Milestones in Intersectional Feminism

1848: The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women’s rights convention ever held. It was where Elizabeth Cady Stanton, along with a team, wrote the Declaration of Sentiments demanding access to education and jobs, as well as the right to vote.

1851: Sojourner Truth – an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist – delivered the famous Ain’t I A Woman speech. She spoke for both the abolitionist and women’s rights movements, and the two movements worked together until the end of the Civil War in the USA.

1870: The 15th Amendment finally gave African-American men the right to vote, but still did not include women, which led to a schism between the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. Suffragists, led by Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, split off to focus solely on the (middle-class, white) women’s right to vote. This racial division would last until the advent of third-wave feminism.

1900 – 1920: The second generation of first wavers, led by Carrie Chapman Catt, began the political campaigns first-wave feminism is most remembered for. Their very public protests and suffering helped turn the nation’s attention and compassion to women’s vulnerability and marginalisation in society.

1920: The 19th Amendment finally passed, which was great news for white women who finally had the right to vote. White suffragists in 1920 decided not to fight for the rights of black and Native American women; many of these women would remain unable to vote for the next 40 – 45 years.

1961: After much urging from former first lady, and all-round badass, Eleanor Roosevelt, President Kennedy established a Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. The commission revealed that women were not educated to the same level as men, nor did they participate in economics or politics to the same extent.

1963: Betty Friedan published her seminal feminist text The Feminine Mystique. Her book was described as being about “the problem that had no name”. Friedan wrote about how women (or at least, straight, middle-class, white women) were stifled in the home, undereducated and treated as children. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 passed during this year, and stated that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work.

1968: Alice Walker published her very first collection of poetry, before going on to publish her award-winning novel The Colour Purple. Along with Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison and bell hooks, she voiced what it meant to be a black woman in America, overlooked by the white feminist movement.

1969: 400 feminists gathered in New York to protest against the Miss America Pageant, drawing global media attention. However, contrary to popular myth, no bras were actually burned. The Chicana feminist movement, also known as Xicanisma, began at the 1969 Chicano Youth Liberation Conference. It was a socio-political movement that analysed the intersecting historical, cultural, spiritual, educational, and economic experiences of Mexican-American women who identify as Chicana. Chicana feminism challenged the stereotypes that Chicanas face across lines of gender, ethnicity, race, class and sexuality. Most importantly, Chicana feminism served to help women reclaim their existence between the American feminist and Chicano movements.

1971: Gloria Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine, providing a platform for feminist ideas to reach a wider audience.

1973: Roe v. Wade, which ruled that states could not ban abortion, changed the landscape in women’s fights for control over their own bodies.

1983: Activist and academic Angela Davis publishes Women, Race, and Class, which takes an intersectional approach to feminist issues.

1989: Legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality theory”. In her work, Crenshaw discussed Black feminism, which argues that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black and of being a woman considered independently but must include the interactions and intersections of these components of identity which frequently reinforce one other.

1991: During Senate confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas for Supreme Court Justice, Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment. The case quickly gained national attention. Thomas, an African-American man, was supported by the African-American community whereas Hill, an African-American woman, was supported by the white feminist community. The two lines of argument focused on the rights of women and Hill’s experience of being violated as a woman on the one hand, and on the other, the incentive to forgive or turn a blind eye to Thomas’ conduct due to his potential to become the second African-American to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Crenshaw argued that Hill had to forfeit her voice as a black person, and instead focus on the sexist aspects of the case. Thomas was eventually confirmed, while Hill was largely discredited.

1991: The punk band Bikini Kill published the Riot Grrrl Manifesto and began a radical feminist musical genre that took off around the world, calling for the empowerment of women’s voices and giving visibility to the issues of violence against women and homophobia.

1992: The Anita Hill case inspired Rebecca Walker, Alice Walker’s daughter, to publish a call for a new wave of feminism titled Becoming the Third Wave. She summed up the individualist, deconstructionist nature of the movement in the final statement of her article: “I am the Third Wave.” Walker didn’t try to speak for women collectively – she spoke to each woman individually.