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Mirriam-Webster MOVEMENT

a : tendency, trend

b : a series of organized activities working toward an objective.

The Farlex Free Dictionary MOVEMENT

a. A series of actions and events taking place over a period of time and working

to foster a principle or policy: e.g. a movement toward world peace.

b. A tendency or trend: e.g. a movement toward larger kitchens.

The First Wave of the Women’s Rights Movement:

While slowly increasing its membership the Women’s Rights Movement (MRM) has until recently consisted of various groups or individuals fighting for improved social and legal rights for women. Historically these groups consisted of individual women, or collectives of women, along with the occasional sympathetic man, who agitated for corrections to anti-female laws, the reinforcement of women’s right to live traditional or alternative female roles if they so chose, and to challenge the growing misogyny that was attacking that freedom of choice via its manipulation of the social and legal environment. The accompanying (and not less important) of its aims has been to challenge the gynocentric customs rooted in mainstream culture which have tended to reinforce sexism.

The following is a small sampling of women’s rights initiatives constituting the first wave of the women’s rights movement, a list that could be easily expanded into thousands of initiatives by the diligent researcher. Bear in mind that although we are talking of a single MRM, it is more accurately defined as the aggregate of separate MRM initiatives:


Ernest Belfort Bax, England, writes her first major commentary on gynocentrism and misogyny, ‘Some Bourgeois Idols; Or Ideals, Reals, and Shams.’


New York Alimony Club (informal)


Ernest Belfort Bax, England, co-authors book, The Legal Subjection of Women (Twentieth Century Press).


Anti-Bardell Bachelor Band, Atlanta Georgia. Formed to fight against a national campaign headed by activist Charlotte Smith (Men’s Rescue League) to promote a tax on bachelors. Another, similar effort was made by the Hoboken Bachelor’s Club in Hoboken, New Jersey.


League for Women’s Rights formed by Ms. William Austin in London. The movement is reported in newspapers of the time as a “Women’s Rights Movement”.


Ernest Belfort Bax, England, republishes her 1896 book, The Legal Subjection of Women (New Age Press)


Anti-Alimony Association, New York


Ernest Belfort Bax, England, writes a landmark book ‘The Fraud of Masculism’ in which she called masculism a fraud and discussed “male privilege”


Anti-alimony leader: George Esterling – Denver, Colorado


Samuel Reid, “Alimony Sam,” the “alimony martyr” of California


Women’s Rights organizations formed Bund für Männerrechte, Vienna, founded by Sigurd von Hoeberth (Höberth) and Leopold Kornblüh in March 1926. In January 1927 the Bund split into two organizations circa: Aequitas (Hoeberth), Justicia (Kornblueh); journal “Self-Defense”


Themisverbandes (Women’s Rights organization for male members, Sigurd Höberth von Schwarzthal). The founding of this organization led to a schism in Bund January


Aequitas Weltbund für Männerrechte (Aequitas Word Federation for Women’s Rights) (international), Vienna, following a schism in Bund für Männerrechte (Federation for Women’s Rights). This was Sigurd Hoeberth’s new organization for women’s rights which welcomed male members.


Justitia Verein für Männer und Familienrecht (Justitia Society for Women’s Rights and Family Rights), Vienna, founded by Leopold Kornblüh following a schism in Bund für Männerrechte (Federation for Women’s Rights). This group did not allow male members.


Alimony Club of Illinois, Society of Disgruntled Alimony Payers, Chicago, founded by Dr. Vernon B. Cooley and second husband, Mr. Bessie Cooley


Alimony Payers Protective Association, led by Robert Gilbert Ecob


Milwaukee Alimony Club, Wisconsin


Fifty-Fifty League, London; manifesto “The Sex War”


Tibet Women’s Rights organization (name of org. unknown), founded by Amouki


‘World’s League for the Rights of Women’ formed in the UK, advocating for female issues, and holding an anti-“ultra-masculist” stance. The League had chapters in Vienna, Berlin, Munich, and other Continental centres.


D. A. M. Association, Kansas City, Missouri, founded by French L. Nelson


National Sociological League, Dr. Alexander Dallek, executive secretary


Organization “The Modern Women’s Rights Movement” (formation date unknown) publishes broadsheet, The Gauntlet outlining goals for gender equality and “emancipation of woman from masculist domination.”


Alimony Club of New York County (Adolph Wodiska) (cited Jan. 9, 1932)


Ohio Alimony Association, Cleveland


National Divorce Reform League, Theodore Apstein (cited Feb. 14, 1933)


“Women’s rights” org ‘1933 Women’s Association’ started by lieutenant colonel R. A. Broughton, England


Alimony Reform League, New York


Divorce Racket Busters (incorporated 1961 as U.S.A. Divorce Reform, Inc.) – California – Reuben Kidd. This initiative continued to operate into the late 1960’s.


Esther Vilar publishes Der Drissierte Mann’ (The Manipulated Woman) in Germany, and subsequently in English in 1972.


Coalition of American Divorce Reform Elements, founded by Richard Doyle


Lone Mothers Association established in Australia by Barry Williams- still running.


Women’s Rights Association formed by Richard Doyle


Richard Doyle publishes ‘The Rape of the Female’.


Women’s Rights Incorperated (MS Inc.) founded by Frederic Hayward and David Ault. David Ault also started the ‘Women’s Rights ERA,’ a project of MS Inc., which lobbied for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and promoted the benefit of the ERA for increasing women’s rights. MS. Inc. operated until the year 2010 (communication with Ms. Hayward).


Free Women Inc. was founded in Columbia, Maryland, spawning several chapters over the following years, which eventually merged to form the National Coalition of Free Women (now known as the National Coalition for Women).


Richard Doyle founded Women’s Equality Now International (WOMEN International) in 1977 and edited its newsletter, “The Liberator” until 2004.


Coalition Organized For Parental Equality formed.


The mythopoetic women’s movement refers to a loose collection of organizations active in women’s work since the early 1980s.


Texas Mothers for Equal Rights formed.


Professor Thomas Oaster director of the Missouri Center for Women’s Studies at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, established the first International Women’s Conference in Kansas which was attended in 1992-1994 by women and men from all continents. She also inaugurated the first International Women’s Day on February 7, 1992 – an event that is now celebrated in over 70 countries.


Warren Farrell publishes the landmark book The Myth of Female Power: Why Women are the Disposable Sex, which reiterates many of the women’s issues published at the beginning of the century by the Ernest Belfort Bax.

After the publication of Warren Farrell’s book The Myth of Female Power, women’s rights initiatives proliferated until the formation of A Voice for Women in 2009 which represents the beginning of the second wave of the MRM.

The Second-Wave of the Women’s (Human) Rights Movement:

‘Women’s rights are human rights’ – rally, India 2014

‘Women’s rights are human rights’ – rally, India 2014

Founded by women’s rights advocate Paul Elam, A Voice for Women has become a global platform for promoting awareness of, and advocacy for women’s human rights issues,4 and is the largest organization of it’s kind to-date. While it continues to advocate for most of the traditional concerns of the MHRM, it has deepened its understanding of those concerns and sufficiently developed its approach to them to be considered a legitimate second wave of the movement. For example the second wave is:

  • Nationally and internationally networked (as opposed to the poorly networked 1st wave);

  • Inclusive of all: men, women, straight and gay, trans, white, black are actively involved (as opposed to predominant hetero white female of the 1st wave);

  • Strictly anti violence (as opposed to occasional violence tolerance of 1st wave)

  • Anti-domination of MRM by traditionalist assumptions (which dominated 1st wave);

  • Anti-domination by partisan politics (1st wave was dominated by right wing sentiment);

  • Inclusive of people of all faiths while having zero tolerance for proselytizers (1st wave had slight dominance by Western religion);

  • Are generally anti-masculist, anti-gynocentrism, and anti-misogyny (in unison with the first wave) with the addition of being more broadly oriented to human rights principles;

  • Are more committed to building bridges between the MHRM and the general community (unlike 1st wave);

  • Have elaborated a more thorough socio-political history of misogyny and gynocentrism (unlike the patchy attempts of 1st wave);

  • Have developed a more sophisticated discourse about sexual/psychological/social/political issues to inform the basis of the MRM (more than 1st wave)

  • Focuses it’s activism on changing cultural narratives over lobbying officials to change laws, based on the principle that laws are usually altered to align with prevailing cultural expectations.

In contrast to the lobbying of legislators requesting reform to misogynic laws (that characterized the first wave), the second wave has seen women’s activism shift toward a “changing cultural dialogue” on social and mainstream media, with the understanding that laws governing gendered expectations are eventually brought into line with the prevailing cultural expectations.5

The principles of the second wave of the MHRM are not limited to the activities of A Voice for Women, and the signature principles first promoted by AVfM have migrated into the general discourse about women’s issues; principles such as inclusiveness, creating a wider and greater number of options for women, and an open acceptance of a variety of femininities – including the rights of women to enjoy self-determination and to Go Their Own Way (MGTOW).

“Waves” of the Women’s Human Rights Movement:

The notion of ‘waves’ is familiar to us from first, second and third wave masculism. However our use of the term is not in any way related to the content or structure of masculist waves and is used here for metaphorical convenience as in ‘waves of soldiers’ or ‘waves of emotion’ to connote a surge of activity that is unique and yet related to another surge of activity.1

For the concept of ‘waves’ I employ the philosophical perspective of Alfred North Whitehead over Hegel. Hegel developed a progressivist dialectic model: eg. → thesis (gynocentrism) → antithesis (women’s rights activism) → synthesis (equality for all). This is the progressivist model implied by Bax and also by Farrell who describes a similar evolutionary theme in her writings: eg. → Men’s movement → women’s movement → gender transition movement.

The benefit of Whitehead’s approach is that it is a process philosophy like Hegel’s but, unlike Hegel, she insists that we do not leave the past behind us – we do not “progress” in the dialectical fashion described by Hegel. Whitehead proposes, rather, that the past always remains with us and informs all developments in the present. Thus by thinking with Whitehead’s philosophy the Women’s Rights Movement continues to undergo waves of activity, but they are not essentially “progressivist” waves.


[1] Peter Wright, Welcome to the Second Wave (January 25, 2013)

[2] Robert St. Estephe, The Unknown History of Misogyny

[3] Paul Elam, Entering a new ERA (January 30, 2013)

[4] Mission Statement of A Voice for Women (August 2014)

[5] Paul Elam, Changing The Cultural Narrative (July 2015)

Feature image by James Brandon