The Three Waves of Feminism

When you look up the word ‘feminism’ in the dictionary the meaning that appears is ‘the doctrine advocating social, political and all other rights of women equal to those of men.’ This seems pretty straight forward. Surely all women would then consider themselves feminist? Wrong.

The ‘F-word’ has an attached stigma that some find hard to shake off. Stereotypical feminists are seen by many as man-hating, hairy arm-pitted, interfering and angry women. Although this may ring true in some extreme cases, the vast majority are probably well kept and strong-willed individuals with a very important job: to stamp out gender inequality. Isn’t that something all women (and men) should be proud of?

If only people took the time to look into the history of feminism, perhaps they’d consider themselves part of the F-Club. Feminism is usually described as being split into three phases or ‘waves’:

The first wave of feminism was the push for women to gain the vote, which is the very basis of modern feminism as we know it. In the case of Britain, before 1918 women did not have the right to vote at all, and even when this was granted it was still limited- women had to be at least 30 years old or older to be eligible to vote. It was not until 1928 that all women gained the right the same right as men (to be eligible at age 21 or older) to vote.

The second phase of feminism was based mainly of male/female equality. This phase of the movement generally began in the 1960s. Women had enjoyed the right to vote for roughly thirty years, but they still faced huge inequalities in other aspects of life. These differences were more pronounced in the workplace where both important company positions and wage disparities between the sexes were the norm.

The major issues lay in the constricted ideas of gender roles in particular, jobs that men and women could and couldn’t (or should and shouldn’t) do due to their sex.

The third wave of feminism is largely characterised by the deconstruction of gender roles and criticism of the previous ‘phase’. The third phase tries to move away from the second phases as the movement stands by the fact that all feminists have different opinions and ideas of ‘feminism’, whereas the second phase emphasised only one idea of ‘femininity’.

(Image sourced from, image by Topical Press Agency/­Getty Images)


Artemisia Gentileschi

Feminist critics often think of Gentileschi in admiration as she represented strong, independent women in a male dominated practice. Further appreciation is shown as she depicts other ‘strong women’ in her paintings, not just painting them as objects of desire. Her use of strong bold colours in oil-pastel, with female subjects is recognisable and often striking in composition.

Some would argue that ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes (c.1611)’ is her most recognisable piece. The painting depicts a particular story from ‘The Old Testament’. The story shows ‘Judith’ who seduces the Assyrian General, Holofernes, and then along with her maid-servant beheads him. The idea that she liked to portray strong women in her paintings is very much apparent here, as the two females are shown to have over-powered the male with brute force. Their ‘strong’ stance is emphasised by the brutality of the murderous act they are committing, is shown in gloriously gory detail.

In other portrayals of this story in art history (see Judith Beheading Holofernes, Caravaggio, c.1598) the woman still seems somewhat submissive even as she is shown killing a man. Their restrained and effortless composure is in stark contrast to Gentileschi’s depictions where obvious force is shown in the women’s bodies and faces.

It has been remarked that Gentileschi actually painted herself as Judith, as she beheaded her Mentor Agostini Tassi (who was tried for her rape) as Holofernes. The rape case has unfortunately come to over-shadow her career and instead of being celebrated like other Masters her name and reputation as a ‘great’ has been dragged through the mud.

Feminist or not anyone can appreciate the beauty and passion that Gentileschi created and showed within her work, and although she might not be considered a master, she is definitely a great.

(Both images from Web Gallery of Art, Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, c.1611-12)