrates that the differences outweigh the similarities. In the first wave of feminism, Dicker depicts the struggle that the women are going through to attain women’s right to vote and equality. In the nineteenth century, women were prohibited from voting and feminist such as Susan Anthony got in trouble when then went to vote and were faced with charges. As evidenced in the quote from the book, ‘... women deserved to make their voices heard and, in so doing, create laws that would benefit and protect them,’ the right to vote not only women gave them a chance to make socio-political changes in the country that would empower them, but also gender equality (Dicker 54).
One can hardly talk of a single united feminism, but rather, manifold feminisms. The US feminist movement ‘s main global struggle has been to enable ‘womankind’ to fully lead her existence and live her humanity by standing against the injustices of the dominant patriarchy and sexist discrimination . Throughout history, the dominant mainstream Feminism ( with capital F) tends to have been related to conform to the aspiration of the educated middle-class heterosexual white women who have traditionally been given unequal power to widen their significance--but the movement has lately had more ramifications. Currently, there are different kinds of feminism whose disagreements stem from fundamental intrinsic understanding of what feminism, sexism or phallocentrism mean. Each trend views it from a different perspective as in accordance with its motives or concerns.
Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre embraces many feminist views in opposition to the Victorian feminine ideal. Charlotte Bronte herself was among the first feminist writers of her time, and wrote this book in order to send the message of feminism to a Victorian-Age Society in which women were looked upon as inferior and repressed by the society in which they lived. This novel embodies the ideology of equality between a man and woman in marriage, as well as in society at large. As a feminist writer, Charlotte Bronte created this novel to support and spread the idea of an independent woman who works for herself, thinks for herself, and acts of her own accord. Women of the Victorian era were repressed, and had little if any social stature.
In the novel, Emma, Austen introduced her audience to a new idea of patriarchy. While she is known to satirize society for the “faulty education of female children, limited expectations for girls and women, and the perils of the marriage market” (“Austen, Jane”). Austen expresses the irony of the men of her patriarchal society and proposes the ideal gentleman in Mr. Knightley. In Emma, Austen moves away from “a traditional idea of 'natural' male supremacy towards a 'modern' notion of gender equity” (Marsh). Jane Austen is a revolutionary in the way she transforms the idea of Nineteenth Century patriarchy by not “reinforcing the traditional gender stereotypes” (Rosenbury) but instead challenging the status quo.
In addition to this, it was vivid from the story that the wife made conscious efforts to resist her husband but to no avail. Here is an extract from the story, “She turns her head away from him and struggles free from him a little. Not now, she says. Not tonight she says it boldly…” Considering this extract, Chibuzo viewed his wife as both weak and powerless woman who cannot defend her freedom as to when and when not to have sex. All this bores down to nature of institution, their patriarchal marriage, which marginalizes women unto the boundaries of equality.
The idea and characteristics of gender, relate to the specific differences men and women deliver to society and the unique qualities and roles each demonstrate. The term ‘Femininity’ refers to the range of aspects and womanly characteristics the female represents. The foundation of femininity creates and brings forth many historical and contemporary issues. According to Mary Wollstonecraft in ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, women’s femininity is considered a flaw of nature. Throughout the paper, history indicates how women are viewed and looked upon in a male dominated world which hinders a woman’s potential, her character, her mind, her dreams, her femininity.