Feminism’s Second Wave began in the 1960s, an era of intense change brought on by a culture of thriving social movements in the United States. In this decade, the “Women’s Movement” operated alongside the Civil Rights movement, cultural nationalist movements like Chicano and Black Power, anti-Vietnam War student protests, and LGBTQ protests. This version of feminism was built around the idea of a “universal sisterhood” that united all women on account of their shared sex.
Unfortunately, much like President Trump’s Black History Month speech, the contributions of many black feminists to the feminist movement have long been overlooked and replaced with an overwhelmingly white narrative due to an unwillingness from the movement to understand that while women of color are affected by sexism, as is every woman in a patriarchal society, black women and other women of color must also deal with a systematic racism that many white women will rarely, if ever, face in the United States.
Olympe de Gouges, a playwright of some note in France at the time of the Revolution, spoke for not only herself but many of the women of France, when in 1791 she wrote and published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Citizen. Modeled on the 1789 Declaration of the National Assembly, defining citizenship for men, this Declaration echoed the same language and extended it to women, as well. In this document, de Gouges both asserted woman’s capability to reason and make moral decisions and pointed to the feminine virtues of emotion and feeling. Woman was not simply the same as man, but she was his equal partner.
From her first chapter: “Behind this celebration of the American woman’s victory, behind the news, cheerfully and endlessly repeated, that the struggle for women’s rights is won, another message flashes.
You may be free and equal now, it says to women, but you have never been more miserable.”