Feminism movement is also referred to as women’s movement, women’s right movement, women’s liberation and the suffrage movement. Feminism has steadily become more far ranging and subtle in its attack on male subjugated society. The feminist movement in the united and abroad was a political and a social movement and sought to address equality. This movement had a great impact and it changed the lives of many individual women and exerted philosophical ideologies upon the American society throughout the twentieth century. For instance during the first two decades of this century, Women’s groups in the United States worked jointly in order to claim women’s suffrage, culminating in the endorsement of the constitutional amendment constitutional that guaranteed women the right to vote. Feminism and feminist art which emerged in the late 1960s women focused on what makes them different from men and what makes women artists and their art different from that of the male counterparts. This was high up in United States and other western countries such as Britain and Germany (Felski 1989). Feminists indicate that throughout most of recorded history, men have created a patriarchal social system in which they men have taken domineering role. Women’s group activists remained vibrant throughout the decades in the prelude to World War II. They continued fiercely to campaign on issues that affected women for instance right to possess property, right to equal pay, right to enter profession and right to take part in public life. They had some success in this movement although these successes with these things, not translate into real change in these areas (Carol 1991).
Several factor sparked up this historical movement. In the 1930s women went through very hard times especially the poor ones had many depressions to endure. They concentrated mainly to find a way of surviving for themselves and their families. Because of this the next generation of women that followed grew up in these memories and remembered their mothers as very hard working women who were dedicated to providing for the needs of their children and their husbands ( Chiedizie 2009).
During the Second World War, women took up jobs that were previously reserved for men as men went to battlefields. For instance they worked in heavy industries and land. Even as many were projected to surrender their jobs to returned soldiers after the war as it had happened during the First World War, social perception of what women were capable of had drastically taken a new dimension. This acted as a catalyst to women attempts to realize for better conditions and pay in the workforce (Ryan 1992).
Another period that characterized feminism movement is the post war era, that is after the Second World War. materialism and nuclear family became a template for women who married and had children in the post-war era. They too dedicated their lives and time to their children and husbands except that they did not have hardships. They experienced the economic boom and affluence of the post-war years. This period was characterized by materialism as many people sought to own homes and amass wealth. During this time older forms of extended family living were replaced nuclear family life of the suburbs. During this time the life of a woman was entirely focused on family life. Also the society and politics emphasized their roles as mothers and housekeepers. Even as most women were in a position to work after the war, very few women were married in the work force and those that were not were anticipated to do so as soon as possible. The women’s movements that were in place prior to the war had disintegrated to some extent during the war as a result of other pressures. The conservatives of the post war era made it very difficult for them to proceed with their momentum during the 1940s and 1950s although some activities did exist at a very low magnitude. Daughters of this generation were brought up in a time of relative stability. Legally they were well off and in a better position than their mothers but it was very hard for women to put into effect any new found freedom. For instance they still depended on their husbands economically and could not secure loans in their own names and most of them were not employed and therefore had no source of income. They had therefore had to find their way out. Over the next couple of decades spectacular changes occurred on woman both at the legal and social levels that molded greater freedom for them and radically changed the whole society in the process (Tandon 2008).
Also feminism movement was instigated by books that emerged from the 1940s to 1960s for instance the feminine mystique by Betty Friedan questioned the role of middle class women wives and mothers (Friedan 2000). Also the female eunuch by an Australian author called Germaine Greer and the Second sex by Simone de Beauvoir just like the feminine mystique argued that women’s suffering was as a result of unjust social structures rather than unjust laws. Therefore literature seemed to have played a great role in instigating this radical change. For instance in the Second sex, Simone wrote that “legislators, philosophers, writers and scientists have striven to show that the subordinate position of women is willed in heaven and advantageous on earth” (Beauvoir 1993).Woman had been made to feel that they were inferior by nature and, though men paid-lip service they would resist its implementation. In his work de Beauvoir uses Marxist, Hegelian and Freudian themes to uncover the sources of definition of women as the “other” of man. He uses these concepts or themes to describe the asymmetrical relation between the self/ subject, as the active part, which is attributed male and the other as powerless and passive part which serves as projection of everything the self/subject and is attributed female. In his work de Beauvoir further bring into light how not only different oppressions against women in the society are related to each other but also how systematic oppression of women works. Despite this, the modern women’s movement had its beginnings in the feminine mystique. This piece of literature brings out the difficulties women were going through the men dominated society. It brings into surface the dehumanizing demoralizing conditions that middle-class American women isolated and imprisoned in suburbia and barred from social and productive life
Feminism movement was also expressed and emphasized through art. For instance issues affecting women such as birth rights were addressed through art long before any women liberation movement. The one that had the greatest impact is the feminist art in the Victorian era. Although art by female artists was not taken seriously by critics and males, the subject matter such as motherhood, pregnancy were brushed on lightly in the Victorian period, it wasn’t until during the twentieth century when explicit depiction of these subjects started appearing in art form (Ruddick 1989).. The critics never focused on the content of the work of female artists but instead based their judgment on gender or race. For instance Harriet Hosmer a sculptress in the 1800s , rumors had it that her work was not actually her own and she was even accused of having assistants who performed the actual chiseling and hard labor that went into her most famous art ‘Zenobia in chains’. The same fate also happened to Edmonia Lewis who was a Native American and African descent. This sculptress suffered not only the burdens of gender but also race. For instance her most famous piece, Hagar was hardly recognized merely because of its contentious subject, Abraham’s biblical concubine, which she meant to serve as a form of rebellion. Consequently the rebellious statement was overshadowed by her gender and racial background. These two women provided a great inspiration to later female artists. For instance in the 1970s, being influenced by the work of Hosmer and Lewis, Jude Chicago created a huge table of place settings for her masterpiece. In this piece she created 39 different plates shaped like intricate vulva and each representing important but overshadowed woman in history. Chicago said that her primary objective in her work was to celebrate women achievements in the face of all odds. She managed to attract attention on her piece ‘the dinner party’ that was based on the art itself and not her gender. Consequently, it became one of the most important pieces in the American art history (The art History archive).
Together with sculptress of the 19th century were two- dimensional artists who expressed their ideas through painting which served as extra fuel to drive the Feminism movement during this period. The most famous art movement that depicted the Victorian era was that of the impressionists that was characterized by icons such as Mary Cassatt and Berthe Mariosot. Both were innovative artists in that their subjects were doing everyday tasks as opposed to sitting still as most female subjects both of the time and previously did. They depicted women as regular people as opposed to deity. Since both belonged to upper-class women artists, these women painted at their own leisure and not to put food on the table. Therefore they had more freedom with their art and consequently pushed for the lines of interpretation of the female role in the society. Despite their images being those of upper-class women, their art was intimate and touchy and gave motivation to female artists who felt demoralized by this male-dominated field. Also a young artist Eva Gonzales (1849-1883) used the portrait of her sister Jeanne in the impressionist style and served as one the symbolic of the first breaks in the mold of male-dominated portrayals of “a reclining woman” this was a great change when compared to her initial pieces for instance ‘morning awakening ‘where the reclining female form had been portrayed nude, sexual and provocative. In this portrait of her sister there are no sexual connotations at all. This piece of work tempted to change female depiction and change the motive of a reclining woman (Broude & marry 1994).
The Feminism movement provided ground for the radical change of traditional understanding of certain aspects in the society that had affected and subdued women for a very long time for instance education, marriage, property ownership, professional ambitions and participating in politics. This movement spread like wild fire outside America and Europe to the rest of the world and is responsible for the great degree of freedom that is being exercised by women for instance fight against circumcision in African countries. Despite this, women are still faced with many challenges that call a lot to be done to bring about equality.