This topic guide will help you work with the topics of feminism and the #MeToo movement. The guide is mainly intended for use in English class, but it may also be relevant for other school subjects such as History or Social Studies.
The guide is designed to give you a good overview of both the historical struggle for women's rights and gender equality issues in modern society. You can also find specific suggestions for texts to use as reference points, as well as ideas for further thematic perspectives.
The first major women's rights movements in the UK and US in the 19th century were mostly focused on securing voting rights for women. This turned out to be a very long and complicated process, however, as the movements met much resistance from the established - and male-dominated - political system. In desperation some parts of the movement turned to violent methods, while other factions focused on more peaceful protests. The women often faced much resistance from law enforcement - many were imprisoned and exposed to police brutality, and the project of the women's rights movements was even ridiculed by much of the media. After a struggle spanning many decades, women finally secured the right to vote in both the UK (1918/1928) and the US (1920).
The struggle for women's rights was far from over, however, so the next focus area for the movements was to introduce equality under the law in other areas - such as the labour market. In that respect the two World Wars actually had a positive effect, because they led to a much larger amount of women in the workforce, as many young men went off to war. However, there were still conservative voice which opposed the work of the women's rights movements and tried to preserve the idea that a woman's most important roles were those of wife, mother and housekeeper.
Feminism experienced a renaissance in the middle of the 20th century, partly due to two influential works about the condition of women: The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir and The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan.
The US civil rights movement of the 1960s is mostly known for its focus on stopping discrimination against African Americans, but some of the legislation that was passed at the time also helped secure women's rights. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans both racial discrimination and gender discrimination.
Towards the end of the 20th century feminists started to shift their focus to fighting a male-dominated culture rather than focusing on specific pieces of legislation. For example, there was widespread criticism of the media's tendency to present the female body as a sexual object, as well as increased focus on the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
In the beginning of the 21st century, the internet became a popular medium for feminist messages, especially once social media became more and more prevalent. However, the internet also provided an outlet for anti-feminism and sexism, and many women were met with harassment and threats from other internet users, when they posted blog entries or tried to participate in male-dominated online communities. These problems still exist today.
In October 2017, the actress Ashley Judd accused the movie producer Harvey Weinstein of harassment and sexual abuse. A number of other actors and employees in Weinstein's production company joined in and presented similar accusations, which eventually led to Weinstein being fired from the company and facing criminal charges. Shortly after the accusations against Weinstein, the actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to use the hashtag #MeToo on social media if they had also experienced harassment or abuse. This was the beginning of an enormous public movement, where millions of people all across the globe used the internet to share their stories.
The #MeToo movement led to additional dramatic revelations of sexual abuse committed by men in powerful position, as well as general increase in awareness of how widespread sexual harassment and sexual assault still is all over the world.