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Feminism's Long History

Feminism's Long History

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Feminism, a belief in the political, economic and cultural equality of women, has roots in the earliest eras of human civilization. It is typically separated into three waves: first wave feminism, dealing with property rights and the right to vote; second wave feminism, focusing on equality and anti-discrimination, and third wave feminism, which started in the 1990s as a backlash to the second wave’s perceived privileging of white, straight women.

From Ancient Greece to the fight for women’s suffrage to women’s marches and the #MeToo movement, the history of feminism is as long as it is fascinating.

Early Feminists

In his classic Republic, Plato advocated that women possess “natural capacities” equal to men for governing and defending ancient Greece. Not everyone agreed with Plato; when the women of ancient Rome staged a massive protest over the Oppian Law, which restricted women’s access to gold and other goods, Roman consul Marcus Porcius Cato argued, “As soon as they begin to be your equals, they will have become your superiors!” (Despite Cato’s fears, the law was repealed.)

In The Book of the City of Ladies, 15th-century writer Christine de Pizan protested misogyny and the role of women in the Middle Ages. Years later, during the Enlightenment, writers and philosophers like Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, argued vigorously for greater equality for women.

READ MORE: Milestones in U.S. Women's History

Abigail Adams, first lady to President John Adams, specifically saw access to education, property and the ballot as critical to women’s equality. In letters to her husband John Adams, Abigail Adams warned, “If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice.”

The “Rebellion” that Adams threatened began in the 19th century, as calls for greater freedom for women joined with voices demanding the end of slavery. Indeed, many women leaders of the abolitionist movement found an unsettling irony in advocating for African Americans rights that they themselves could not enjoy.

First Wave Feminism: Women’s Suffrage and The Seneca Falls Convention

At the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, abolitionists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott boldly proclaimed in their now-famous Declaration of Sentiments that “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.” Controversially, the feminists demanded “their sacred right to the elective franchise,” or the right to vote.

Many attendees thought voting rights for women were beyond the pale, but were swayed when Frederick Douglass argued that he could not accept the right to vote as a Black man if women could not also claim that right. When the resolution passed, the women’s suffrage movement began in earnest, and dominated much of feminism for several decades.

READ MORE: American Women's Suffrage Came Down to One Man's Vote

The 19th Amendment: Women’s Right to Vote

Slowly, suffragettes began to claim some successes: In 1893, New Zealand became the first sovereign state giving women the right to vote, followed by Australia in 1902 and Finland in 1906. In a limited victory, the United Kingdom granted suffrage to women over 30 in 1918.

In the United States, women’s participation in World War I proved to many that they were deserving of equal representation. In 1920, thanks largely to the work of suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt, the 19th Amendment passed. American women finally earned the right to vote. With these rights secured, feminists embarked on what some scholars refer to as the “second wave” of feminism.

Women And Work

Women began to enter the workplace in greater numbers following the Great Depression, when many male breadwinners lost their jobs, forcing women to find “women’s work” in lower paying but more stable careers like housework, teaching and secretarial roles.

During World War II, many women actively participated in the military or found work in industries previously reserved for men, making Rosie the Riveter a feminist icon. Following the civil rights movement, women sought greater participation in the workplace, with equal pay at the forefront of their efforts

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was among the first efforts to confront this still-relevant issue.

Second Wave Feminism: Women's Liberation

But cultural obstacles remained, and with the 1963 publication of The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan—who later co-founded the National Organization for Women—argued that women were still relegated to unfulfilling roles in homemaking and child care. By this time, many people had started referring to feminism as “women’s liberation.” In 1971, feminist Gloria Steinem joined Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug in founding the National Women’s Political Caucus. Steinem’s Ms. Magazine became the first magazine to feature feminism as a subject on its cover in 1976.

The Equal Rights Amendment, which sought legal equality for women and banned discrimination on the basis of sex, was passed by Congress in 1972 (but, following a conservative backlash, was never ratified by enough states to become law). One year later, feminists celebrated the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that guaranteed a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

READ MORE: Why the Fight Over the Equal Rights Amendment Has Lasted Nearly a Century

Third Wave Feminism: Who Benefits From the Feminist Movement?

Critics have argued that the benefits of the feminist movement, especially the second wave, are largely limited to white, college-educated women, and that feminism has failed to address the concerns of women of color, lesbians, immigrants and religious minorities. Even in the 19th century, Sojourner Truth lamented racial distinctions in women’s status by demanding “Ain’t I a Woman?” in her stirring speech before the 1851 Ohio Women's Rights Convention:

“And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne 13 children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?”

#MeToo and Women’s Marches

By the 2010s, feminists pointed to prominent cases of sexual assault and “rape culture” as emblematic of the work still to be done in combating misogyny and ensuring women have equal rights. The #MeToo movement gained new prominence in October 2017, when the New York Times published a damning investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against influential film producer Harvey Weinstein. Many more women came forward with allegations against other powerful men—including President Donald Trump.

On January 21, 2017, the first full day of Trump’s presidency, hundreds of thousands of people joined the Women’s March on Washington in D.C., a massive protest aimed at the new administration and the perceived threat it represented to reproductive, civil and human rights. It was not limited to Washington: Over 3 million people in cities around the world held simultaneous demonstrations, providing feminists with a high-profile platforms for advocating on behalf of full rights for all women worldwide.


Women in World History Curriculum
Women's history, feminist history, Making History, The Institute of Historical Research
A Brief History of Feminism, Oxford Dictionaries
Four Waves of Feminism, Pacific Magazine, Pacific University

A Brief Timeline Of Feminism In America

August 18 marks the 95th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. This day, August 26, is also known as Women's Equality Day. While this is a huge day for both women’s and human rights, there's clearly still so much work to be done. Let's take a quick look at the facts, shall we?

  • We make up only 20 percent of the Senate, and even less of Congress
  • The U.S. has never had a female vice president, much less president
  • An Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution (pushed for by Alice Paul back in 1920) was never ratified

… and the list goes on and on and on.

The ratification of the 19th Amendment was a huge victory, but it addressed only one of the demands presented by early feminists. The questions 95 years later are "Where are we now?" and "Where do we go from here?" In order to understand the answer, we have to know our history. Here is a (very brief) look at the the first three waves of feminism, and where we might be going.

First Wave: Political Movement

We generally mark the beginning of the feminist movement in the United States as 1848, the year of the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls New York. But doing so robs feminism of some of its most important mothers. It is more accurate to say that the first wave was feminism’s political movement, which began long before Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

1630s – Anne Hutchinson challenged the Puritans’ male hegemony by teaching both women and men in her home.

1659 – After Hutchinson’s banishment and death, her friend Mary Dyer took up her cause and was executed for preaching equality of the sexes.

1776 – Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband, John Adams, warning him not to leave women’s rights out of the Constitution. “If perticular care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation [sic],” she said — an elegant insight that the founding father laughed away.

1782 – Deborah Sampson took her late brother’s name and dressed as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War. She was injured, discovered, and honorably discharged in 1783.

1821 – Emma Hart Willard opened Troy Female Seminary, granting women levels of education on par with what men could receive.

1848 – Elizabeth Cady Stanton (above) and other leaders of the Seneca Falls Convention rewrote the Declaration of Independence into their own Declaration of Sentiments, calling for full rights of citizenship for women, demanding women’s right to keep their own wages and property (ironically, American women at this time were victims of taxation without representation), demanding access to the same education levels, jobs, and wages as men, and demanding the right to vote.

1849 – Women were allowed to practice medicine in the United States, with Elizabeth Blackwell becoming the first woman to receive a medical degree.

1851 – Sojourner Truth (above) delivered her "Ain’t I a Woman" speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. She, along with Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone, spoke for both the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. The two movements worked together until the conclusion of the Civil War.

1870 – The passage of the 15th Amendment gave black men the right to vote. Feminists expected women to be included in this amendment. When they weren’t, a schism developed. Some suffragists, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, felt betrayed by the abolitionists and split off to form their own suffrage movement, focused solely on women’s (consequently, solely white women’s) right to vote. This racial division would last through the first and second waves.

1900–1920 – The second generation of first-wavers, led by Carrie Chapman Catt, began the political campaigns first-wave feminism is most remembered for. At the same time, a radical branch of suffragists, led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, determined to settle for nothing less than a federal amendment to the Constitution. They picketed the White House, facing repeated beatings, arrests, and deplorable workhouse conditions. Their very public suffering helped turn the nation’s attention and compassion to the vulnerability of women’s positions in society.

1920 – The 19th Amendment finally passed, giving women the right to vote — a great victory for white women. Just as the abolitionists had decided not to back the feminist cause in 1870, white feminists in 1920 decided not to press the cause of black women — most of whom lived in Southern states, which would continue to marginalize them and make it nearly impossible for them to vote for the next 40 years.

Second Wave: Social Movement

Just as abolitionism catalyzed first-wave feminism, the second wave received its initial surge from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The interim years had proven that a political movement wasn’t enough. The de jure rights of race and sex did little de facto. What was needed was a social movement.

Racism and sexism soared after World War II, as America desperately struggled to redefine its identity and reclaim a perceived innocence that years of depression and war had supposedly stripped away. The affluent white male reinforced himself as the pinnacle of society. As a result, far fewer women received college or graduate degrees or pursued skilled jobs than they had in previous decades. African Americans in the South experienced battles over school integration, and intense violence was directed at activists like the Freedom Riders.

Over the next 20 years, the social feminist movement would change society’s views on rape, abortion, and sexual harassment in the workplace. They would ensure that government organizations tasked with protecting women did their jobs. The movement’s slogan was “the personal is political.”

1961 – At the urging of 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 at the same rate as men.

1963 – Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique described "the problem that had no name" (at least, the problem for straight, middle-class, white women). Friedan wrote about how women were stifled in the home, undereducated, and treated as children. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 passed this year, stating that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work.

1968 – Alice Walker’s first collection of poetry was published. She went on to publish many more works of poetry and short fiction, but is best known for her novels, such as The Color Purple. She, along with Toni Morrison and bell hooks, voiced what it meant (and means) to be a black woman in male-dominated America, overlooked by the white feminist movement.

1969 – A group of 400 feminists protested the Miss America Pageant, drawing global media attention. However, contrary to popular myth, no bras were actually burned.

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.

1974 – The Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed, enabling a woman to take out a credit card in her own name, rather than her husband’s.

1983 - Activist and academic Angela Davis publishes Women, Race, and Class, an intersectional look at feminist issues.

In spite of its social success, the second wave broke in the late '70s. The racial division that plagued the first wave remained throughout the second, and expanded from a black/white divide to include divisions along economic lines, between various minorities, and between lesbians and straight women. The internal divisions fractured the larger movement into competing factions, which disillusioned many feminists and society as a whole.

Third Wave: Individual Movement

The 1980s saw a second feminist backlash. Generally, this decade declared itself post-feminist. The daughters of the second-wavers built their own wave as more of a reaction against the second wave than a cohesive movement of its own.

Third-wavers were eager to dissociate from what they viewed as their mothers’ botched legacy. They decided to take back feminism, to redefine it. However, unlike the first and second waves, third-wave feminism never found a cohesive structure. It was deconstructionist in nature. Every woman could redefine feminism in her own way. Instead of a political or a social movement, this new feminism was individual.

1991 – During Senate confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas for Supreme Court Justice, Anita Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment. The case quickly gained national attention. 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 out for the empowerment of women’s voices and taking up 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.

1998 – After gaining notoriety for their billboards and posters throughout the previous decade, the Guerrilla Girls staged a protest at the San Jose Museum of Art over its lack of representation of female artists.

Where Are We Headed?

The third wave didn’t end so much as it was overtaken by a new wave of eager, tech-savvy millennials growing up in a post-9/11 society. The Internet has created a digital world that transcends borders and has brought feminists new ways to unite and speak out about oppression and injustice.

Since then, Fourth-Wavers have expanded on the third-wave fight against the portrayal of women in the media (and now online, as well) and brought attention to male domination of the news and entertainment industries — things that clearly shape culture. As the Internet has provided an endless supply of advertisements objectifying women’s bodies and entertainment sites perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards, feminists have fought back using social media, blogs, and websites.

We still have much to accomplish before we can say that we live in a truly egalitarian society, and it won’t be easy. However, if we remember to link our past to our present, with all the new technological tools we have at our disposal, then why can’t the fourth wave finally finish the work our earliest foremothers began?

Don’t let this anniversary pass unnoticed. Let our history inspire us to move forward, bold and unafraid and bolstered by women — both those who have gone before and those who surround us now in our global, digital fourth wave.

Image: Bustle Stock Photo Public Domain, Library of Congress, Wikicommons, Giphy

Related Story

For Firestone in The Dialectic of Sex, that feminist utopian imagining is based on a two-part argument. First, gender difference (or "sex class") is rooted in biology. It is, furthermore, at the basis of all inequity, including economic exploitation and racial prejudice—she sees racist society as a kind of Fruedian oppressive patriarchal household, with blacks treated as infantilized children. Radical feminists, therefore—and, in her view, everybody who wants an equal society—"are talking about changing a fundamental biological condition." As a result, feminist revolution is deeply, almost unimaginably radical. "If there were a another word more all-embracing than revolution, we would use it."

So how will this uber-revolution be brought about? In the tradition of that radical tech-utopian Marx, Firestone hopes that advances in science can change material conditions enough to make equity possible. Cybernetics will eliminate the need for work new reproductive technologies will eliminate the need for giving birth ("Pregnancy is barbaric. the temporary deformation of the body of the individual for the sake of the species").

Once we have eliminated both manual labor and female labor, in Firestone's vision, society can be reformed and the bourgeois family eliminated. Rather than living in nuclear units, people can live in larger households of 10 or so, where childcare can be spread around to all—and where children need not be age segregated and kept in forced immaturity for years. Moreover, Firestone argues, without the tyranny of biological reproduction, monogamy and even the incest taboo will be unnecessary, and can be abandoned ("Relations with children would include as much genital sex as the child was capable of—probably considerably more than we now believe"). Eroticism and intimacy and joy could then suffuse the entire culture, rather than being restricted to the cramped, circumscribed realm of romantic love. She concludes, "all relationships would be based on love alone, uncorrupted by objective dependencies and the resulting class inequalities."

Obviously, when you advocate for the end of pregnancy and the incest taboo, you are going to freak people out. Many people used Firesteone's speculations then (and still will use them now, I'm sure) to marginalize her work and thought.

But the truth is, these ideas are not especially marginal. In the first place they are (as Brian Attebery notes in Decoding Science Fiction) a rethinking of mostly male-penned paranoid dystopias like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which tinkering with reproduction and the nuclear family leads to irrational de-individualized nightmare feminine hives.

But Firestone's vision is not only a reaction to anti-feminist dystopias. It's also, as I said, part of a separate feminist tradition. Here, for example, is Ursula K. Le Guin from The Left Hand of Darkness, describing a society of hermaphrodites in which, to paraphrase Firestone's words, not only male privilege, but the sex distinction itself is eliminated:

And here's Joanna Russ in The Female Man imagining an interview between earth men and a woman from a future all-female society:

MC: . Don't you want men to return to Whileaway, Miss Evason?

JE: Why?

ME: One sex is half a species, Miss Evason. I am quoting (and he cited a famous anthropologist). Do you want to banish sex from Whileaway?

JE (with massive dignity and complete naturalness): Huh?

MC: I said: Do you want to banish sex from Whilewaway? Sex, family, love erotic attraction—call it what you like—we all know that your peope are competent and intelligent individuals, but do you think that's enough? Surely you have the intellectual knowledge of biology in other species to know what I'm talking about.

JE: I'm married. I have two children. What the devil do you mean?

Le Guin's novel was published in 1969, the year before Dialectic of Sex Firestone probably hadn't read it when she wrote her own book. Russ' novel The Female Man, was written in 1971, and it seems quite possible that she had read Firestone's work.

But I don't think it matters that much who did or did not influence whom. What does matter is that Firestone wasn't some kind of mad visionary. Or if she was a mad visionary, she wasn't the only one. Susan Faludi quotes Kate Millett as saying, "I was taking on the obvious male chauvinists. Shulie was taking on the whole ball of wax. What she was doing was much more dangerous." Which may well be true—but there were clearly other writers at the time (and earlier) who were also trying to take on the whole ball of wax, and reimagine society from reproduction and family on up.

Giving Firestone a context makes her, in some ways, less radical, or at least less unique. But I think it also can make her more relevant. Her dreams weren't just her own dreams. Her brilliant blending of Marx and feminism, in which she sees women's labor as the prototype of all labor—that becomes not just a singular insight, but part of a conversation in which writers like Le Guin and Russ and Gillman and Marston were actively trying to figure out how biological difference is linked to oppression, and what changing that would mean. Her Freudian insistence that straight sex is not normal sex, and her argument for "polymorphous perversity" was part of the long, fruitful conversation between feminism and queer thinkers. Firestone's feminist utopia was also a queer utopia, and has only gained in relevance as queer politics and feminist politics have become more intertwined.

It's true that Firestone was a visionary it's true that, for all her analysis of the past and present, much of her energy was focused on the future. But I don't think that cuts her off from her own time, or from ours. Looking forward is, on the contrary, one of the main ways we interact with the present. In life, after writing her book, Firestone lost connection with her movement and her peers. Seeing her in the context of feminist science-fiction is one way to give her back her sisters.



An engaging illustrated history of feminism from antiquity through third-wave feminism, featuring Sappho, Mary Magdalene, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Simone de Beauvoir, and many others.

The history of feminism? The right to vote, Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinem, white pantsuits? Oh, but there's so much more. And we need to know about it, especially now. In pithy text and pithier comics, A Brief History of Feminism engages us, educates us, makes us laugh, and makes us angry. It begins with antiquity and the early days of Judeo-Christianity. (Mary Magdalene questions the maleness of Jesus's inner circle: “People will end up getting the notion you don't want women to be priests.” Jesus: “Really, Mary, do you always have to be so negative?”) It continues through the Middle Ages, the Early Modern period, and the Enlightenment (“Liberty, equality, fraternity!” “But fraternity means brotherhood!”). It covers the beginnings of an organized women's movement in the nineteenth century, second-wave Feminism, queer feminism, and third-wave Feminism.

Along the way, we learn about important figures: Olympe de Gouges, author of the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen” (guillotined by Robespierre) Flora Tristan, who linked the oppression of women and the oppression of the proletariat before Marx and Engels set pen to paper and the poet Audre Lorde, who pointed to the racial obliviousness of mainstream feminism in the 1970s and 1980s. We learn about bourgeois and working-class issues, and the angry racism of some American feminists when black men got the vote before women did. We see God as a long-bearded old man emerging from a cloud (and once, as a woman with her hair in curlers). And we learn the story so far of a history that is still being written.

The Waves of Feminism

For generations, the feminist movement has forged ahead advocating for women's rights. Many scholars and activists assume that there are three distinct "waves" of feminism, with the “#MeToo Movement” marking a contemporary fourth wave. However, the history of the feminist movement is much more complex.

College day in the picket line (1917)
National Women’s History Mus

The metaphor of “waves” representing the various surges of feminism began in 1968 when Martha Weinman Lear published an article in the New York Times called “The Second Feminist Wave.” Lear's article connected the suffrage movement of the 19th century with the women's movements during the 1960s. This new terminology quickly spread and became the popular way to define feminism.Although this metaphor of “feminist waves” is helpful for people to distinguish between different eras of women's activism, it is impossible to accurately pinpoint specific dates that started or ended each wave of feminism. In reality, each historical era was inspired by a long tradition of activism that transcended generational lines.

Image Collage: Social Movements 1850 - 1897
National Women’s History Museum

The Origins of the Movement

The first wave of the feminist movement is usually tied to the first formal Women’s Rights Convention that was held in 1848. However, first wave feminists were influenced by the collective activism of women in various other reform movements. In particular, feminists drew strategic and tactical insight from women participating in the French Revolution, the Temperance Movement, and the Abolitionist Movement.

Women's March on Versailles 1788
National Women’s History Museum

The French Revolution

“The French Revolution marked the beginnings of the organized participation of women in politics.” --Historian R.B. Rose in "Feminism, Women and the French Revolution."

As the French Revolution began in 1789, women were frequently on the front lines advocating for their rights. Even though they were considered “passive citizens,” these women took an active role in the political climate of their country. On October 5, 1789, thousands of armed French women marched from markets in Paris to the Palace of Versailles. They demanded that the King address their economic concerns and the drastic food shortages happening across France. Unfortunately, their fight was far from over.

Olympes de Gouges
National Women’s History Museum

A few months prior, reformers were able to persuade the French National Constituent Assembly to adopt the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” This document provided citizenship rights to various members of the population. Unfortunately, it still excluded women and other minority groups from citizenship. When this document became the preamble to the French Constitution in 1791, many women shifted their focus to gaining citizenship and equal rights.

One of these women, playwright Olympes de Gouges, wrote “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen” in 1791. Gouges’ declaration begins as follows: “Women are born free and are man's equal in law. Social distinctions can be founded solely on common utility.” Her statement also includes the various rights that both men and women should possess. This document and the collective activism of the women in the French Revolution became a source of inspiration for first wave feminists.

Temperance 1539 - 1609
National Women’s History Museum

The Temperance Movement

First wave feminists were also influenced by the widespread activism of women during the temperance movement. In the early nineteenth century, many United States citizens began to promote “moral reform.” In an effort to fight against immorality, the temperance movement developed in the 1820s to limit or prohibit the consumption of alcohol. For many middle-class white women who were deemed the “moral authorities of their households,” drinking was considered a threat to the stability of their homes. These women, along with male supporters of temperance, began to create cartoons, pamphlets, songs and speeches about the harms of alcohol usage.

Temperance Illustrations 1834 - 1855
National Women’s History Museum

Temperance Illustrations: The Bible and temperance (top), The fruits of temperance (bottom), representing the benefits of an alcohol-free society.

Women's Christian Temperance Union 1911
National Women’s History Museum

By 1826, the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance (American Temperance Society) was formed in Boston, Massachusetts. The society quickly spread, with temperance activists starting local chapters all across the country. In addition, by 1831 there were over twenty-four women's organizations dedicated to the temperance movement. One of the notable groups that developed later in the movement was the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Thousands of women from this organization marched into liquor stores and bars demanding that owners sign a pledge to stop selling alcoholic beverages. As these women advocated for temperance and the affairs of their homes, they also demanded to have an equal role in public activity.

“The temperance movement, in fact, gave women the opportunity to be engaged in public political life for the first time.” --Tara Isabella Burton in “The Feminist History of Prohibition”

Enslaved Family 1861
National Women’s History Museum

The Abolitionist Movement

As many of those women began to advocate for their political voice, women from different ethnicities and backgrounds were also fighting to have basic human rights. In the early nineteenth century, much of the African American population in the United States was enslaved. With the first group of enslaved Africans arriving in the early 1600s, African American men and women had been fighting for freedom and citizenship for centuries. Their collective activism was the foundation of the abolitionist movement that pushed for the end of slavery.

Phillis Wheatley
National Women’s History Museum

African American women were central to early nineteenth century abolitionism. During the 1820s and 1830s, these women established social and literary organizations, as well as religious groups to challenge slavery and support their communities.

On February 12, 1821, two-hundred working–class African American women established the Daughters of Africa Society in Philadelphia. This society provided support to their members, and a weekly allowance of $1.50 when they were sick. Similarly, the Colored Female Free Produce Society was formed in 1831 to boycott the exploitation of enslaved labor by only selling items that were produced by free African Americans.

Several literary societies also formed during this time that were devoted to the “diffusion of knowledge and the suppression of vice and immorality.” The Female Literary Association, the Afric-American Female Intelligence Society, and the Colored Ladies Literary Society were all formed in the early 1830s.

Am I Not A Woman And A Sister 1836
National Women’s History Museum

In addition to their work establishing organizations, African American women went on extensive lecture tours across the country and published letters, poems, and slave narratives to fight for the abolition of slavery. Women like Maria Stewart, Jarena Lee, Sarah Louise Forten and Sarah Mapps Douglass all openly spoke out against slavery while advocating for women’s education, and citizenship rights.

Colorized photo of Sojourner Truth
National Women’s History Museum

“If not all female abolitionists became women’s rights activists, pioneering feminists owed their public careers to abolition.”

--Historian Manisha Sinha in The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition

Suffrage Collage 1849
National Women’s History Museum

The Woman Question

Building on the activism of the women in these social movements, many upper and middle-class white women joined the abolitionist movement. Women like Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and sisters Angelina and Sarah Moore Grimké joined various white anti-slavery organizations. However, these societies were dominated by men and they often did not allow women to speak publicly in front of male audiences. When women ignored these societal rules, they were mocked and scorned. For example, the Grimké sisters were ridiculed for their writings and the General Association of Congregational Ministers of Massachusetts wrote a public statement against them for giving speeches in front of men. Abolitionist women took matters into their own hands and convened the first Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in New York City in 1837.

Representative Women/Library of Congress 1869
L. Schamer | National Women’s History Museum

As these women pursued reform, their collective disenfranchisement became even more apparent. In 1840, the first World Anti-Slavery Convention was held in London. Unfortunately, the organizers made it clear that only men could attend the meeting. Lucretia Mott attended anyway and was joined by several other women activists including Elizabeth Cady Stanton. After hours of debate, the male organizers decided that only men would be allowed to be speak and vote at the convention. The women were sent to the spectator’s gallery and were only allowed to watch and listen. After this meeting, Mott and Stanton decided to form a society and hold their own convention to advocate for women’s rights.

Our Roll of Honor. Listing women and men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments
National Women’s History Museum

Eight years later, Mott, Stanton, and three-hundred other women held the first Women’s Rights Convention. This group of women and male supporters met in July of 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. At this meeting, they discussed and voted on the “Declaration of Sentiments,” organized by Stanton. Closely resembling the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen” written by Olympes de Gouges’ during the French Revolution, Stanton declared that “all men and women are created equal.”

The document also advocated for women’s education, right to property, and organizational leadership. One of the most controversial topics on the program was women’s suffrage. Although not everyone agreed, many of these women’s rights activists believed that their goals would be hard to accomplish without the right to vote. After the first convention, this group of women began meeting regularly, and the growing feminist movement started to shift to focus on achieving suffrage and political power.

Elizabeth Stuyvesant 1914 - 1918
National Women’s History Museum

For the next 70 years, the central goal of the feminist movement was for women to achieve the right to vote. Although they continued to participate in other social movements, many first wave feminists believed that suffrage was the key to unlocking other rights.

However, for other groups of women, the right to vote was not only tied to their gender, but it was also tied to their race and social class. As the movement progressed, the concerns of women of color were often overlooked by first wave feminists. Despite often being uninvited or excluded from fully participating in white organizations, women of color spoke out about facing not only sexism, but also racism, and classism.

Mary Church Terrell 1920 - 1940
National Women’s History Museum

“The first and real reason that our women began to use clubs as a means of improving their own condition and that of their race is that they are PROGRESSIVE.” --Mary Church Terrell, co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women

Image Collage: African American Women
National Women’s History Museum

African American women advocated for women’s rights alongside their fight for freedom and the wellbeing of their communities. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was a founding member of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in 1869 alongside white abolitionist Lucy Stone and Frederick Douglass. Black women, like Sojourner Truth and Charlotte Forten, joined AWSA to promote universal suffrage. Forten’s aunts Harriet Forten Purvis and Margaretta Forten were also two of the “chief actors” to help organize the Fifth National Woman’s Rights Convention in Philadelphia.However, African American women still faced discrimination and often had to join segregated suffrage associations. In 1876, Mary Ann Shadd Cary wrote a letter to the National Woman Suffrage Association on behalf of ninety-four black women requesting that their names be added as signers of Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments.” Unfortunately, the names of these women were never included.On March 3, 1913, Stanton’s National American Woman Suffrage Association organized their first suffrage parade held in Washington, D.C. Even though they required that African American women march in the back of the parade, black women still participated in the event, including the founders of the National Association of Colored Women.

Image Collage: Asian Women
National Women’s History Museum

Asian women also fought sexism, racism, and classism to advocate for their rights. The Page Act of 1875 banned Chinese women from immigrating to the United States, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented Chinese immigrants from attaining citizenship and voting rights. This did not stop Mabel Ping-Hua Lee from leading almost 10,000 people in the 1912 New York suffrage parade on horseback.

Two years later, she gave a speech at the Women’s Political Union’s Suffrage Shop encouraging the civic participation of Chinese women. Unfortunately, when women in the state of New York were granted the right to vote in 1917, the Chinese Exclusion Act still prevented Lee from voting. However, when women in California earned the right to vote in 1912, Tye Leung Schulze became the first Chinese woman to vote in the United States.

Women from the Philippines also advocated for their rights. In the 1900s, the Philippines was a colony of the United States, but these women could not vote in either location. In 1905, the Asociacion Feminista Filipina (Philippine Feminist Association) was founded to encourage the “participation of women in public affairs.” Some of the members met with First Lady Florence Harding at the White house in 1922.

Image Collage: Latina Women
National Women’s History Museum

Latina women also fought for women’s rights while promoting social reform. In 1917, suffragist Adelina Otero-Warren was asked by the National Woman’s Party (Congressional Union) to lead their New Mexico chapter. Otero-Warren advocated that suffrage literature was published in both English and Spanish, so it was accessible to Latinx audiences. She was also instrumental in the ratification of the 19th Amendment in New Mexico, granting women the right to vote.

Luisa Capetillo used a grassroots approach instead as a labor advocate and writer to promote worker’s rights and education for women. In 1909 she published “Mi opinión sobre las libertades, derechos y deberes de la mujer” (My Opinion About the Rights, Liberties, and Responsibilities of Women) that became the first feminist thesis written in Puerto Rico. She also edited Puerto Rico’s first feminist newspaper “La mujer” (The Woman) founded by Ana Roqué de Duprey.

Duprey was also a well-known feminist and in 1917, she established the Puerto Rican Feminist League. Along with other members of this league, she also created the Suffragist Social League, the Puerto Rican Association of Suffragist Women, and the Island Association of Voting Women.

Jeannette Rankin / Library of Congress Aug 1, 1916
Unknown | National Women’s History Museum

As these women of color and first wave feminists pursued their goals, they were able to accomplish many small victories towards women’s rights along the way. For example, in 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. That same year, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, even though New York state law prohibited the distribution of contraception. She later established the clinic that became Planned Parenthood. However, first wave feminists had to wait until August of 1920 to witness the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Unfortunately, it would take much longer for women of color to be able to exercise their right to vote due to racial discrimination.

[Hedwig Reicher as Columbia] in Suffrage Parade. (Mar 3, 1913)
by Bain News Service
National Women’s History Museum

The End of the First Wave

After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the momentum of the first wave began to dwindle. For many, the 19th Amendment was the major legislative achievement they had been fighting for. However, other women continued to advocate for their rights within local organizations and special interest groups. Militant suffragist and National Woman's Party founder Alice Paul believed that the 19th Amendment was not enough to ensure women’s full equality. In 1923, she presented the Equal Rights Amendment to congress to solidify women’s constitutional rights. However, many other feminists opposed this legislation because it put women’s labor protections at risk. These ideological differences further separated feminists, as this chapter of the movement came to a close. The next sustained large-scale feminist surge would not be until the “second wave” in the 1960s.


Exhibit written and curated by Kerri Lee Alexander, NWHM Fellow 2018-2020

Bessieres, Yves, and Patricia Niedzwiecki. “Women in the French Revolution (1789).” Women in the French Revolution (1789). Brussels, Belgium: Institute for the Development of the European Cultural Area, 1991.

Blackett, R. J. M. Building an Antislavery Wall: Black-Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830-1860. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.

Dannenbaum, Jed. "The Origins of Temperance Activism and Militancy among American Women." Journal of Social History 15, no. 2 (1981): 235-52. Accessed May 2, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/3787109.

Grady, Constance. “The Waves of Feminism, and Why People Keep Fighting over Them, Explained.” Vox, March 20, 2018. https://www.vox.com/2018/3/20/16955588/feminism-waves-explained-first-second-third-fourth.

Kendrick, Ruby M. ""They Also Serve": The National Association of Colored Women, Inc." Negro History Bulletin 17, no. 8 (1954): 171-75. Accessed May 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/44214997.

Rose, R. B. "Feminism, Women and the French Revolution." Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques 21, no. 1 (1995): 187-205. Accessed April 30, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/41299020.

Sinha, Manisha. The Slaves Cause: a History of Abolition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1999.

Weinman Lear, Martha. “The Second Feminist Wave.” The New York Times, March 10, 1968, sec. SM.


The feminist movement has been there for ages and as various generations come and go, you can be yet satisfied to note that it will not ever stop evolving. There will continuously be a recurring urge for women to keep asking for more rights. Whether it will be given to them, is another topic of research interest.

In all, we have seen the ancient historic movement that led to modern-day feminism, and it's imperative to agree that these women who spearheaded this movement had guts and as a result got the trolling of their agenda. In my next research article in this publication, I explore the reasons why feminism in modern society is falsehood and how.


People and activists who discuss or advance women's equality prior to the existence of the feminist movement are sometimes labeled as protofeminist. [6] Some scholars criticize this term because they believe it diminishes the importance of earlier contributions or that feminism does not have a single, linear history as implied by terms such as protofeminist or postfeminist. [4] [15] [16] [17]

Around 24 centuries ago, [18] Plato, according to Elaine Hoffman Baruch, "[argued] for the total political and sexual equality of women, advocating that they be members of his highest class, . those who rule and fight". [19]

Andal, a female Tamil saint, lived around the 7th or 8th century. [20] [21] She is well known for writing Tiruppavai. [21] Andal has inspired women's groups such as Goda Mandali. [22] Her divine marriage to Vishnu is viewed by some as a feminist act, as it allowed her to avoid the regular duties of being a wife and gain autonomy. [23]

Renaissance Feminism Edit

Italian-French writer Christine de Pizan (1364 – c. 1430), the author of The Book of the City of Ladies and Epître au Dieu d'Amour (Epistle to the God of Love) is cited by Simone de Beauvoir as the first woman to denounce misogyny and write about the relation of the sexes. [24] Other early feminist writers include Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Modesta di Pozzo di Forzi, who worked in the 16th century, [25] and the 17th-century writers Hannah Woolley in England, [26] Juana Inés de la Cruz in Mexico, [27] Marie Le Jars de Gournay, Anne Bradstreet, Anna Maria van Schurman [28] and François Poullain de la Barre. [25] The emergence of women as true intellectuals effected change also in Italian humanism. Cassandra Fedele was the first women to join a humanist group and achieved much despite greater constraints on women. [29]

Renaissance defenses of women are present in a variety of literary genre and across Europe with a central claim of equality. Feminists appealed to principles that progressively lead to discourse of economic property injustice themes. Feminizing society was a way for women at this time to use literature to create interdependent and non-hierarchical systems that provided opportunities for both women and men. [30]

Men have also played an important role in the history of defending that women are capable and able to compete equally with men, including Antonio Cornazzano, Vespasiano de Bisticci, and Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti. Castiglione continues this trend of defending woman's moral character and that traditions are at fault for the appearance of women's inferiority. However, the critique is that there is no advocacy for social change, leaving her out of the political sphere, and abandoning her to traditional domestic roles. Although, many of them would encourage that if women were to be included in the political sphere it would be a natural consequence of their education. In addition, some of these men state that men are at fault for the lack of knowledge of intellectual women by leaving them out of historical records. [31]

One of the most important 17th-century feminist writers in the English language was Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. [32] [33] Her knowledge was recognized by some, such as proto-feminist Bathsua Makin, who wrote that "The present Dutchess of New-Castle, by her own Genius, rather than any timely Instruction, over-tops many grave Grown-Men," and considered her a prime example of what women could become through education. [34]

17th century Edit

Margaret Fell's most famous work is "Women's Speaking Justified", a scripture-based argument for women's ministry, and one of the major texts on women's religious leadership in the 17th century. [35] In this short pamphlet, Fell based her argument for equality of the sexes on one of the basic premises of Quakerism, namely spiritual equality. Her belief was that God created all human beings, therefore both men and women were capable of not only possessing the Inner Light but also the ability to be a prophet. [36] Fell has been described as a "feminist pioneer".[1]

The Age of Enlightenment was characterized by secular intellectual reasoning and a flowering of philosophical writing. Many Enlightenment philosophers defended the rights of women, including Jeremy Bentham (1781), Marquis de Condorcet (1790), and Mary Wollstonecraft (1792). [37] Other important writers of the time that expressed feminist views included Abigail Adams, Catharine Macaulay, [38] and Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht.

Jeremy Bentham Edit

The English utilitarian and classical liberal philosopher Jeremy Bentham said that it was the placing of women in a legally inferior position that made him choose the career of a reformist at the age of eleven, [39] though American critic John Neal claimed to have convinced him to take up women's rights issues during their association between 1825 and 1827. [40] [41] Bentham spoke for complete equality between sexes including the rights to vote and to participate in government. He opposed the asymmetrical sexual moral standards between men and women. [42]

In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1781), Bentham strongly condemned many countries' common practice to deny women's rights due to allegedly inferior minds. [43] Bentham gave many examples of able female regents.

Marquis de Condorcet Edit

Nicolas de Condorcet was a mathematician, classical liberal politician, leading French Revolutionary, republican, and Voltairean anti-clericalist. He was also a fierce defender of human rights, including the equality of women and the abolition of slavery, unusual for the 1780s. He advocated for women's suffrage in the new government in 1790 with De l'admission des femmes au droit de cité (For the Admission to the Rights of Citizenship For Women) and an article for Journal de la Société de 1789. [44] [45] [46]

Olympe de Gouges and a Declaration Edit

Following de Condorcet's repeated, yet failed, appeals to the National Assembly in 1789 and 1790, Olympe de Gouges (in association with the Society of the Friends of Truth) authored and published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen in 1791. This was another plea for the French Revolutionary government to recognize the natural and political rights of women. [47] De Gouges wrote the Declaration in the prose of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, almost mimicking the failure of men to include more than a half of the French population in egalité. Even though the Declaration did not immediately accomplish its goals, it did set a precedent for a manner in which feminists could satirize their governments for their failures in equality, seen in documents such as A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and A Declaration of Sentiments. [48]

Wollstonecraft and A Vindication Edit

Perhaps the most cited feminist writer of the time was Mary Wollstonecraft, often characterized as the first feminist philosopher. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the first works that can unambiguously be called feminist, although by modern standards her comparison of women to the nobility, the elite of society (coddled, fragile, and in danger of intellectual and moral sloth) may at first seem dated as a feminist argument. Wollstonecraft identified the education and upbringing of women as creating their limited expectations based on a self-image dictated by the typically male perspective. [49] Despite her perceived inconsistencies (Miriam Brody referred to the "Two Wollstonecrafts") [50] reflective of problems that had no easy answers, this book remains a foundation stone of feminist thought. [1]

Wollstonecraft believed that both genders contributed to inequality. She took women's considerable power over men for granted, and determined that both would require education to ensure the necessary changes in social attitudes. Given her humble origins and scant education, her personal achievements speak to her own determination. Wollstonecraft attracted the mockery of Samuel Johnson, who described her and her ilk as "Amazons of the pen". Based on his relationship with Hester Thrale, [51] he complained of women's encroachment onto a male territory of writing, and not their intelligence or education. For many commentators, Wollstonecraft represents the first codification of equality feminism, or a refusal of the feminine role in society. [52] [53]

The feminine ideal Edit

19th-century feminists reacted to cultural inequities including the pernicious, widespread acceptance of the Victorian image of women's "proper" role and "sphere". [54] The Victorian ideal created a dichotomy of "separate spheres" for men and women that was very clearly defined in theory, though not always in reality. In this ideology, men were to occupy the public sphere (the space of wage labor and politics) and women the private sphere (the space of home and children.) This "feminine ideal", also called "The Cult of Domesticity", was typified in Victorian conduct books such as Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management and Sarah Stickney Ellis's books. [55] The Angel in the House (1854) and El ángel del hogar, bestsellers by Coventry Patmore and Maria del Pilar Sinués de Marco, came to symbolize the Victorian feminine ideal. [56] Queen Victoria herself disparaged the concept of feminism, which she described in private letters as the "mad, wicked folly of 'Woman's Rights'". [57] [58]

Feminism in fiction Edit

As Jane Austen addressed women's restricted lives in the early part of the century, [59] Charlotte Brontë, Anne Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot depicted women's misery and frustration. [60] In her autobiographical novel Ruth Hall (1854), [61] American journalist Fanny Fern describes her own struggle to support her children as a newspaper columnist after her husband's untimely death. [62] Louisa May Alcott penned a strongly feminist novel, [63] A Long Fatal Love Chase (1866), about a young woman's attempts to flee her bigamist husband and become independent. [64]

Male authors also recognized injustices against women. The novels of George Meredith, George Gissing, [65] and Thomas Hardy, [66] and the plays of Henrik Ibsen [67] outlined the contemporary plight of women. Meredith's Diana of the Crossways (1885) is an account of Caroline Norton's life. [68] One critic later called Ibsen's plays "feministic propaganda". [16]

John Neal Edit

John Neal is remembered as America's first women's rights lecturer. [69] Starting in 1823 [70] and continuing at least as late as 1869, [71] he used magazine articles, short stories, novels, public speaking, political organizing, and personal relationships to advance feminist issues in the United States and Great Britain, reaching the height of his influence in this field circa 1843. [72] He declared intellectual equality between men and women, fought coverture, and demanded suffrage, equal pay, and better education and working conditions for women. Neal's early feminist essays in the 1820s fill an intellectual gap between Mary Wollstonecraft, Catharine Macaulay, and Judith Sargent Murray and Seneca Falls Convention-era successors like Sarah Moore Grimké, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Margaret Fuller. [73] As a male writer insulated from many common forms of attack against female feminist thinkers, Neal's advocacy was crucial in bringing the field back into the mainstream in England and the US. [74]

In his essays for Blackwood's Magazine (1824-1825), Neal called for women's suffrage [75] and "maintain[ed] that women are not inferior to men, but only unlike men, in their intellectual properties" and "would have women treated like men, of common sense." [76] In The Yankee magazine (1828–1829), he demanded economic opportunities for women, [77] saying "We hope to see the day . when our women of all ages . will be able to maintain herself, without being obliged to marry for bread." [78] At his most well-attended lecture titled "Rights of Women," Neal spoke before a crowd of around 3,000 people in 1843 at New York City's largest auditorium at the time, the Broadway Tabernacle. [79] Neal became even more prominently involved with the women's suffrage movement in his old age following the Civil War, both in Maine and nationally in the US by supporting Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s and Susan B. Anthony’s National Woman Suffrage Association and writing for its journal, The Revolution. [80] Stanton and Anthony recognized his work after his death in their History of Woman Suffrage. [71]

Marion Reid and Caroline Norton Edit

At the outset of the 19th century, the dissenting feminist voices had little to no social influence. [ citation needed ] There was little sign of change in the political or social order, nor any evidence of a recognizable women's movement. Collective concerns began to coalesce by the end of the century, paralleling the emergence of a stiffer social model and code of conduct that Marion Reid described as confining and repressive for women. [1] While the increased emphasis on feminine virtue partly stirred the call for a woman's movement, the tensions that this role caused for women plagued many early-19th-century feminists with doubt and worry, and fueled opposing views. [81]

In Scotland, Reid published her influential A Plea for Woman in 1843, [82] which proposed a transatlantic Western agenda for women's rights, including voting rights for women. [83]

Caroline Norton advocated for changes in British law. She discovered a lack of legal rights for women upon entering an abusive marriage. [84] The publicity generated from her appeal to Queen Victoria [85] and related activism helped change English laws to recognize and accommodate married women and child custody issues. [84]

Florence Nightingale and Frances Power Cobbe Edit

While many women including Norton were wary of organized movements, [86] their actions and words often motivated and inspired such movements. [ citation needed ] Among these was Florence Nightingale, whose conviction that women had all the potential of men but none of the opportunities [87] impelled her storied nursing career. [88] At the time, her feminine virtues were emphasized over her ingenuity, an example of the bias against acknowledging female accomplishment in the mid-1800s. [88]

Due to varying ideologies, feminists were not always supportive of each other's efforts. Harriet Martineau and others dismissed Wollstonecraft's [89] contributions as dangerous, and deplored Norton's [89] candidness, but seized on the abolitionist campaign that Martineau had witnessed in the United States [90] as one that should logically be applied to women. Her Society in America [91] was pivotal: it caught the imagination of women who urged her to take up their cause. [ citation needed ]

Anna Wheeler was influenced by Saint Simonian socialists while working in France. She advocated for suffrage and attracted the attention of Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative leader, as a dangerous radical on a par with Jeremy Bentham. [ citation needed ] She would later inspire early socialist and feminist advocate William Thompson, [92] who wrote the first work published in English to advocate full equality of rights for women, the 1825 "Appeal of One Half of the Human Race". [93]

Feminists of previous centuries charged women's exclusion from education as the central cause for their domestic relegation and denial of social advancement, and women's 19th-century education was no better. [ citation needed ] Frances Power Cobbe, among others, called for education reform, an issue that gained attention alongside marital and property rights, and domestic violence.

Female journalists like Martineau and Cobbe in Britain, and Margaret Fuller in America, were achieving journalistic employment, which placed them in a position to influence other women. Cobbe would refer to "Woman's Rights" not just in the abstract, but as an identifiable cause. [94]

Ladies of Langham Place Edit

Barbara Leigh Smith and her friends met regularly during the 1850s in London's Langham Place to discuss the united women's voice necessary for achieving reform. These "Ladies of Langham Place" included Bessie Rayner Parkes and Anna Jameson. They focused on education, employment, and marital law. One of their causes became the Married Women's Property Committee of 1855. [ citation needed ] They collected thousands of signatures for legislative reform petitions, some of which were successful. Smith had also attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in America. [84] [95]

Smith and Parkes, together and apart, wrote many articles on education and employment opportunities. In the same year as Norton, Smith summarized the legal framework for injustice in her 1854 A Brief Summary of the Laws of England concerning Women. [96] She was able to reach large numbers of women via her role in the English Women's Journal. The response to this journal led to their creation of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women (SPEW). Smith's Married Women's Property committee collected 26,000 signatures to change the law [ clarification needed ] for all women, including those unmarried. [84] [95]

Harriet Taylor published her Enfranchisement in 1851, and wrote about the inequities of family law. In 1853, she married John Stuart Mill, and provided him with much of the subject material for The Subjection of Women.

Emily Davies also encountered the Langham group, and with Elizabeth Garrett created SPEW branches outside London.

Educational reform Edit

The interrelated barriers to education and employment formed the backbone of 19th-century feminist reform efforts, for instance, as described by Harriet Martineau in her 1859 Edinburgh Journal article, "Female Industry". [ clarification needed ] These barriers did not change in conjunction with the economy. Martineau, however, remained a moderate, for practical reasons, and unlike Cobbe, did not support the emerging call for the vote. [ citation needed ]

The education reform efforts of women like Davies and the Langham group slowly made inroads. Queen's College (1848) and Bedford College (1849) in London began to offer some education to women from 1848. By 1862, Davies established a committee to persuade the universities to allow women to sit for the recently established Local Examinations, [ clarification needed ] and achieved partial success in 1865. She published The Higher Education of Women a year later. Davies and Leigh Smith founded the first higher educational institution for women and enrolled five students. The school later became Girton College, Cambridge in 1869, Newnham College, Cambridge in 1871, and Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford in 1879. Bedford began to award degrees the previous year. Despite these measurable advances, few could take advantage of them and life for female students was still difficult. [ clarification needed ]

In the 1883 Ilbert Bill controversy, a British India bill that proposed Indian judicial jurisdiction to try British criminals, Bengali women in support of the bill responded by claiming that they were more educated than the English women opposed to the bill, and noted that more Indian women had degrees than British women at the time. [97] [ clarification needed ]

As part of the continuing dialogue between British and American feminists, Elizabeth Blackwell, one of the first American women to graduate in medicine (1849), lectured in Britain with Langham support. She eventually took her degree in France. Garrett's very successful 1870 campaign to run for London School Board office is another example of a how a small band of very determined women were beginning to reach positions of influence at the local government level. [ citation needed ]

Women's campaigns Edit

Campaigns gave women opportunities to test their new political skills and to conjoin disparate social reform groups. Their successes include the campaign for the Married Women's Property Act (passed in 1882) and the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866, and 1869, which united women's groups and utilitarian liberals like John Stuart Mill. [98]

Generally, women were outraged by the inherent inequity and misogyny of the legislation. [ citation needed ] For the first time, women in large numbers took up the rights of prostitutes. Prominent critics included Blackwell, Nightingale, Martineau, and Elizabeth Wolstenholme. Elizabeth Garrett, unlike her sister, Millicent, did not support the campaign, though she later admitted that the campaign had done well. [ citation needed ]

Josephine Butler, already experienced in prostitution issues, a charismatic leader, and a seasoned campaigner, emerged as the natural leader [99] of what became the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1869. [100] [101] Her work demonstrated the potential power of an organized lobby group. The association successfully argued that the Acts not only demeaned prostitutes, but all women and men by promoting a blatant sexual double standard. Butler's activities resulted in the radicalization of many moderate women. The Acts were repealed in 1886. [ citation needed ]

On a smaller scale, Annie Besant campaigned for the rights of matchgirls (female factory workers) and against the appalling conditions under which they worked in London. Her work of publicizing the difficult conditions of the workers through interviews in bi-weekly periodicals like The Link became a method for raising public concern over social issues. [102]

Feminists did not recognize separate waves of feminism until the second wave was so named by journalist Martha Weinman Lear in a 1968 New York Times Magazine article "The Second Feminist Wave", according to Alice Echols. [103] Jennifer Baumgardner reports criticism by professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz of the division into waves [104] and the difficulty of categorizing some feminists into specific waves, [105] argues that the main critics of a wave are likely to be members of the prior wave who remain vital, [105] and that waves are coming faster. [105] The "waves debate" has influenced how historians and other scholars have established the chronologies of women's political activism.[2]

First wave Edit

The 19th- and early 20th-century feminist activity in the English-speaking world that sought to win women's suffrage, female education rights, better working conditions, and abolition of gender double standards is known as first-wave feminism. The term "first-wave" was coined retrospectively when the term second-wave feminism was used to describe a newer feminist movement that fought social and cultural inequalities beyond basic political inequalities. [106] In the United States, feminist movement leaders campaigned for the national abolition of slavery and Temperance before championing women's rights. [107] [108] American first-wave feminism involved a wide range of women, some belonging to conservative Christian groups (such as Frances Willard and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union), others resembling the diversity and radicalism of much of second-wave feminism (such as Stanton, Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and the National Woman Suffrage Association, of which Stanton was president). First-wave feminism in the United States is considered to have ended with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1920), which granted white women the right to vote in the United States.

Activism for the equality of women was not limited to the United States. In mid-nineteenth century Persia, Táhirih was active as a poet and religious reformer, and is recorded as proclaiming the equality of women at her execution. She inspired later generations of Iranian feminists. [109] Louise Dittmar campaigned for women's rights, in Germany, in the 1840s. [110] Although slightly later in time, Fusae Ichikawa was in the first wave of women's activists in her own country of Japan, campaigning for women's suffrage. Mary Lee was active in the suffrage movement in South Australia, the first Australian colony to grant women the vote in 1894. In New Zealand, Kate Sheppard and Mary Ann Müller worked to achieve the vote for women by 1893.

In the United States, the antislavery campaign of the 1830s served as both a cause ideologically compatible with feminism and a blueprint for later feminist political organizing. Attempts to exclude women only strengthened their convictions. [ citation needed ] Sarah and Angelina Grimké moved rapidly from the emancipation of slaves to the emancipation of women. The most influential feminist writer of the time was the colourful journalist Margaret Fuller, whose Woman in the Nineteenth Century was published in 1845. Her dispatches from Europe for the New York Tribune helped create to synchronize the women's rights movement.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met in 1840 while en route to London where they were shunned as women by the male leadership of the first World's Anti-Slavery Convention. In 1848, Mott and Stanton held a woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, where a declaration of independence for women was drafted. Lucy Stone helped to organize the first National Women's Rights Convention in 1850, a much larger event at which Sojourner Truth, Abby Kelley Foster, and others spoke sparked Susan B. Anthony to take up the cause of women's rights. In December 1851, Sojourner Truth contributed to the feminist movement when she spoke at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio. She delivered her powerful "Ain’t I a Woman" speech in an effort to promote women's rights by demonstrating their ability to accomplish tasks that have been traditionally associated with men. [111] Barbara Leigh Smith met with Mott in 1858, [112] strengthening the link between the transatlantic feminist movements.

Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage saw the Church as a major obstacle to women's rights, [113] and welcomed the emerging literature on matriarchy. Both Gage and Stanton produced works on this topic, and collaborated on The Woman's Bible. Stanton wrote "The Matriarchate or Mother-Age" [114] and Gage wrote Woman, Church and State, neatly inverting Johann Jakob Bachofen's thesis and adding a unique epistemological perspective, the critique of objectivity and the perception of the subjective. [114] [ jargon ]

Stanton once observed regarding assumptions of female inferiority, "The worst feature of these assumptions is that women themselves believe them". [115] However this attempt to replace androcentric (male-centered) theological [ clarification needed ] tradition with a gynocentric (female-centered) view made little headway in a women's movement dominated by religious elements thus she and Gage were largely ignored by subsequent generations. [116] [117]

By 1913, Feminism (originally capitalized) was a household term in the United States. [118] Major issues in the 1910s and 1920s included suffrage, women's partisan activism, economics and employment, sexualities and families, war and peace, and a Constitutional amendment for equality. Both equality and difference were seen as routes to women's empowerment. [ clarification needed ] Organizations at the time included the National Woman's Party, suffrage advocacy groups such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the National League of Women Voters, career associations such as the American Association of University Women, the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, and the National Women's Trade Union League, war and peace groups such as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the International Council of Women, alcohol-focused groups like the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform, and race- and gender-centered organizations like the National Association of Colored Women. Leaders and theoreticians included Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, Margaret Sanger, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. [119]

Suffrage Edit

The women's right to vote, with its legislative representation, represented a paradigm shift where women would no longer be treated as second-class citizens without a voice. The women's suffrage campaign is the most deeply embedded campaign of the past 250 years. [120] [ dubious – discuss ]

At first, suffrage was treated as a lower priority. The French Revolution accelerated this, [ clarification needed ] with the assertions of Condorcet and de Gouges, and the women who led the 1789 march on Versailles. In 1793, the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women was founded, and originally included suffrage on its agenda before it was suppressed at the end of the year. As a gesture, this showed that issue was now part of the European political agenda. [ citation needed ]

German women were involved in the Vormärz, a prelude to the 1848 revolution. In Italy, Clara Maffei, Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso, and Ester Martini Currica were politically active [ clarification needed ] in the events leading up to 1848. In Britain, interest in suffrage emerged from the writings of Wheeler and Thompson in the 1820s, and from Reid, Taylor, and Anne Knight in the 1840s. [ citation needed ] While New Zealand was the first sovereign state where women won the right to vote (1893), they did not win the right to stand in elections until later. The Australian State of South Australia was the first sovereign state in the world to officially grant full suffrage to women (1894).

The suffragettes Edit

The Langham Place ladies set up a suffrage committee at an 1866 meeting at Elizabeth Garrett's home, renamed the London Society for Women's Suffrage in 1867. [121] Soon similar committees had spread across the country, raising petitions, and working closely with John Stuart Mill. When denied outlets by establishment periodicals, feminists started their own, such as Lydia Becker's Women's Suffrage Journal in 1870.

Other publications included Richard Pankhurst's Englishwoman's Review (1866). [ clarification needed ] Tactical disputes were the biggest problem, [ clarification needed ] and the groups' memberships fluctuated. [ clarification needed ] Women considered whether men (like Mill) should be involved. As it went, Mill withdrew as the movement became more aggressive with each disappointment. [ clarification needed ] The political pressure ensured debate, but year after year the movement was defeated in Parliament.

Despite this, the women accrued political experience, which translated into slow progress at the local government level. But after years of frustration, many women became increasingly radicalized. Some refused to pay taxes, and the Pankhurst family emerged as the dominant movement influence, having also founded the Women's Franchise League in 1889, which sought local election suffrage for women. [ citation needed ]

International suffrage Edit

The Isle of Man, a UK dependency, was the first free standing jurisdiction to grant women the vote (1881), followed by the right to vote (but not to stand) in New Zealand in 1893, where Kate Sheppard [122] had pioneered reform. Some Australian states had also granted women the vote. This included Victoria for a brief period (1863–5), South Australia (1894), and Western Australia (1899). Australian women received the vote at the Federal level in 1902, Finland in 1906, and Norway initially in 1907 (completed in 1913). [123]

Early 20th century Edit

In the early part of the 20th century, also known as the Edwardian era, there was a change in the way women dressed from the Victorian rigidity and complacency. Women, especially women who married a wealthy man, would often wear what we consider today, practical. [124]

Books, articles, speeches, pictures, and papers from the period show a diverse range of themes other than political reform and suffrage discussed publicly. [ citation needed ] In the Netherlands, for instance, the main feminist issues were educational rights, rights to medical care, [125] improved working conditions, peace, and dismantled gender double standards. [126] [127] [128] [129] [130] [131] Feminists identified as such with little fanfare. [ citation needed ]

Pankhursts formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. As Emmline Pankhurst put it, they viewed votes for women no longer as "a right, but as a desperate necessity". [ This quote needs a citation ] At the state level, Australia and the United States had already granted suffrage to some women. American feminists such as Susan B. Anthony (1902) visited Britain. [ clarification needed ] While WSPU was the best-known suffrage group, [ citation needed ] it was only one of many, such as the Women's Freedom League and the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett. [ clarification needed ] WSPU was largely a family affair, [ clarification needed ] although externally financed. Christabel Pankhurst became the dominant figure and gathered friends such as Annie Kenney, Flora Drummond, Teresa Billington, Ethel Smyth, Grace Roe, and Norah Dacre Fox (later known as Norah Elam) around her. Veterans such as Elizabeth Garrett also joined.

In 1906, the Daily Mail first labeled these women "suffragettes" as a form of ridicule, but the term was embraced by the women to describe the more militant form of suffragism visible in public marches, distinctive green, purple, and white emblems, and the Artists' Suffrage League's dramatic graphics. The feminists learned to exploit photography and the media, and left a vivid visual record including images such as the 1914 photograph of Emmeline. [ citation needed ]

The protests slowly became more violent, and included heckling, banging on doors, smashing shop windows, and arson. Emily Davison, a WSPU member, unexpectedly ran onto the track during the 1913 Epsom Derby and died under the King's horse. These tactics produced mixed results of sympathy and alienation. [ citation needed ] As many protesters were imprisoned and went on hunger-strike, the British government was left with an embarrassing situation. From these political actions, the suffragists successfully created publicity around their institutional discrimination and sexism.

Feminist science fiction Edit

At the beginning of the 20th century, feminist science fiction emerged as a subgenre of science fiction that deals with women's roles in society. Female writers of the utopian literature movement at the time of first-wave feminism often addressed sexism. Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland (1915) did so. [ clarification needed ] Sultana's Dream (1905) by Bengali Muslim feminist Roquia Sakhawat Hussain depicts a gender-reversed purdah in a futuristic world.

During the 1920s, writers such as Clare Winger Harris and Gertrude Barrows Bennett published science fiction stories written from female perspectives and occasionally dealt with gender- and sexuality-based topics while popular 1920s and 30s pulp science fiction exaggerated masculinity alongside sexist portrayals of women. [132] By the 1960s, science fiction combined sensationalism with political and technological critiques of society. With the advent of feminism, women's roles were questioned in this "subversive, mind expanding genre". [133]

Feminist science fiction poses questions about social issues such as how society constructs gender roles, how reproduction defines gender, and how the political power of men and women are unequal. [ citation needed ] Some of the most notable feminist science fiction works have illustrated these themes using utopias to explore societies where gender differences or gender power imbalances do not exist, and dystopias to explore worlds where gender inequalities are escalated, asserting a need for feminist work to continue. [134]

During the first and second world wars Edit

Women entered the labor market during the First World War in unprecedented numbers, often in new sectors, and discovered the value of their work. The war also left large numbers of women bereaved and with a net loss of household income. The scores of men killed and wounded shifted the demographic composition. War also split the feminist groups, with many women opposed to the war and others involved in the white feather campaign. [ citation needed ]

Feminist scholars like Francoise Thebaud and Nancy F. Cott note a conservative reaction to World War I in some countries, citing a reinforcement of traditional imagery and literature that promotes motherhood. The appearance of these traits in wartime has been called the "nationalization of women". [ citation needed ]

In the years between the wars, feminists fought discrimination and establishment opposition. [ clarification needed ] In Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, Woolf describes the extent of the backlash and her frustration. By now, the word "feminism" was in use, but with a negative connotation from mass media, which discouraged women from self-identifying as such. [ citation needed ] When Rebecca West, another prominent writer, had been attacked as "a feminist", Woolf defended her. West has been remembered for her comment "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute." [135]

In the 1920s, the nontraditional styles and attitudes of flappers were popular among American and British women. [136]

Electoral reform Edit

The United Kingdom's Representation of the People Act 1918 [137] gave near-universal suffrage to men, and suffrage to women over 30. The Representation of the People Act 1928 extended equal suffrage to both men and women. It also shifted the socioeconomic makeup of the electorate towards the working class, favoring the Labour Party, who were more sympathetic to women's issues. [ citation needed ]

The granting of the vote did not automatically give women the right to stand for Parliament and the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act was rushed through just before the following election. Seventeen women were among the 1700 candidates nominated. Christabel Pankhurst narrowly failed to win a seat, and Constance Markievicz (Sinn Féin) was the first woman elected in Ireland in 1918, but as an Irish nationalist, refused to take her seat. [138]

In 1919 and 1920, both Lady Astor and Margaret Wintringham won seats for the Conservatives and Liberals respectively by succeeding their husband's seats. Labour swept to power in 1924. Astor's proposal to form a women's party in 1929 was unsuccessful. Women gained considerable electoral experience over the next few years as a series of minority governments ensured almost annual elections. Close affiliation with Labour also proved to be a problem for the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC), which had little support in the Conservative party. However, their persistence with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was rewarded with the passage of the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928. [ citation needed ]

European women received the vote in Finland (that time still an autonomous state under Czar Russia) in 1906, in Denmark and Iceland in 1915 (full in 1919), the Russian Republic in 1917, Austria, Germany and Canada in 1918, many countries including the Netherlands in 1919, Czechoslovakia (today Czech Republic and Slovakia) in 1920, and Turkey and South Africa in 1930. French women did not receive the vote until 1945. Liechtenstein was one of the last countries, in 1984. [139]

After French women were given the right to vote in 1945, two women's organizations were founded in the French colony of Martinique. Le Rassemblement féminin and l'Union des femmes de la Martinique both had the goal of encouraging women to vote in the upcoming elections. While l'Union des femmes de la Martinique, founded by Jeanne Lero was influenced by beliefs, Le Rassemblement féminin, founded by Paulette Nardal, claimed to not support any particular political party and only encouraged women to take political action in order to create social change. [140]

Social reform Edit

The political change did not immediately change social circumstances. With the economic recession, women were the most vulnerable sector of the workforce. Some women who held jobs prior to the war were obliged to forfeit them to returning soldiers, and others were excessed. With limited franchise, the UK National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) pivoted into a new organization, the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC), [141] which still advocated for equality in franchise, but extended its scope to examine equality in social and economic areas. Legislative reform was sought for discriminatory laws (e.g., family law and prostitution) and over the differences between equality and equity, the accommodations that would allow women to overcome barriers to fulfillment (known in later years as the "equality vs. difference conundrum"). [142] Eleanor Rathbone, who became a British Member of Parliament in 1929, succeeded Millicent Garrett as president of NUSEC in 1919. She expressed the critical need for consideration of difference in gender relationships as "what women need to fulfill the potentialities of their own natures" [143] . [ This quote needs a citation ] The 1924 Labour government's social reforms created a formal split, as a splinter group of strict egalitarians formed the Open Door Council in May 1926. [144] This eventually became an international movement, and continued until 1965. [ citation needed ] Other important social legislation of this period included the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 (which opened professions to women), and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1923. In 1932, NUSEC separated advocacy from education, and continued the former activities as the National Council for Equal Citizenship and the latter as the Townswomen's Guild. The council continued until the end of the Second World War. [ citation needed ]

Reproductive rights Edit

British laws prevented feminists from discussing and addressing reproductive rights. Annie Besant was tried under the Obscene Publications Act 1857 in 1877 for publishing Charles Knowlton's Fruits of Philosophy, [145] a work on family planning. [146] [147] Knowlton had previously been convicted in the United States. She and her colleague Charles Bradlaugh were convicted but acquitted on appeal. The subsequent publicity resulted in a decline in the UK's birth rate. [148] [149] Besant later wrote The Law of Population. [150]

In America, Margaret Sanger was prosecuted for her book Family Limitation under the Comstock Act in 1914, and fled to Britain until it was safe to return. Sanger's work was prosecuted in Britain. She met Marie Stopes in Britain, who was never prosecuted but regularly denounced for her promotion of birth control. In 1917, Sanger started the Birth Control Review. [151] In 1926, Sanger gave a lecture on birth control to the women's auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan in Silver Lake, New Jersey, which she referred to as a "weird experience". [152] [ clarification needed ] The establishment of the Abortion Law Reform Association in 1936 was even more controversial. The British penalty for abortion had been reduced from execution to life imprisonment by the Offences against the Person Act 1861, although some exceptions were allowed in the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929. [153] [154] Following Aleck Bourne's prosecution in 1938, the 1939 Birkett Committee made recommendations for reform that were set aside at the Second World War's outbreak, along with many other women's issues. [155]

In the Netherlands, Aletta H. Jacobs, the first Dutch female doctor, and Wilhelmina Drucker led discussion and action for reproductive rights. Jacobs imported diaphragms from Germany and distributed them to poor women for free. [ citation needed ]

1940s Edit

In most front line countries, women volunteered or were conscripted for various duties in support of the national war effort. In Britain, women were drafted and assigned to industrial jobs or to non-combat military service. The British services enrolled 460,000 women. The largest service, Auxiliary Territorial Service, had a maximum of 213,000 women enrolled, many of whom served in anti-aircraft gun combat roles. [156] [157] In many countries, including Germany and the Soviet Union, women volunteered or were conscripted. In Germany, women volunteered in the League of German Girls and assisted the Luftwaffe as anti-aircraft gunners, or as guerrilla fighters in Werwolf units behind Allied lines. [158] In the Soviet Union, about 820,000 women served in the military as medics, radio operators, truck drivers, snipers, combat pilots, and junior commanding officers. [159]

Many American women retained their domestic chores and often added a paid job, especially one related to a war industry. Much more so than in the previous war, large numbers of women were hired for unskilled or semi-skilled jobs in munitions, and barriers against married women taking jobs were eased. The popular Rosie the Riveter icon became a symbol for a generation of American working women. [ citation needed ] In addition, some 300,000 women served in U.S. military uniform with organizations such as Women's Army Corps and WAVES. With many young men gone, sports organizers tried to set up professional women's teams, such as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which closed after the war. After the war, most munitions plants closed, and civilian plants replaced their temporary female workers with returning veterans, who had priority. [160]

Second wave Edit

"Second-wave feminism" identifies a period of feminist activity from the early 1960s through the late 1980s that saw cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked. The movement encouraged women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and reflective of a sexist power structure. As first-wave feminists focused on absolute rights such as suffrage, second-wave feminists focused on other cultural equality issues, such as ending discrimination. [161]

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, and Women's Liberation Edit

In 1963, Betty Friedan's exposé The Feminine Mystique became the voice for the discontent and disorientation women felt in being shunted into homemaking positions after their college graduations. In the book, Friedan explored the roots of the change in women's roles from essential workforce during World War II to homebound housewife and mother after the war, and assessed the forces that drove this change in perception of women's roles. [ citation needed ]

The expression "Women's Liberation" has been used to refer to feminism throughout history. [162] "Liberation" has been associated with feminist aspirations since 1895, [163] [164] and appears in the context of "women's liberation" in Simone de Beauvoir's 1949 The Second Sex, which appeared in English translation in 1953. The phrase "women's liberation" was first used in 1964, [165] in print in 1966, [166] though the French equivalent, libération des femmes, occurred as far back as 1911. [167] "Women's liberation" was in use at the 1967 American Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) convention, which held a panel discussion on the topic. In 1968, the term "Women's Liberation Front" appeared in Ramparts magazine, and began to refer to the whole women's movement. [168] In Chicago, women disillusioned with the New Left met separately in 1967, and published Voice of the Women's Liberation Movement in March 1968. When the Miss America pageant took place in Atlantic City in September 1968, [169] the media referred to the resulting demonstrations as "Women's Liberation". The Chicago Women's Liberation Union was formed in 1969. [170] Similar groups with similar titles appeared in many parts of the United States. Bra-burning, although fictional, [171] became associated with the movement, and the media coined other terms such as "libber". [ clarification needed ] "Women's Liberation" persisted over the other rival terms for the new feminism, captured the popular imagination, and has endured alongside the older term "Women's Movement". [172]

This time was marked by increased female enrollment in higher education, the establishment of academic women's studies courses and departments, [173] and feminist ideology in other related fields, such as politics, sociology, history, and literature. [15] This academic shift in interests questioned the status quo, and its standards and authority. [174]

The rise of the Women's Liberation movement revealed "multiple feminisms", or different underlying feminist lenses, due to the diverse origins from which groups had coalesced and intersected, and the complexity and contentiousness of the issues involved. [175] bell hooks is noted as a prominent critic of the movement for its lack of voice given to the most oppressed women, its lack of emphasis on the inequalities of race and class, and its distance from the issues that divide women. [176] Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman", [177] John Lennon's "Woman is the Nigger of the World" and Yoko Ono's "Josei Joui Banzai" were 70s feminist songs. Feminist's wrong protest against rock music movement was started in Los Angeles, where Women Against Violence Against Women was founded in 1976 they campaigned against the Rolling Stones' 1976 album Black and Blue. [178]

Feminist writing Edit

Empowered by The Feminine Mystique, new feminist activists of the 1970s addressed more political and sexual issues in their writing, [ citation needed ] including Gloria Steinem's Ms. magazine and Kate Millett's Sexual Politics. Millett's bleak survey of male writers, their attitudes and biases, to demonstrate that sex is politics, and politics is power imbalance in relationships. Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex described a revolution [ clarification needed ] based in Marxism, referenced as the "sex war". Considering the debates over patriarchy, she claimed that male domination dated to "back beyond recorded history to the animal kingdom itself".

Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, Sheila Rowbotham's Women's Liberation and the New Politics, and Juliet Mitchell's Woman's Estate represent the English perspective. [ citation needed ] Mitchell argued that the movement should be seen as an international phenomenon with different manifestations based on local culture. British women drew on left-wing politics and organized small local discussion groups, partly through the London Women's Liberation Workshop and its publications, Shrew and the LWLW Newsletter. [179] Although there were marches, the focus was on consciousness-raising, or political activism intended to bring a cause or condition to a wider audience. [165] [180] Kathie Sarachild of Redstockings described its function as such that women would "find what they thought was an individual dilemma is social predicament". [ This quote needs a citation ]

Meanwhile, in the U.S., women's frustrations crystallized around the failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s. [ citation needed ] Susan Brownmiller's 1975 Against Our Will introduced an explicit agenda against male violence, specifically male sexual violence, in a treatise on rape. Her assertion that "pornography is the theory and rape the practice" created deep fault lines [ clarification needed ] [181] around the concepts of objectification [182] and commodification. Brownmiller's other major book, In our Time (2000), is a history of women's liberation.

In Academic circles, feminist theology was a growing interest. Phyllis Trible wrote extensively throughout the 1970s to critique biblical interpretation of the time, using a type of critique known as Rhetorical criticism. [183] Trible's analysis of biblical text seeks to explain that the bible itself is not sexist, but that it is centuries of sexism in societies that have produced this narrative. [184]

Feminist views on pornography Edit

Susan Griffin was one of the first [ citation needed ] feminists to write on pornography's implications in her 1981 Pornography and Silence. Beyond Brownmiller and Griffin's positions, Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin influenced debates and activism around pornography and prostitution, particularly at the Supreme Court of Canada. [185] MacKinnon, a lawyer, has stated, "To be about to be raped is to be gender female in the process of going about life as usual." [186] She explained sexual harassment by saying that it "doesn't mean that they [harassers] all want to fuck us, they just want to hurt us, dominate us, and control us, and that is fucking us." [187] According to Pauline B. Bart, some people see radical feminism as the only movement that truly expresses the pain of being a woman in an unequal society, as it portrays that reality with the experiences of the battered and violated, which they claim to be the norm. [188] Critics, including some feminists, civil libertarians, and jurists, have found this position uncomfortable and alienating. [1] [189] [190]

This approach has evolved to transform the research and perspective on rape from an individual experience into a social problem. [191]

Third wave Edit

Third-wave feminism began in the early 1990s in response to what young women perceived as failures of the second-wave. It also responds to the backlash against the second-wave's initiatives and movements. [ citation needed ] Third-wave feminism seeks to challenge or avoid second-wave "essentialist" definitions of femininity, which over-emphasized the experiences of white, upper-middle-class women. A post-structuralist interpretation of gender and sexuality, or an understanding of gender as outside binary maleness and femaleness, is central to much of the third wave's ideology. [ citation needed ] Third-wave feminists often describe "micropolitics", [ clarification needed ] and challenge second-wave paradigms about whether actions are unilaterally good for females. [161] [192] [193] [194] [ clarification needed ]

These aspects of third-wave feminism arose in the mid-1980s. Feminist leaders rooted in the second wave like Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Chela Sandoval, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Luisa Accati, Maxine Hong Kingston, and many other feminists of color, called for a new subjectivity in feminist voice. They wanted prominent feminist thought to consider race-related subjectivities. [ clarification needed ] This focus on the intersection between race and gender remained prominent through the 1991 Hill–Thomas hearings, but began to shift with the Freedom Ride 1992, [ citation needed ] a drive to register voters in poor minority communities whose rhetoric intended to rally young feminists. For many, the rallying of the young is the common link within third-wave feminism. [161] [192]

Sexual politics Edit

Lesbianism during the second wave was visible within and without feminism. Lesbians felt sidelined by both gay liberation and women's liberation, where they were referred to as the "Lavender Menace", provoking The Woman-Identified Woman, a 1970 manifesto that put lesbian women at the forefront of the liberation movement. [ citation needed ] Jill Johnston's 1973 Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution argued for lesbian separatism. [ clarification needed ] In its extreme form, this was expressed as the only appropriate choice for a woman. [ citation needed ] Eventually the lesbian movement was welcomed into the mainstream women's movement. This union's threat to male normativity was substantiated by the male backlash that followed. [ citation needed ]

In reproductive rights, feminists sought the right to contraception and birth control, which were almost universally restricted until the 1960s. [ citation needed ] Feminists hoped to use the first birth control pill to free women to decide the terms under which they will bear children. They felt that reproductive self-control was essential for full economic independence from men. Access to abortion was also widely demanded for these reasons, but was more difficult to secure due to existing, deep societal divisions over the issue. Although Shulamith Firestone was active during the second wave of feminism, her views on reproductive technology have connections to reproductive rights. [195] Firestone believed in the enhancement of technologically concerning reproduction, in order to eliminate the obligation for women to reproduce and end oppression and inequality against them. Enhancing technology to empower women and abolish the gender hierarchy are the main focuses of a newer developing philosophy in feminism, known as cyberfeminism. Cyberfeminism has strong ties to reproductive rights and technology.

Third-wave feminists also fought to hasten social acceptance of female sexual freedom. As societal norms allowed men to have multiple sexual partners without rebuke, feminists sought sexual equality for that freedom and encouraged "sexual liberation" for women, including sex for pleasure with multiple partners, if desired. [ citation needed ]

Global feminism Edit

Following World War II, the United Nations (UN) extended feminism's global reach. They established a Commission on the Status of Women in 1946., [196] [197] which later joined the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In 1948, the UN issued its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects "the equal rights of men and women", [198] and addressed both equality and equity. [ clarification needed ] Starting with the 1975 World Conference of the International Women's Year in Mexico City as part of their Decade for Women (1975–1985), the UN has held a series of world conferences on women's issues. These conferences have worldwide female representation and provide considerable opportunity to advance women's rights. [ citation needed ] They also illustrate deep cultural divisions and disagreement on universal principles, [199] as evidenced by the successive Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985) conferences. [ clarification needed ] Examples of such intrafeminism divisions have included disparities between economic development, attitudes towards forms of oppression, the definition of feminism, and stances on homosexuality, female circumcision, and population control. [ citation needed ] The Nairobi convention revealed a less monolithic feminism that "constitutes the political expression of the concerns and interests of women from different regions, classes, nationalities, and ethnic backgrounds. There is and must be a diversity of feminisms, responsive to the different needs and concerns of women, and defined by them for themselves. This diversity builds on a common opposition to gender oppression and hierarchy which, however, is only the first step in articulating and acting upon a political agenda." [200] The fourth conference was held in Beijing in 1995, [201] where the Beijing Platform for Action was signed. This included a commitment to achieve "gender equality and the empowerment of women" [202] through "gender mainstreaming", or letting women and men "experience equal conditions for realising their full human rights, and have the opportunity to contribute and benefit from national, political, economic, social and cultural development". [203]

Fourth wave Edit

Fourth-wave feminism is a recent development within the feminist movement. Jennifer Baumgardner identifies fourth-wave feminism as starting in 2008 and continuing into the present day. [204] Kira Cochrane, author of All the Rebel Women: The Rise of the Fourth Wave of Feminism, [205] defines fourth-wave feminism as a movement that is connected through technology. [206] [207] Researcher Diana Diamond defines fourth-wave feminism as a movement that "combines politics, psychology, and spirituality in an overarching vision of change." [208]

Arguments for a new wave Edit

In 2005, Pythia Peay first argued for the existence of a fourth wave of feminism, combining justice with religious spirituality. [209] According to Jennifer Baumgardner in 2011, a fourth wave, incorporating online resources such as social media, may have begun in 2008, inspired partly by Take Our Daughters to Work Days. This fourth wave in turn has inspired or been associated with: the Doula Project for children's services post-abortion talk lines pursuit of reproductive justice plus-size fashion support support for transgender rights male feminism sex work acceptance and developing media including Feministing, Racialicious, blogs, and Twitter campaigns. [210]

According to Kira Cochrane, a fourth wave had appeared in the U.K. and several other nations by 2012–13. It focused on: sexual inequality as manifested in "street harassment, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination[,] . body-shaming" [211] media images, "online misogyny", [211] "assault[s] on public transport" [211] on intersectionality on social media technology for communication and online petitioning for organizing and on the perception, inherited from prior waves, that individual experiences are shared and thus can have political solutions. [211] Cochrane identified as fourth wave such organizations and websites as the Everyday Sexism Project and UK Feminista and events such as Reclaim the Night, One Billion Rising, and "a Lose the Lads' mags protest", [211] where "many of [the leaders] . are in their teens and 20s". [211]

In 2014, Betty Dodson, who is also acknowledged as one of the leaders of the early 1980s pro-sex feminist movement, expressed that she considers herself a fourth wave feminist. Dodson expressed that the previous waves of feminist were banal and anti-sexual, which is why she has chosen to look at a new stance of feminism, fourth wave feminism. In 2014, Dodson worked with women to discover their sexual desires through masturbation. Dodson says her work has gained a fresh lease of life with a new audience of young, successful women who have never had an orgasm. This includes fourth-wave feminists - those rejecting the anti-pleasure stance they believe third-wave feminists stand for. [212]

In 2014, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter released their book, The Vagenda. The authors of the book both consider themselves fourth wave feminists. Like their website "The Vagenda", their book aims to flag and debunk the stereotypes of femininity promoted by the mainstream women's press. [213] One reviewer of the book has expressed disappointment with The Vagenda, saying that instead of being the "call to arms for young women" that it purports to be, it reads like a joyless dissertation detailing "everything bad the media has ever done to women." [214]

The Everyday Sexism Project Edit

The Everyday Sexism Project began as a social media campaign on 16 April 2012 by Laura Bates, a British feminist writer. The aim of the site was to document everyday examples of sexism as reported by contributors around the world. [215] Bates established the Everyday Sexism Project as an open forum where women could post their experiences of harassment. Bates explains the Everyday Sexism Project's goal, ""The project was never about solving sexism. It was about getting people to take the first step of just realising there is a problem that needs to be fixed." [216]

The website was such a success that Bates decided to write and publish a book, Everyday Sexism, which further emphasizes the importance of having this type of online forum for women. The book provides unique insight into the vibrant movement of the upcoming fourth wave and the untold stories that women shared through the Everyday Sexism Project. [217]

Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution

In November 2015, a group of historians working with Clio Visualizing History [3] launched Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution.[4] This digital history exhibit examines the history of American feminism from the era of World War Two to the present. The exhibit has three major sections: Politics and Social Movements Body and Health and Workplace and Family. There are also interactive timelines linking to a vast array of sources documenting the history of American feminism and providing information about current feminist activism.

Criticisms of the Wave Metaphor Edit

The wave metaphor has been critiqued as inappropriate, limiting, and misleading by a number of feminist scholars. [218] [219]

While this metaphor was once useful for United States feminists in order to gain the attention required to make large-scale political changes, as was the case for the women's suffrage movement of the 1940s, its relevance may have not only run its course but its usage has been argued as completely inappropriate. [218] For example, the suffragettes did not use the term ‘feminism’ to describe themselves or their movement. [218] This critique is shown through one early twentieth century feminist's words: "All feminists are suffragists, but not all suffragists are feminists". [220]

The wave metaphor has been described as misleading and even dangerous because it not only renders the periods of time in-between waves as silent and irrelevant, but it also contributes to the faulty conceptualization of a particular brand hegemonic feminism as the ultimate understanding of what feminism is. [218] [219] These critiques advocate for the recognition of periods of mass social organizing rather than ‘waves’. [218] It is argued that the wave metaphor weakens the strength and relevance of feminist arguments, since waves necessarily must peak and then retreat, which is not an accurate picture of feminist progress in the United States or elsewhere. [218] Feminism does not retreat or disappear in-between ‘waves'. [218] [219] For example, after the explosion of mass social organizing in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, feminism was being worked into our institutions – a much less glamorous but just as important job that did not require such large-scale attention. [218] As a result, we have seen more and more women in more areas of the job force, higher education, and the installation and success of Women’s and Gender Studies programs across the United States, to name just a few examples of feminism’s continuous and very relevant presence in this time between the ‘waves’. [218]

The wave metaphor has further been criticized for privileging not only particular races and classes of women in the United States, but for privileging the feminism of the United States in general over other locations in the world. [219] Amrita Basu argues for, "the politics and conditions of emergence," instead of the wave metaphor, which does not allow for this privileging of particular people and nations but instead allows for the importance and understanding of any and all peoples in the world who have contributed to feminism and its many understandings and meanings. [219]

France Edit

The 18th century French Revolution's focus on égalité (equality) extended to the inequities faced by French women. The writer Olympe de Gouges amended the 1791 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen into the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen, where she argued that women accountable to the law must also bear equal responsibility under the law. She also addressed marriage as a social contract between equals and attacked women's reliance on beauty and charm as a form of slavery. [221]

The 19th century, conservative, post-Revolution France was inhospitable for feminist ideas, as expressed in the counter-revolutionary writings on the role of women by Joseph de Maistre and Viscount Louis de Bonald. [222] Advancement came mid-century under the 1848 revolution and the proclamation of the Second Republic, which introduced male suffrage amid hopes that similar benefits would apply to women. [ citation needed ] Although the Utopian Charles Fourier is considered a feminist writer of this period, his influence was minimal at the time. [223] With the fall of the conservative Louis-Philippe in 1848, feminist hopes were raised, as in 1790. Movement newspapers and organizations appeared, such as Eugénie Niboyet's La Voix des Femmes (The Women's Voice), the first feminist daily newspaper in France. Niboyet was a Protestant who had adopted Saint-Simonianism, and La Voix attracted other women from that movement, including the seamstress Jeanne Deroin and the primary schoolteacher Pauline Roland. Unsuccessful attempts were also made to recruit George Sand. Feminism was treated as a threat due to its ties with socialism, which was scrutinized since the Revolution. [ citation needed ] Deroin and Roland were both arrested, tried, and imprisoned in 1849. With the emergence of a new, more conservative government in 1852, feminism would have to wait until the Third French Republic.

While the word féminisme was existing earlier for any purpose, the word féministe was created in 1872, by Alexandre Dumas son, to criticize them.

The Groupe Français d'Etudes Féministes were women intellectuals at the beginning of the 20th century who translated part of Bachofen's canon into French [224] and campaigned for the family law reform. In 1905, they founded L'entente, which published articles on women's history, and became the focus for the intellectual avant-garde. It advocated for women's entry into higher education and the male-dominated professions. [225] Meanwhile, the Parti Socialiste Féminin socialist feminists, adopted a Marxist version of matriarchy. [ clarification needed ] Like the Groupe Français, they toiled for a new age of equality, not for a return to prehistoric models of matriarchy. [226] [227] [ clarification needed ] French feminism of the late 20th century is mainly associated with psychoanalytic feminist theory, particularly the work of Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Hélène Cixous. [228]

Germany Edit

Modern feminism in Germany began during the Wilhelmine period (1888–1918) with feminists pressuring a range of traditional institutions, from universities to government, to open their doors to women. The organized German women's movement is widely attributed to writer and feminist Louise Otto-Peters (1819–1895). This movement culminated in women's suffrage in 1919. Later waves of feminists continued to ask for legal and social equality in public and family life. Alice Schwarzer is the most prominent contemporary German feminist.

Iran Edit

The Iranian women's rights movement first emerged some time after the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, in the year in which the first women's journal was published, 1910. The status of women deteriorated after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The movement later grew again under feminist figures such as Bibi Khanoom Astarabadi, Touba Azmoudeh, Sediqeh Dowlatabadi, Mohtaram Eskandari, Roshank No'doost, Afaq Parsa, Fakhr ozma Arghoun, Shahnaz Azad, Noor-ol-Hoda Mangeneh, Zandokht Shirazi, Maryam Amid (Mariam Mozayen-ol Sadat). [229] [230]

In 1992, Shahla Sherkat founded Zanan (Women) magazine, which covered Iranian women's concerns and tested political boundaries with edgy reportage on reform politics, domestic abuse, and sex. It is the most important Iranian women's journal published after the Iranian revolution. [ citation needed ] It systematically criticized the Islamic legal code and argued that gender equality is Islamic and religious literature had been misread and misappropriated by misogynists. Mehangiz Kar, Shahla Lahiji, and Shahla Sherkat, the editor of Zanan, lead the debate on women's rights and demanded reforms. [231] On August 27, 2006, the One Million Signatures Iranian women's rights campaign was started. It aims to end legal discrimination against women in Iranian laws by collecting a million signatures. [ clarification needed ] The campaign supporters include many Iranian women's rights activists, international activists, and Nobel laureates. The most important post-revolution feminist figures are Mehrangiz Kar, Azam Taleghani, Shahla Sherkat, Parvin Ardalan, Noushin Ahmadi khorasani, and Shadi Sadr. [ citation needed ] [ clarification needed ]

Egypt Edit

In 1899, Qasim Amin, considered the "father" of Arab feminism, wrote The Liberation of Women, which argued for legal and social reforms for women. [232] Hoda Shaarawi founded the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923 and became its president and a symbol of the Arab women's rights movement. Arab feminism was closely connected with Arab nationalism. [233] [ clarification needed ] In 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser's government initiated "state feminism", which outlawed gender-based discrimination and granted women's suffrage. Despite these reforms, "state feminism" blocked feminist political activism and brought an end to the first-wave feminist movement in Egypt. [234] During Anwar Sadat's presidency, his wife, Jehan Sadat, publicly advocated for expansion of women's rights, though Egyptian policy and society was in retreat from women's equality with the new Islamist movement and growing conservatism. However, writers such as Al Ghazali Harb, for example, argued that women's full equality is an important part of Islam. [235] This position formed a new feminist movement, Islamic feminism, which is still active today. [236]

India Edit

A new generation of Indian feminists emerged following global feminism. Indian women have greater independence from increased access to higher education and control over their reproductive rights. [237] Medha Patkar, Madhu Kishwar, and Brinda Karat are feminist social workers and politicians who advocate for women's rights in post-independence India. [237] Writers such as Amrita Pritam, Sarojini Sahoo, and Kusum Ansal advocate for feminist ideas in Indian languages. [238] Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan, Leela Kasturi, and Vidyut Bhagat are Indian feminist essayists and critics writing in English. [ clarification needed ]

China Edit

Feminism in China began in the late Qing period as Chinese society re-evaluated traditional and Confucian values such as foot binding and gender segregation, and began to reject traditional gender ideas as hindering progress towards modernization. [239] During the 1898 Hundred Days' Reform, reformers called for women's education, gender equality, and the end of foot binding. Female reformers formed the first Chinese women's society, the Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge among Chinese Women (Nüxuehui). [240] After the Qing Dynasty's collapse, women's liberation became a goal of the May Fourth Movement and the New Culture Movement. [241] Later, the Chinese Communist Revolution adopted women's liberation as one of its aims and promoted women's equality, especially regarding women's participation in the workforce. After the revolution and progress in integrating women into the workforce, the Chinese Communist Party claimed to have successfully achieved women's liberation, and women's inequality was no longer seen as a problem. [242] [ clarification needed ]

Second- and third-wave feminism in China was characterized by a re-examination of women's roles during the reform movements of the early 20th century and the ways in which feminism was adopted by those various movements in order to achieve their goals. Later and current feminists have questioned whether gender equality has actually been fully achieved, and discuss current gender problems, such as the large gender disparity in the population. [242]

Japan Edit

Japanese feminism as an organized political movement dates back to the early years of the 20th century when Kato Shidzue pushed for birth control availability as part of a broad spectrum of progressive reforms. Shidzue went on to serve in the National Diet following the defeat of Japan in World War II and the promulgation of the Peace Constitution by US forces. [243] Other figures such as Hayashi Fumiko and Ariyoshi Sawako illustrate the broad socialist ideologies of Japanese feminism that seeks to accomplish broad goals rather than celebrate the individual achievements of powerful women. [243] [244]

Norway Edit

Norwegian feminism's political origins are in the women's suffrage movement. Camilla Collett (1813–1895) is widely considered the first Norwegian feminist. Originating from a literary family, she wrote a novel and several articles on the difficulties facing women of her time, and, in particular, forced marriages. Amalie Skram (1846–1905), a naturalist writer, also served as the women's voice. [245]

The Norwegian Association for Women's Rights was founded in 1884 by Gina Krog and Hagbart Berner. The organization raised issues related to women's rights to education and economic self-determination, and, above all, universal suffrage. The Norwegian Parliament passed the women's right to vote into law on June 11, 1913. Norway was the second country in Europe (after Finland) to have full suffrage for women. [245]

Poland Edit

The development of feminism in Poland (re-recreated in modern times in 1918) and Polish territories has traditionally been divided into seven successive "waves". [246]

Radical feminism emerged in 1920s Poland. Its chief representatives, Irena Krzywicka and Maria Morozowicz-Szczepkowska, advocated for women's personal, social, and legal independence from men. Krzywicka and Tadeusz Żeleński both promoted planned parenthood, sexual education, rights to divorce and abortion, and equality of sexes. Krzywicka published a series of articles in Wiadomości Literackie in which she protested against interference by the Roman Catholic Church in the intimate lives of Poles. [246]

After the Second World War, the Polish Communist state (established in 1948) forcefully promoted women's emancipation at home and at work. However, during Communist rule (until 1989), feminism in general and second-wave feminism in particular were practically absent. Although feminist texts were produced in the 1950s and afterwards, they were usually controlled and generated by the Communist state. [247] After the fall of Communism, the Polish government, dominated by Catholic political parties, introduced a de facto legal ban on abortions. Since then, some feminists have adopted argumentative strategies from the 1980s American pro-choice movement. [246]

Feminist theory Edit

The sexuality and gender historian Nancy Cott distinguishes between modern feminism and its antecedents, particularly the struggle for suffrage. [ citation needed ] She argues that in the two decades surrounding the Nineteenth Amendment's 1920 passage, the prior woman movement primarily concerned women as universal entities, whereas over this 20-year period, the movement prioritized social differentiation, attention to individuality, and diversity. [ clarification needed ] New issues dealt more with gender as a social construct, gender identity, and relationships within and between genders. Politically, this represented a shift from an ideological alignment comfortable with the right, to one more radically associated with the left. [248] [ non-primary source needed ]

In the immediate postwar period, Simone de Beauvoir opposed the "woman in the home" norm. She introduced an existentialist dimension to feminism with the publication of Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) in 1949. While less an activist than a philosopher and novelist, she signed one of the Mouvement de Libération des Femmes manifestos.

The resurgence of feminist activism in the late 1960s was accompanied by an emerging literature of what might be considered female-associated issues, such as concerns for the earth, spirituality, and environmental activism. [249] The atmosphere this created reignited the study of and debate on matricentricity [ jargon ] as a rejection of determinism, such as with Adrienne Rich in Of Woman Born and Marilyn French in Beyond Power. For socialist feminists like Evelyn Reed, patriarchy held the properties of capitalism.

Ann Taylor Allen [4] describes the differences between the collective male pessimism of male intellectuals such as Ferdinand Tönnies, Max Weber, and Georg Simmel at the beginning of the 20th century, [250] compared to the optimism of their female counterparts, whose contributions have largely been ignored by social historians of the era. [251]



Charles Fourier, a utopian socialist and French philosopher, is credited with having coined the word "féminisme" in 1837. [16] The words "féminisme" ("feminism") and "féministe" ("feminist") first appeared in France and the Netherlands in 1872, [17] Great Britain in the 1890s, and the United States in 1910. [18] [19] The Oxford English Dictionary lists 1852 as the year of the first appearance of "feminist" [20] and 1895 for "feminism". [21] Depending on the historical moment, culture and country, feminists around the world have had different causes and goals. Most western feminist historians contend that all movements working to obtain women's rights should be considered feminist movements, even when they did not (or do not) apply the term to themselves. [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] Other historians assert that the term should be limited to the modern feminist movement and its descendants. Those historians use the label "protofeminist" to describe earlier movements. [28]


The history of the modern western feminist movement is divided into four "waves". [29] [30] [31] The first comprised women's suffrage movements of the 19th and early-20th centuries, promoting women's right to vote. The second wave, the women's liberation movement, began in the 1960s and campaigned for legal and social equality for women. In or around 1992, a third wave was identified, characterized by a focus on individuality and diversity. [32] The fourth wave, from around 2012, used social media to combat sexual harassment, violence against women and rape culture it is best known for the Me Too movement. [33]

19th and early-20th centuries

First-wave feminism was a period of activity during the 19th and early-20th centuries. In the UK and US, it focused on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women. New legislation included the Custody of Infants Act 1839 in the UK, which introduced the tender years doctrine for child custody and gave women the right of custody of their children for the first time. [34] [35] [36] Other legislation, such as the Married Women's Property Act 1870 in the UK and extended in the 1882 Act, [37] became models for similar legislation in other British territories. Victoria passed legislation in 1884 and New South Wales in 1889 the remaining Australian colonies passed similar legislation between 1890 and 1897. With the turn of the 19th century, activism focused primarily on gaining political power, particularly the right of women's suffrage, though some feminists were active in campaigning for women's sexual, reproductive, and economic rights too. [38]

Women's suffrage (the right to vote and stand for parliamentary office) began in Britain's Australasian colonies at the close of the 19th century, with the self-governing colonies of New Zealand granting women the right to vote in 1893 South Australia followed suit in 1895. This was followed by Australia granting female suffrage in 1902. [39] [40]

In Britain, the suffragettes and suffragists campaigned for the women's vote, and in 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned property. In 1928 this was extended to all women over 21. [41] Emmeline Pankhurst was the most notable activist in England. Time named her one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating: "she shaped an idea of women for our time she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back." [42] In the US, notable leaders of this movement included Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, who each campaigned for the abolition of slavery before championing women's right to vote. These women were influenced by the Quaker theology of spiritual equality, which asserts that men and women are equal under God. [43] In the US, first-wave feminism is considered to have ended with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1919), granting women the right to vote in all states. The term first wave was coined retroactively when the term second-wave feminism came into use. [38] [44] [45] [46] [47]

During the late Qing period and reform movements such as the Hundred Days' Reform, Chinese feminists called for women's liberation from traditional roles and Neo-Confucian gender segregation. [48] [49] [50] Later, the Chinese Communist Party created projects aimed at integrating women into the workforce, and claimed that the revolution had successfully achieved women's liberation. [51]

According to Nawar al-Hassan Golley, Arab feminism was closely connected with Arab nationalism. In 1899, Qasim Amin, considered the "father" of Arab feminism, wrote The Liberation of Women, which argued for legal and social reforms for women. [52] He drew links between women's position in Egyptian society and nationalism, leading to the development of Cairo University and the National Movement. [53] In 1923 Hoda Shaarawi founded the Egyptian Feminist Union, became its president and a symbol of the Arab women's rights movement. [53]

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution in 1905 triggered the Iranian women's movement, which aimed to achieve women's equality in education, marriage, careers, and legal rights. [54] However, during the Iranian revolution of 1979, many of the rights that women had gained from the women's movement were systematically abolished, such as the Family Protection Law. [55]

In France, women obtained the right to vote only with the Provisional Government of the French Republic of 21 April 1944. The Consultative Assembly of Algiers of 1944 proposed on 24 March 1944 to grant eligibility to women but following an amendment by Fernand Grenier, they were given full citizenship, including the right to vote. Grenier's proposition was adopted 51 to 16. In May 1947, following the November 1946 elections, the sociologist Robert Verdier minimized the "gender gap", stating in Le Populaire that women had not voted in a consistent way, dividing themselves, as men, according to social classes. During the baby boom period, feminism waned in importance. Wars (both World War I and World War II) had seen the provisional emancipation of some women, but post-war periods signalled the return to conservative roles. [56]

Mid-20th century

By the mid-20th century, women still lacked significant rights. In Switzerland, women gained the right to vote in federal elections in 1971 [57] but in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden women obtained the right to vote on local issues only in 1991, when the canton was forced to do so by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland. [58] In Liechtenstein, women were given the right to vote by the women's suffrage referendum of 1984. Three prior referendums held in 1968, 1971 and 1973 had failed to secure women's right to vote.

Feminists continued to campaign for the reform of family laws which gave husbands control over their wives. Although by the 20th century coverture had been abolished in the UK and US, in many continental European countries married women still had very few rights. For instance, in France, married women did not receive the right to work without their husband's permission until 1965. [59] [60] Feminists have also worked to abolish the "marital exemption" in rape laws which precluded the prosecution of husbands for the rape of their wives. [61] Earlier efforts by first-wave feminists such as Voltairine de Cleyre, Victoria Woodhull and Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme Elmy to criminalize marital rape in the late 19th century had failed [62] [63] this was only achieved a century later in most Western countries, but is still not achieved in many other parts of the world. [64]

French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir provided a Marxist solution and an existentialist view on many of the questions of feminism with the publication of Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) in 1949. [65] The book expressed feminists' sense of injustice. Second-wave feminism is a feminist movement beginning in the early 1960s [66] and continuing to the present as such, it coexists with third-wave feminism. Second-wave feminism is largely concerned with issues of equality beyond suffrage, such as ending gender discrimination. [38]

Second-wave feminists see women's cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked and encourage women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and as reflecting sexist power structures. The feminist activist and author Carol Hanisch coined the slogan "The Personal is Political", which became synonymous with the second wave. [7] [67]

Second- and third-wave feminism in China has been characterized by a reexamination of women's roles during the communist revolution and other reform movements, and new discussions about whether women's equality has actually been fully achieved. [51]

In 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt initiated "state feminism", which outlawed discrimination based on gender and granted women's suffrage, but also blocked political activism by feminist leaders. [68] During Sadat's presidency, his wife, Jehan Sadat, publicly advocated further women's rights, though Egyptian policy and society began to move away from women's equality with the new Islamist movement and growing conservatism. [69] However, some activists proposed a new feminist movement, Islamic feminism, which argues for women's equality within an Islamic framework. [70]

In Latin America, revolutions brought changes in women's status in countries such as Nicaragua, where feminist ideology during the Sandinista Revolution aided women's quality of life but fell short of achieving a social and ideological change. [71]

In 1963, Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique helped voice the discontent that American women felt. The book is widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States. [72] Within ten years, women made up over half the First World workforce. [73]

Late 20th and early 21st centuries

Third-wave feminism

Third-wave feminism is traced to the emergence of the Riot grrrl feminist punk subculture in Olympia, Washington, in the early 1990s, [74] [75] and to Anita Hill's televized testimony in 1991—to an all-male, all-white Senate Judiciary Committee—that Clarence Thomas, nominated for the Supreme Court of the United States, had sexually harassed her. The term third wave is credited to Rebecca Walker, who responded to Thomas's appointment to the Supreme Court with an article in Ms. magazine, "Becoming the Third Wave" (1992). [76] [77] She wrote:

So I write this as a plea to all women, especially women of my generation: Let Thomas’ confirmation serve to remind you, as it did me, that the fight is far from over. Let this dismissal of a woman's experience move you to anger. Turn that outrage into political power. Do not vote for them unless they work for us. Do not have sex with them, do not break bread with them, do not nurture them if they don't prioritize our freedom to control our bodies and our lives. I am not a post-feminism feminist. I am the Third Wave. [76]

Third-wave feminism also sought to challenge or avoid what it deemed the second wave's essentialist definitions of femininity, which, third-wave feminists argued, over-emphasized the experiences of upper middle-class white women. Third-wave feminists often focused on "micro-politics" and challenged the second wave's paradigm as to what was, or was not, good for women, and tended to use a post-structuralist interpretation of gender and sexuality. [38] [78] [79] [80] Feminist leaders rooted in the second wave, such as Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Chela Sandoval, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and many other non-white feminists, sought to negotiate a space within feminist thought for consideration of race-related subjectivities. [79] [81] [82] Third-wave feminism also contained internal debates between difference feminists, who believe that there are important psychological differences between the sexes, and those who believe that there are no inherent psychological differences between the sexes and contend that gender roles are due to social conditioning. [83]

Standpoint theory

Standpoint theory is a feminist theoretical point of view stating that a person's social position influences their knowledge. This perspective argues that research and theory treat women and the feminist movement as insignificant and refuses to see traditional science as unbiased. [84] Since the 1980s, standpoint feminists have argued that the feminist movement should address global issues (such as rape, incest, and prostitution) and culturally specific issues (such as female genital mutilation in some parts of Africa and Arab societies, as well as glass ceiling practices that impede women's advancement in developed economies) in order to understand how gender inequality interacts with racism, homophobia, classism and colonization in a "matrix of domination". [85] [86]

Fourth-wave feminism

Fourth-wave feminism refers to a resurgence of interest in feminism that began around 2012 and is associated with the use of social media. [87] According to feminist scholar Prudence Chamberlain, the focus of the fourth wave is justice for women and opposition to sexual harassment and violence against women. Its essence, she writes, is "incredulity that certain attitudes can still exist". [88]

Fourth-wave feminism is "defined by technology", according to Kira Cochrane, and is characterized particularly by the use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and blogs such as Feministing to challenge misogyny and further gender equality. [87] [89] [90]

Issues that fourth-wave feminists focus on include street and workplace harassment, campus sexual assault and rape culture. Scandals involving the harassment, abuse, and murder of women and girls have galvanized the movement. These have included the 2012 Delhi gang rape, 2012 Jimmy Savile allegations, the Bill Cosby allegations, 2014 Isla Vista killings, 2016 trial of Jian Ghomeshi, 2017 Harvey Weinstein allegations and subsequent Weinstein effect, and the 2017 Westminster sexual scandals. [91]

Examples of fourth-wave feminist campaigns include the Everyday Sexism Project, No More Page 3, Stop Bild Sexism, Mattress Performance, 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman, #YesAllWomen, Free the Nipple, One Billion Rising, the 2017 Women's March, the 2018 Women's March, and the #MeToo movement. In December 2017, Time magazine chose several prominent female activists involved in the #MeToo movement, dubbed "the silence breakers", as Person of the Year. [92] [93]


The term postfeminism is used to describe a range of viewpoints reacting to feminism since the 1980s. While not being "anti-feminist", postfeminists believe that women have achieved second wave goals while being critical of third- and fourth-wave feminist goals. The term was first used to describe a backlash against second-wave feminism, but it is now a label for a wide range of theories that take critical approaches to previous feminist discourses and includes challenges to the second wave's ideas. [94] Other postfeminists say that feminism is no longer relevant to today's society. [95] [96] Amelia Jones has written that the postfeminist texts which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s portrayed second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity. [97] Dorothy Chunn describes a "blaming narrative" under the postfeminist moniker, where feminists are undermined for continuing to make demands for gender equality in a "post-feminist" society, where "gender equality has (already) been achieved". According to Chunn, "many feminists have voiced disquiet about the ways in which rights and equality discourses are now used against them". [98]

Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical or philosophical fields. It encompasses work in a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, economics, women's studies, literary criticism, [99] [100] art history, [101] psychoanalysis, [102] and philosophy. [103] [104] Feminist theory aims to understand gender inequality and focuses on gender politics, power relations, and sexuality. While providing a critique of these social and political relations, much of feminist theory also focuses on the promotion of women's rights and interests. Themes explored in feminist theory include discrimination, stereotyping, objectification (especially sexual objectification), oppression, and patriarchy. [11] [12] In the field of literary criticism, Elaine Showalter describes the development of feminist theory as having three phases. The first she calls "feminist critique", in which the feminist reader examines the ideologies behind literary phenomena. The second Showalter calls "gynocriticism", in which the "woman is producer of textual meaning". The last phase she calls "gender theory", in which the "ideological inscription and the literary effects of the sex/gender system are explored". [105]

This was paralleled in the 1970s by French feminists, who developed the concept of écriture féminine (which translates as "female or feminine writing"). [94] Hélène Cixous argues that writing and philosophy are phallocentric and along with other French feminists such as Luce Irigaray emphasize "writing from the body" as a subversive exercise. [94] The work of Julia Kristeva, a feminist psychoanalyst and philosopher, and Bracha Ettinger, [106] artist and psychoanalyst, has influenced feminist theory in general and feminist literary criticism in particular. However, as the scholar Elizabeth Wright points out, "none of these French feminists align themselves with the feminist movement as it appeared in the Anglophone world". [94] [107] More recent feminist theory, such as that of Lisa Lucile Owens, [108] has concentrated on characterizing feminism as a universal emancipatory movement.

Many overlapping feminist movements and ideologies have developed over the years. Traditionally feminism is often divided into three main traditions usually called liberal, radical and socialist/Marxist feminism, sometimes known as the "Big Three" schools of feminist thought since the late 20th century a variety of newer forms of feminisms have also emerged. [14] Some branches of feminism track the political leanings of the larger society to a greater or lesser degree, or focus on specific topics, such as the environment.

Liberal feminism

Liberal feminism, also known under other names such as reformist, mainstream or historically as bourgeois feminism, [109] [110] arose from 19th century first-wave feminism, and was historically linked to 19th century liberalism and progressivism, while 19th century conservatives tended to oppose feminism as such. Liberal feminism seeks equality of men and women through political and legal reform within a liberal democratic framework, without radically altering the structure of society liberal feminism "works within the structure of mainstream society to integrate women into that structure." [111] During the 19th and early 20th centuries liberal feminism focused especially on women's suffrage and access to education. [112] Norwegian supreme court justice and former president of the liberal Norwegian Association for Women's Rights, Karin Maria Bruzelius, has described liberal feminism as "a realistic, sober, practical feminism". [113]

Susan Wendell argues that "liberal feminism is an historical tradition that grew out of liberalism, as can be seen very clearly in the work of such feminists as Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill, but feminists who took principles from that tradition have developed analyses and goals that go far beyond those of 18th and 19th century liberal feminists, and many feminists who have goals and strategies identified as liberal feminist [. ] reject major components of liberalism" in a modern or party-political sense she highlights "equality of opportunity" as a defining feature of liberal feminism. [114]

Liberal feminism is a very broad term that encompasses many, often diverging modern branches and a variety of feminist and general political perspectives some historically liberal branches are equality feminism, social feminism, equity feminism, difference feminism, individualist/libertarian feminism and some forms of state feminism, particularly the state feminism of the Nordic countries. The broad field of liberal feminism is sometimes confused with the more recent and smaller branch known as libertarian feminism, which tends to diverge significantly from mainstream liberal feminism. For example, "libertarian feminism does not require social measures to reduce material inequality in fact, it opposes such measures [. ] in contrast, liberal feminism may support such requirements and egalitarian versions of feminism insist on them." [115]

Catherine Rottenberg has criticized what she described as neoliberal feminism, saying it is individualized rather than collectivized, and becoming detached from social inequality. [116] Due to this she argues that Liberal Feminism cannot offer any sustained analysis of the structures of male dominance, power, or privilege. [116]

Some modern forms of feminism that historically grew out of the broader liberal tradition have more recently also been described as conservative in relative terms. This is particularly the case for libertarian feminism which conceives of people as self-owners and therefore as entitled to freedom from coercive interference. [117]

Radical feminism

Radical feminism arose from the radical wing of second-wave feminism and calls for a radical reordering of society to eliminate male supremacy. It considers the male-controlled capitalist hierarchy as the defining feature of women's oppression and the total uprooting and reconstruction of society as necessary. [7] Separatist feminism does not support heterosexual relationships. Lesbian feminism is thus closely related. Other feminists criticize separatist feminism as sexist. [10]

Materialist ideologies

Rosemary Hennessy and Chrys Ingraham say that materialist forms of feminism grew out of Western Marxist thought and have inspired a number of different (but overlapping) movements, all of which are involved in a critique of capitalism and are focused on ideology's relationship to women. [118] Marxist feminism argues that capitalism is the root cause of women's oppression, and that discrimination against women in domestic life and employment is an effect of capitalist ideologies. [119] Socialist feminism distinguishes itself from Marxist feminism by arguing that women's liberation can only be achieved by working to end both the economic and cultural sources of women's oppression. [120] Anarcha-feminists believe that class struggle and anarchy against the state [121] require struggling against patriarchy, which comes from involuntary hierarchy.

Other modern feminisms


Ecofeminists see men's control of land as responsible for the oppression of women and destruction of the natural environment ecofeminism has been criticized for focusing too much on a mystical connection between women and nature. [122]

Black and postcolonial ideologies

Sara Ahmed argues that Black and Postcolonial feminisms pose a challenge "to some of the organizing premises of Western feminist thought." [123] During much of its history, feminist movements and theoretical developments were led predominantly by middle-class white women from Western Europe and North America. [81] [85] [124] However, women of other races have proposed alternative feminisms. [85] This trend accelerated in the 1960s with the civil rights movement in the United States and the end of Western European colonialism in Africa, the Caribbean, parts of Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Since that time, women in developing nations and former colonies and who are of colour or various ethnicities or living in poverty have proposed additional feminisms. [124] Womanism [125] [126] emerged after early feminist movements were largely white and middle-class. [81] Postcolonial feminists argue that colonial oppression and Western feminism marginalized postcolonial women but did not turn them passive or voiceless. [15] Third-world feminism and Indigenous feminism are closely related to postcolonial feminism. [124] These ideas also correspond with ideas in African feminism, motherism, [127] Stiwanism, [128] negofeminism, [129] femalism, transnational feminism, and Africana womanism. [130]

Social constructionist ideologies

In the late twentieth century various feminists began to argue that gender roles are socially constructed, [131] [132] and that it is impossible to generalize women's experiences across cultures and histories. [133] Post-structural feminism draws on the philosophies of post-structuralism and deconstruction in order to argue that the concept of gender is created socially and culturally through discourse. [134] Postmodern feminists also emphasize the social construction of gender and the discursive nature of reality [131] however, as Pamela Abbott et al. write, a postmodern approach to feminism highlights "the existence of multiple truths (rather than simply men and women's standpoints)". [135]

Transgender people

Feminist views on transgender people differ. Some feminists do not view trans women as women, [136] [137] believing that they have male privilege due to their sex assignment at birth. [138] Additionally, some feminists reject the concept of transgender identity due to views that all behavioural differences between genders are a result of socialization. [139] In contrast, other feminists and transfeminists believe that the liberation of trans women is a necessary part of feminist goals. [140] Third-wave feminists are overall more supportive of trans rights. [141] [142] A key concept in transfeminism is of transmisogyny, [143] which is the irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against transgender women or feminine gender-nonconforming people. [144] [145]

Cultural movements

Riot grrrls took an anti-corporate stance of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. [146] Riot grrrl's emphasis on universal female identity and separatism often appears more closely allied with second-wave feminism than with the third wave. [147] The movement encouraged and made "adolescent girls' standpoints central", allowing them to express themselves fully. [148] Lipstick feminism is a cultural feminist movement that attempts to respond to the backlash of second-wave radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s by reclaiming symbols of "feminine" identity such as make-up, suggestive clothing and having a sexual allure as valid and empowering personal choices. [149] [150]

According to 2014 Ipsos poll covering 15 developed countries, 53 percent of respondents identified as feminists, and 87% agreed that "women should be treated equally to men in all areas based on their competency, not their gender". However, only 55% of women agreed that they have "full equality with men and the freedom to reach their full dreams and aspirations". [151] Taken together, these studies reflect the importance differentiating between claiming a "feminist identity" and holding "feminist attitudes or beliefs" [152]

United States

According to a 2015 poll, 18 percent of Americans use the label of 'feminist' to describe themselves, while 85 percent are feminists in practice as they reported they believe in "equality for women". Despite the popular belief in what feminism stands for, 52 percent did not identify as feminist, 26 percent were unsure, and four percent provided no response. [153]

Sociological research shows that, in the US, increased educational attainment is associated with greater support for feminist issues. In addition, politically liberal people are more likely to support feminist ideals compared to those who are conservative. [154] [155]

United Kingdom

According to numerous polls, 7% of Britons use the label of 'feminist' to describe themselves, with 83% being feminist in practice by saying they support equality of opportunity for women – this included even higher support from men (86%) than women (81%). [156] [157]

Feminist views on sexuality vary, and have differed by historical period and by cultural context. Feminist attitudes to female sexuality have taken a few different directions. Matters such as the sex industry, sexual representation in the media, and issues regarding consent to sex under conditions of male dominance have been particularly controversial among feminists. This debate has culminated in the late 1970s and the 1980s, in what came to be known as the feminist sex wars, which pitted anti-pornography feminism against sex-positive feminism, and parts of the feminist movement were deeply divided by these debates. [158] [159] [160] [161] [162] Feminists have taken a variety of positions on different aspects of the sexual revolution from the 1960s and 70s. Over the course of the 1970s, a large number of influential women accepted lesbian and bisexual women as part of feminism. [163]

Sex industry

Opinions on the sex industry are diverse. Feminists who are critical of the sex industry generally see it as the exploitative result of patriarchal social structures which reinforce sexual and cultural attitudes complicit in rape and sexual harassment. Alternately, feminists who support at least part of the sex industry argue that it can be a medium of feminist expression and a means for women to take control of their sexuality. For the views of feminism on male prostitutes see the article on male prostitution.

Feminist views of pornography range from condemnation of pornography as a form of violence against women, to an embracing of some forms of pornography as a medium of feminist expression. [158] [159] [160] [161] [162] Similarly, feminists' views on prostitution vary, ranging from critical to supportive. [164]

Affirming female sexual autonomy

For feminists, a woman's right to control her own sexuality is a key issue. Feminists such as Catharine MacKinnon argue that women have very little control over their own bodies, with female sexuality being largely controlled and defined by men in patriarchal societies. Feminists argue that sexual violence committed by men is often rooted in ideologies of male sexual entitlement and that these systems grant women very few legitimate options to refuse sexual advances. [165] [166] Feminists argue that all cultures are, in one way or another, dominated by ideologies that largely deny women the right to decide how to express their sexuality, because men under patriarchy feel entitled to define sex on their own terms. This entitlement can take different forms, depending on the culture. In some conservative and religious cultures marriage is regarded as an institution which requires a wife to be sexually available at all times, virtually without limit thus, forcing or coercing sex on a wife is not considered a crime or even an abusive behaviour. [167] [168] In more liberal cultures, this entitlement takes the form of a general sexualization of the whole culture. This is played out in the sexual objectification of women, with pornography and other forms of sexual entertainment creating the fantasy that all women exist solely for men's sexual pleasure and that women are readily available and desiring to engage in sex at any time, with any man, on a man's terms. [169] In 1968, feminist Anne Koedt argued in her essay The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm that women's biology and the clitoral orgasm had not been properly analyzed and popularized, because men "have orgasms essentially by friction with the vagina" and not the clitoral area. [170] [171]

Sandra Harding says that the "moral and political insights of the women's movement have inspired social scientists and biologists to raise critical questions about the ways traditional researchers have explained gender, sex and relations within and between the social and natural worlds." [172] Some feminists, such as Ruth Hubbard and Evelyn Fox Keller, criticize traditional scientific discourse as being historically biased towards a male perspective. [173] A part of the feminist research agenda is the examination of the ways in which power inequities are created or reinforced in scientific and academic institutions. [174] Physicist Lisa Randall, appointed to a task force at Harvard by then-president Lawrence Summers after his controversial discussion of why women may be underrepresented in science and engineering, said, "I just want to see a whole bunch more women enter the field so these issues don't have to come up anymore." [175]

Lynn Hankinson Nelson writes that feminist empiricists find fundamental differences between the experiences of men and women. Thus, they seek to obtain knowledge through the examination of the experiences of women and to "uncover the consequences of omitting, misdescribing, or devaluing them" to account for a range of human experience. [176] Another part of the feminist research agenda is the uncovering of ways in which power inequities are created or reinforced in society and in scientific and academic institutions. [174] Furthermore, despite calls for greater attention to be paid to structures of gender inequity in the academic literature, structural analyses of gender bias rarely appear in highly cited psychological journals, especially in the commonly studied areas of psychology and personality. [177]

One criticism of feminist epistemology is that it allows social and political values to influence its findings. [178] Susan Haack also points out that feminist epistemology reinforces traditional stereotypes about women's thinking (as intuitive and emotional, etc.) Meera Nanda further cautions that this may in fact trap women within "traditional gender roles and help justify patriarchy". [179]

Biology and gender

Modern feminism challenges the essentialist view of gender as biologically intrinsic. [180] [181] For example, Anne Fausto-Sterling's book, Myths of Gender, explores the assumptions embodied in scientific research that support a biologically essentialist view of gender. [182] In Delusions of Gender, Cordelia Fine disputes scientific evidence that suggests that there is an innate biological difference between men's and women's minds, asserting instead that cultural and societal beliefs are the reason for differences between individuals that are commonly perceived as sex differences. [183]

Feminist psychology

Feminism in psychology emerged as a critique of the dominant male outlook on psychological research where only male perspectives were studied with all male subjects. As women earned doctorates in psychology, females and their issues were introduced as legitimate topics of study. Feminist psychology emphasizes social context, lived experience, and qualitative analysis. [184] Projects such as Psychology's Feminist Voices have emerged to catalogue the influence of feminist psychologists on the discipline. [185]


Gender-based inquiries into and conceptualization of architecture have also come about, leading to feminism in modern architecture. Piyush Mathur coined the term "archigenderic". Claiming that "architectural planning has an inextricable link with the defining and regulation of gender roles, responsibilities, rights, and limitations", Mathur came up with that term "to explore . the meaning of 'architecture' in terms of gender" and "to explore the meaning of 'gender' in terms of architecture". [186]


There is a long history of feminist activity in design disciplines like industrial design, graphic design and fashion design. This work has explored topics like beauty, DIY, feminine approaches to design and community-based projects. [187] Some iconic writing includes Cheryl Buckley's essays on design and patriarchy [188] and Joan Rothschild's Design and feminism: Re-visioning spaces, places, and everyday things. [189] More recently, Isabel Prochner's research explored how feminist perspectives can support positive change in industrial design, helping to identify systemic social problems and inequities in design and guiding socially sustainable and grassroots design solutions. [190]


Feminist activists have established a range of feminist businesses, including feminist bookstores, credit unions, presses, mail-order catalogs and restaurants. These businesses flourished as part of the second and third waves of feminism in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. [191] [192]

Visual arts

Corresponding with general developments within feminism, and often including such self-organizing tactics as the consciousness-raising group, the movement began in the 1960s and flourished throughout the 1970s. [193] Jeremy Strick, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, described the feminist art movement as "the most influential international movement of any during the postwar period", and Peggy Phelan says that it "brought about the most far-reaching transformations in both artmaking and art writing over the past four decades". [193] Feminist artist Judy Chicago, who created The Dinner Party, a set of vulva-themed ceramic plates in the 1970s, said in 2009 to ARTnews, "There is still an institutional lag and an insistence on a male Eurocentric narrative. We are trying to change the future: to get girls and boys to realize that women's art is not an exception—it's a normal part of art history." [194] A feminist approach to the visual arts has most recently developed through Cyberfeminism and the posthuman turn, giving voice to the ways "contemporary female artists are dealing with gender, social media and the notion of embodiment". [195]


The feminist movement produced feminist fiction, feminist non-fiction, and feminist poetry, which created new interest in women's writing. It also prompted a general reevaluation of women's historical and academic contributions in response to the belief that women's lives and contributions have been underrepresented as areas of scholarly interest. [196] There has also been a close link between feminist literature and activism, with feminist writing typically voicing key concerns or ideas of feminism in a particular era.

Much of the early period of feminist literary scholarship was given over to the rediscovery and reclamation of texts written by women. In Western feminist literary scholarship, Studies like Dale Spender's Mothers of the Novel (1986) and Jane Spencer's The Rise of the Woman Novelist (1986) were ground-breaking in their insistence that women have always been writing.

Commensurate with this growth in scholarly interest, various presses began the task of reissuing long-out-of-print texts. Virago Press began to publish its large list of 19th and early-20th-century novels in 1975 and became one of the first commercial presses to join in the project of reclamation. In the 1980s Pandora Press, responsible for publishing Spender's study, issued a companion line of 18th-century novels written by women. [197] More recently, Broadview Press continues to issue 18th- and 19th-century novels, many hitherto out of print, and the University of Kentucky has a series of republications of early women's novels.

Particular works of literature have come to be known as key feminist texts. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. A Room of One's Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf, is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.

The widespread interest in women's writing is related to a general reassessment and expansion of the literary canon. Interest in post-colonial literatures, gay and lesbian literature, writing by people of colour, working people's writing, and the cultural productions of other historically marginalized groups has resulted in a whole scale expansion of what is considered "literature", and genres hitherto not regarded as "literary", such as children's writing, journals, letters, travel writing, and many others are now the subjects of scholarly interest. [196] [198] [199] Most genres and subgenres have undergone a similar analysis, so literary studies have entered new territories such as the "female gothic" [200] or women's science fiction.

According to Elyce Rae Helford, "Science fiction and fantasy serve as important vehicles for feminist thought, particularly as bridges between theory and practice." [201] Feminist science fiction is sometimes taught at the university level to explore the role of social constructs in understanding gender. [202] Notable texts of this kind are Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), Joanna Russ' The Female Man (1970), Octavia Butler's Kindred (1979) and Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale (1985).

Feminist nonfiction has played an important role in voicing concerns about women's lived experiences. For example, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was extremely influential, as it represented the specific racism and sexism experienced by black women growing up in the United States. [203]

In addition, many feminist movements have embraced poetry as a vehicle through which to communicate feminist ideas to public audiences through anthologies, poetry collections, and public readings. [204]

Moreover, historical pieces of writing by women have been used by feminists to speak about what women's lives would have been like in the past, while demonstrating the power that they held and the impact they had in their communities even centuries ago. [205] An important figure in the history of women in relation to literature is Hrotsvitha. Hrotsvitha was a canoness from 935 - 973, [206] as the first female poetess in the German lands, and first female historian Hrotsvitha is one of the few people to speak about women's lives from a woman's perspective during the Middle Ages. [207]


Women's music (or womyn's music or wimmin's music) is the music by women, for women, and about women. [208] The genre emerged as a musical expression of the second-wave feminist movement [209] as well as the labour, civil rights, and peace movements. [210] The movement was started by lesbians such as Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, and Margie Adam, African-American women activists such as Bernice Johnson Reagon and her group Sweet Honey in the Rock, and peace activist Holly Near. [210] Women's music also refers to the wider industry of women's music that goes beyond the performing artists to include studio musicians, producers, sound engineers, technicians, cover artists, distributors, promoters, and festival organizers who are also women. [208] Riot grrrl is an underground feminist hardcore punk movement described in the cultural movements section of this article.

Feminism became a principal concern of musicologists in the 1980s [211] as part of the New Musicology. Prior to this, in the 1970s, musicologists were beginning to discover women composers and performers, and had begun to review concepts of canon, genius, genre and periodization from a feminist perspective. In other words, the question of how women musicians fit into traditional music history was now being asked. [211] Through the 1980s and 1990s, this trend continued as musicologists like Susan McClary, Marcia Citron and Ruth Solie began to consider the cultural reasons for the marginalizing of women from the received body of work. Concepts such as music as gendered discourse professionalism reception of women's music examination of the sites of music production relative wealth and education of women popular music studies in relation to women's identity patriarchal ideas in music analysis and notions of gender and difference are among the themes examined during this time. [211]

While the music industry has long been open to having women in performance or entertainment roles, women are much less likely to have positions of authority, such as being the leader of an orchestra. [212] In popular music, while there are many women singers recording songs, there are very few women behind the audio console acting as music producers, the individuals who direct and manage the recording process. [213]


Feminist cinema, advocating or illustrating feminist perspectives, arose largely with the development of feminist film theory in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Women who were radicalized during the 1960s by political debate and sexual liberation but the failure of radicalism to produce substantive change for women galvanized them to form consciousness-raising groups and set about analysing, from different perspectives, dominant cinema's construction of women. [214] Differences were particularly marked between feminists on either side of the Atlantic. 1972 saw the first feminist film festivals in the U.S. and U.K. as well as the first feminist film journal, Women and Film. Trailblazers from this period included Claire Johnston and Laura Mulvey, who also organized the Women's Event at the Edinburgh Film Festival. [215] Other theorists making a powerful impact on feminist film include Teresa de Lauretis, Anneke Smelik and Kaja Silverman. Approaches in philosophy and psychoanalysis fuelled feminist film criticism, feminist independent film and feminist distribution.

It has been argued that there are two distinct approaches to independent, theoretically inspired feminist filmmaking. 'Deconstruction' concerns itself with analysing and breaking down codes of mainstream cinema, aiming to create a different relationship between the spectator and dominant cinema. The second approach, a feminist counterculture, embodies feminine writing to investigate a specifically feminine cinematic language. [216]

During the 1930s–1950s heyday of the big Hollywood studios, the status of women in the industry was abysmal. [217] Since then female directors such as Sally Potter, Catherine Breillat, Claire Denis and Jane Campion have made art movies, and directors like Kathryn Bigelow and Patty Jenkins have had mainstream success. This progress stagnated in the 1990s, and men outnumber women five to one in behind the camera roles. [218] [219]

Rose McGowan’s White Feminism is Rooted in a Long History of Beckery

By Maryline Dossou

In 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono release a song titled, “Woman is the Nigger of the World.” The tune, Lennon unapologetically explained, was inspired by Irish revolutionary James Connelly’s statement that “the female worker is the slave of the slave.” It was also meant as an apology to women, acknowledging Lennon’s past as an abuser and perpetrator of female oppression.

The song, although inciting its fair share of controversy, was defended by many then and even as recently as 2016, in an op-ed for the Huffington Post by MAD Magazine senior editor Joe Raiola. Even worse was that, despite Lennon’s insistence that it was inspired by the Irish struggles, it was hard to hide that it sounded strikingly familiar to a line in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” in which Janie’s grandmother says, “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world.”

But perhaps worst of all, is how positively white feminists worldwide have received the song, even now. In 1972, the National Organization for Women awarded Ono and Lennon with the “Positive Image of Women” award for what they described as a “strong pro-feminist statement.” In 2011, a woman at the NYC SlutWalk marched with a sign held up that quoted the song’s title. And in 2017, actress Rose McGowan, hot on the heels of being lauded a feminist hero for her outspokenness regarding sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, fired off a since-deleted tweet in response to James Corden that echoed the painfully familiar message.


McGowan has been one of the most vocal about the abuse in Hollywood suffered by women, most notably at the hands of disgraced Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein. With the number of accusers against Weinstein totaling more than 40 and growing, the recent revelations have inspired the hashtag #metoo.

The #metoo movement, in which women who have experienced sexual harassment and assault share their stories of harassment and abuse to illuminate the pervasiveness of the issue, was widely credited to actress Alyssa Milano, who signaled the call to women via Twitter this past Sunday. The only problem? It was uncovered soon thereafter by Ebony Magazine that the #metoo campaign was created a decade ago by African-American activist and sexual violence survivor Tarana Burke (Milano has also since acknowledged this).


That Ono and Lennon’s song title drew from Hurston’s proclamation about black women’s role in the world, is more salt in the proverbial wound of black women who have been erased from the national discourse and historical narrative of feminism. They took a statement about black women and whitewashed it. That statement, as well as Connelly’s before them, was also echoed by middle and upper class homemakers in the 1830s who likened the conditions of being married to slavery, and poorer working women who compared their situation of economic inequality to slavery as well.

In a positive light, this correlation engendered white women to become prominent figures in the abolitionist movement, believing they should stand up for oppression everywhere. But further down the line, these same white women would abandon the abolitionist movement, dismayed that black men’s rights were advancing quicker than their own. This frustration even led to feminist hero Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s infamous testimony that “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ask for the ballot for the Negro and not for the woman.”

The problem with addressing declarations like McGowan’s is that there is no proper way to do so without engaging in the “Oppression Olympics” that those sort of statements foment. Black rights and women’s rights are two completely different struggles. They converge only in one way: through black women. Black women are the nigger of the black people and the nigger of women.

When Alice Walker introduced the term “womanism,” into the feminist lexicon in 1983, she described it as being “to feminist as purple is to lavender.” Womanism seeks to express the black woman’s status as a member of two communities that suffer oppression. In the Civil Rights Movement, the tension between black women and white women arose from the disparity of suffering under gender oppression versus suffering under racial and gender discrimination simultaneously. Put in the position of having to choose which side to stand with and identify with the most, “womanism” situated black women at the center of both communities the only one who understood what it was like to not benefit from either white or male supremacy.


In journalist/activist Claudia Jones’s prolific 1949 essay, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!” Jones put the onus on white women to improve their relationships with black women in order to advance feminism to its maximum potential. “Chauvinism on the part of progressive white women,” she wrote, “is often expressed in their failure to have close ties of friendship with Negro women and to realize that this fight for equality of Negro women is in their own self-interest, inasmuch as the superexploitation and oppression of Negro women tends to depress the standards of all women.”

Statements like McGowan’s are problematic, not only because they pit one group’s oppression against another’s, something that white women have historically done in their quest for white male equality, but also because they neglect to acknowledge the unique atrocities POC have faced under white hegemony and the complexities of the intersections of gender and race.

To compare the female experience of oppression to the black experience of oppression is to ignore that there is still a population of people who experience both simultaneously. To suggest that women are the niggers of the world is in no way pro-feminism. And if it is pro-feminism, then feminism proves once again that it is no place for women of color.

Author Bio: Maryline Dossou is an NYC-based writer, editor and activist who earned her BA in journalism from Temple University and her MA in Interdisciplinary Studies from NYU’s Graduate Center for Experimental Humanities. Her work focuses largely on race, gender, oppression and social justice. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Instagram: melanin_monreaux_

A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States

The issues that divided early suffragettes still plague women today. For all the forward progress that has been made, women's rights activists have also taken steps backwards. Feminism, as a movement, has not done a good job at being inclusive of minorities. Women of color have been left on the peripheries while feminism has largely catered solely to white viewpoints.

Feminism is spoken of in waves - first wave feminism encompasses the suffragettes of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century - the women who fought for the right to vote. Second wave feminism generally encapsulates the period from the 1960s to the 1990s. This period runs concurrent with anti-war and civil rights movements and the dominant issues for feminists in this time period revolved around sexuality and reproductive rights. Third wave feminism is generally seen as starting in the mid-1990s and is sometimes referred to as girlie-feminism or "grrrl" feminism. Its adherents often confounded followers of second wave feminism because many third wavers rejected the notion that lip-stick, high-heels, and cleavage proudly exposed by low cut necklines identified with male oppression. This was in keeping with the third wave's celebration of ambiguity and refusal to think in terms of "us versus them." Most third-wavers refused to identify as "feminists" and rejected the word because they found it limiting and exclusionary.

The fourth wave of feminism is still crystallizing. Feminism is now back in the realm of public discourse. Issues that were central to the earliest phases of the women&rsquos movement are receiving national and international attention by mainstream press and politicians: problems like sexual abuse, rape, violence against women, unequal pay, slut-shaming, the pressure to conform to an unrealistic body-type, and the fact that gains in female representation in politics and business are minimal. At the same time, reproductive rights that had been won by second wavers are now under attack. It is no longer considered &ldquoextreme" to talk about societal abuse of women, rape on college campus, unfair pay and work conditions, discrimination against LGBTQ friends and colleagues, and the fact that the US has one of the worst records for legally-mandated parental leave and maternity benefits in the world.

With the rise of fourth wave feminism, the concepts of privilege and intersectionality have gained widespread traction amongst younger feminists. Intersectionality is a term that was first introduced in 1989 by critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw. It is a framework that must be applied to all situations women face, a framework that recognizes all the aspects of identity that enrich women's lives and experiences and that compound and complicate the various oppressions and marginalizations women face. It means that women cannot separate out numerous injustices because women experience them intersectionally.

Intersectionality helps us to understand that while all women are subject to the wage gap, some women are affected even more harshly due to their race. Another instance where intersectionality applies is cases of LGBTQ murders - people of color and transgendered people are more likely to be victims than cisgender people. These are just two examples of why intersectionality matters. To truly bring about change that is meaningful for all, everyone's voice needs to be at the table.