Feminism

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After selling her home, Emmeline Pankhurst, pictured in New York City in 1913, travelled constantly, giving speeches throughout Britain and the United States

Feminism is a social and political movement. Feminism is about changing the way that people see male and female rights (mainly female), and campaigning for equal ones. Somebody who follows feminism is called a feminist.

Feminism began in the 18th century with the Enlightenment. The controversy over the differences between the genders led to the discussion of equality.

History of feminism[change | change source]

Mary Wollstonecraft

The word "feminism" comes from the French word "féminisme". This medical term was used to describe masculine women or men with feminized traits. When its use became popular in the United States of America, it was used to refer to groups of women who "asserted the uniqueness of women, the mystical experience of motherhood and women's special purity[1]".[2]

General history[change | change source]

Feminism started with the idea that human rights should be given to women. This idea was put forward by some philosophers in the 18th and 19th centuries such as Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill. Later feminists in the early 20th century also said that women should be allowed to vote in a democracy. Many women felt very strongly that they should be allowed to vote and there were many protests. These women were called Suffragettes. This is because they were fighting for Universal suffrage which means everybody is able to vote. The Suffragettes staged many protests for their rights. Some women even committed suicide to show how wrong it was that they could not take part in politics. After women received the vote, feminism worked to make all of society more equal for women.

Not all female politicians have been welcomed by feminists, with Margaret Thatcher, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann being clear examples.

Feminism is generally acknowledged to have "waves" as different time periods focused on different aspects of feminism, often working off the ideas presented by the wave before.

First wave (approx. 1830s – early 1900s) [change | change source]

In technical terms, the first wave of feminism could be dated earlier to include pre-nineteenth century women's rights movements. In particular, the French Revolution of 1789 is often attributed as the beginning of the first demands for women's rights. This went on to inspire Mary Wollstonecraft, whose book A Vindication of the Rights of Women was published in 1792. It is widely recognized as one of the earliest significant works of feminist literacy. However, first wave feminism is usually dated as occurring between the mid to late nineteenth century and early 1900's. During the first wave, women began to realize that they must first gain political power before they could bring about social change. This wave focused on gaining the right to vote (universal suffrage). Later, the focus shifted to include sexual, economic, and reproductive concerns.[3]

During the inter-war years, the feminist movement declined. Anti-feminism was on the rise, focusing on the issue of women and work. Women were being 'persuaded' to return to their traditional roles in the home and give up their war jobs. There were also issues within the organized ranks of feminism itself. The ideologies and priorities of certain groups were changing. Some felt that equality with men had been reached and shifted their focus onto the needs of women as women, such as the subjects of birth control, family allowance, and protective legislature. This caused the split into the dominant groups of equality feminism and new feminism. New feminists focused on the role of traditional women in the home and as mothers. Equality feminists encouraged women to look beyond the home and fought for equality with men in every aspect of life. Equality feminists opposed protective legislature, such as maturity leave, purely on principle.

The topic of protective legislature eventually led to the divide of first wave feminism. Middle-class feminists tended to oppose protective legislature, whereas working class feminists largely supported it. This split between the previously dominant equality feminism and the rising new feminism marks the end of the first wave of feminism.[2]

Second wave (1960s-1980s)[change | change source]

Second wave feminism is marked by the rise of political concerns. Where the first wave of feminism dealt with women in the workforce, as well as the right to own property and vote, the second wave of feminism lobbied for 'liberation' from a patriarchal society. The key to second wave feminism was the struggle over the female body itself - how it was represented and the significance attached to the reality of biological differences.

The famous "One is not born, but rather becomes a woman" declaration made by Simone de Beauvoir led to new thinking on the way gender was perceived as a construction, rather than something inherent.

Second wave feminism was also characterized by the problematization of equality. Questions arose about what gaining equality would achieve, due to the societal roles men and women were still expected to fill. This led to the call for extreme change in order to revolutionize the very fabric of a patriarchal society. This was the beginning of the radical, Marxist, and socialist feminist groupings. It also marked a shift in the politics of liberal feminism, focusing more on 'sexual politics', such as the family, abortion, rape, domestic violence, and sexuality.[2]

Third wave (1990s – present)[change | change source]

Third wave feminism is generally described as the feminism of a younger generation who acknowledge both the effect and the limitations of the ideologies presented by second wave feminism. This new generation argues that the conditions which prompted second wave feminism no longer exist and therefore, feminism needs a revamping in order to be applicable to modern day. It is also argues that second wave feminism catered too much to a small group of people, namely white, middle-class, heterosexual women.

Third wave feminists largely seem to have grown up with feminism as a strong concept in society, thus influencing them from a young age. It is taught in schools and is also prominent in the media.

Third wave feminists largely focus on issues surrounding individual self-expression. This includes how identity is formed and communicated through things such as appearance, sexuality, and intersectionality. Third wave feminism was also created in order to include a larger grouping of people, recognizing women from different cultural backgrounds, religions, sexualities, ethnicities, and abilities to name a few.[2]

Fourth wave (approx. 2008 – present)[change | change source]

Some say that a fourth wave of feminism is already upon us, prompted by the increase in internet culture. This wave is similar to the third wave but is distinguished by more advanced technology and broader ideas of equality. This wave stands more in solidarity with other social justice movements.

Fourth wave feminism uses the internet and its "call-out" culture to challenge misogyny and sexism in popular media such as television, literature, advertising, etc. This has caused companies to change how they market to women in order to avoid being "called out".

Another part of fourth wave feminism is the existence of people who reject the word feminism because of "assumptions of gender binary and exclusionary subtext: 'For women only'[4]".[5]

Women in politics[change | change source]

There have been women who have been involved in politics throughout history.

Historical[change | change source]

Esther, Lady Godiva, Queen Elizabeth, Catherine the Great, and Joan of Arc.

Modern times[change | change source]

Starting in 1960, there have been many women elected to high positions of power, such as prime minister. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the first, followed by Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Elisabeth Domitien and Margaret Thatcher. Dame Eugenia Charles lasted nearly 15 years in the post, a record.

Types of feminism/feminist theories[change | change source]

Liberal feminism[change | change source]

Liberal feminism drew its strength from the diversity of liberal thought following the Enlightenment. The basis of liberal feminism is the emphasis on the power of the individual. If everyone individually stands up for what is right, discriminatory practises will change. Liberals also value education, arguing that equal education of men and women will lead to equality in society. Liberal feminists would be more likely to accept the argument (to a degree) that certain positions in society (such as the home and the workplace) are better suited to the 'traditional' gender placements.[2]

Socialist or Marxist feminism[change | change source]

Socialist or Marxist feminism are similar in that they both believe revolution is the answer to change. They both link social conditions with capitalism and believe that overthrowing the current system is the only way to get what you want. Like liberal feminists, socialist or Marxist feminists acknowledge that men are necessary as part of the movement for change.[2]

Radical feminism[change | change source]

Radical feminism, particularly in the USA, developed from the civil rights and new left clusters. Radical feminists were largely fed up with the male-dominated left wing radicalism and formed the Women's Liberation Movement. This movement was formed in order to create woman-centered politics and to escape from male-oriented politics. They believed this could only be done in a safe women-only space, and this led to the policy of separatism for which radical feminism is best known for. Radical feminists are often misunderstood and seen as "man-hating" because of the way their women-oriented politics seem to reject male input.[2]

Evangelical feminism[change | change source]

Evangelical feminism or 'Christian feminism' was developed from religious movements. Evangelical feminists work to protect and spiritually reform those who need it, such as women and children from outside the church. These feminists believe that everyone is equal under one God and strive to bring that equality to the church and their individual lives.[2]

Equality feminism[change | change source]

Equality feminism is a subsection of the feminist movement. Equality feminism's focus on the similarities between the sexes is on the basis that men and women's abilities are indistinguishable from their biology. This type of feminism encourages the broadening of horizons, encouraging women to look beyond the home. Its ultimate goal is for the sexes to be completely equal in every part of life.[2]

New feminism[change | change source]

New feminism is a philosophy similar to equality feminism. It focuses on how the differences between men and women complement each other, rather than one sex's biology causing a superiority over the other. New feminism, unlike equality feminism, recognizes the different strengths and roles given to men and women. New feminism advocates for equality in how men and women are treated in their individual roles in society. Its basic concept is the emphasis placed on important differences being biological rather than cultural. Women should be supported as child bearers, both economically and culturally, but this should not be a role that is forced upon them. The main aim is to emphasize the importance of women and men as individuals and that in all senses (legal, social, economic), they should be equal despite their natural differences.[6]

Global feminist thought[change | change source]

Global Feminist Thought is primarily the movement of women's rights on a global scale. Women are impacted in different communities around the world and have common problems they face on a day-to-day basis; usually at home or in the work force. Although different cultural locations have different experiences that will shape their experiences and perceptions, they have common themes. Global feminists tend to focus on nationality (like race, gender and class) and they reach out to help those in developing and third world countries, as well as address oppression created through histories of colonialism and imperialism. It works to end capitalism, imperialism, sexism and racism, along with having everyone considered equal on a global view. It encourages feminists to confront the problems they are facing and reach out for help, as they are not the only ones experiencing that particular problem.[7]

Anti-feminism[change | change source]

Writers such as Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff Sommers, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Daphne Patai oppose some forms of feminism, though they identify as feminists. They argue, for example, that feminism often promotes misandry (hatred of men) and the elevation of women's interests above men's, and criticize radical feminist positions as harmful to both men and women. Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge argue that the term "anti-feminist" is used to silence academic debate about defects of feminism like lack of intersectionality and visible separatism.[2]

Criticism[change | change source]

Identified reasons why some people do not like feminism:

  • People do not like feminism because they think that women are already equal or more important in the eyes of law.[8] Philoandrist's often say that society in general is not equal for men and a version of that is what women experience. Critics say basic tenets like equity and equality in outcome (egalitarian humanism) is a striving factor among men as it is with women.
  • Analysis of feminist theories suggest that in its mid to high levels the topic boils down to aggressive misandry with its separatist[9] and otherness positions rather than being collaborative or supportive. Some say this is reflected in rights in child custody and divorce. Philogynist's say this to be just the toxic side of things.
  • The level of binary thinking with wrong attributions is considered to be a factor. Some argue that women are not regarded as equal to men due to biological differences, the antithetical disregard between women: white vs. women of color, Privilege theory: disregard of ableism existence among men as among women (Angela Merkel, Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Tarja Halonen, etc.), viewing women as generally weak and forcing empowerment, etc. Some areas are: the treatment and role of women in the military, denial of ordination of women in churches (Ephesians 5:21) and on pregnancy.
  • Some people consider feminism denies strength exhibited by females through maternal and care aspects or discourages these aspects by terming them closely to weakness or slavery.
  • Some people argue that feminism is a showcase of existential crisis between matriarchal and patriarchal systems. It is reflected in radical feminism which defines liberation as successful totalitarian and forceful overturn of time-honored traditions, religious beliefs, gender roles, relationships, society, culture, power, authority dynamics, and economic structures.
  • Some theorists consider that conscious and unconscious bias is rampant within human beings, such state of oppression is common and an understanding to halt them in destructive forms is what equality should be about.
  • Some people say feminism from its supportive nature is distorted and used for propaganda's like heterosexuality is confinement and distinct female sexuality is liberated only through celibacy, autoeroticism, or lesbianism.

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]