International Women's Day rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, organized by the National Women Workers Trade Union Centre on March 8, 2005.

Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women.[1][2][3] Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights. Feminism is mainly focused on women's issues, but because feminism seeks gender equality, some feminists argue that men's liberation is therefore a necessary part of feminism, and that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles. Feminists are "person[s] whose beliefs and behavior[s] are based on feminism."[4]

Feminist theory exists in a variety of disciplines, emerging from these feminist movements[5][6] and including general theories[specify] and theories about the origins of inequality, and, in some cases, about the social construction of sex and gender. Feminist activists have campaigned for women's rights—such as in contract, property, and voting — while also promoting women's rights to bodily integrity and autonomy and reproductive rights. They have opposed domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. In economics, they have advocated for workplace rights, including equal pay and opportunities for careers and to start businesses.[citation needed]

Some of the earlier forms of feminism have been criticized for being geared towards white, middle-class, educated perspectives. This led to the creation of ethnically-specific or multiculturalist forms of feminism.[7]



A 1932 Soviet poster for International Women's Day.

Depending on time, culture and country, feminists around the world have sometimes had different causes and goals. Most western feminist historians assert that all movements that work to obtain women's rights should be considered feminist movements, even when they did not (or do not) apply the term to themselves.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14] 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.[15]

The history of the modern western feminist movements is divided into three "waves".[16][17] Each is described as dealing with different aspects of the same feminist issues. The first wave refers mainly to women's suffrage movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (mainly concerned with women's right to vote). The second wave refers to the ideas and actions associated with the women's liberation movement beginning in the 1960s (which campaigned for legal and social equality for women). The third wave refers to a continuation of, and a reaction to, the perceived failures of second-wave feminism, beginning in the 1990s.[18]

Nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

First-wave feminism was a period of activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In the U.K. and U.S., it focused on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women. However, by the end of the nineteenth 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 at this time.[19]

Louise Weiss along with other Parisian suffragettes in 1935. The newspaper headline reads "THE FRENCHWOMAN MUST VOTE."

Women's suffrage was achieved in Britain's Australasian colonies at the close of the 19th century with the self-governing colonies of New Zealand and South Australia granting women the right to vote in 1893 and 1895 respectively, and followed by Australia permitting women to stand for parliamentary office and granting women's' right to vote.[20][21]

In Britain the Suffragettes and the 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 houses. In 1928 this was extended to all women over twenty-one.[22] In the U.S., notable leaders of this movement included Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, who each campaigned for the abolition of slavery prior to championing women's right to vote and were strongly influenced by Quaker thought. In the United States, 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 retrospectively to categorize these western movements after the term second-wave feminism began to be used to describe a newer feminist movement that focused as much on fighting social and cultural inequalities as political inequalities.[19][23][24][25][26]

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.[27][28][29] 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.[30]

In 1899, Qasim Amin, considered the "father" of Arab feminism, wrote The Liberation of Women, which argued for legal and social reforms for women.[31] 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.[32]

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.[33] 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.[34]

Mid-twentieth century

Second-wave feminism is a feminist movement beginning in the early 1960s[35] and continuing to the present, and it coexists with third-wave feminism. Second wave feminism is largely concerned with issues of equality other than suffrage, such as ending discrimination.[19]

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.[36][37]

Second and third-wave feminism in China[clarification needed] has been characterized by a re-examination 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.[30]

In 1956, President Nasser of Egypt initiated as part of his government "state feminism", which outlawed discrimination based on gender and granted women's suffrage, but also blocked political activism by feminist leaders.[38] During Sadat's presidency, his wife, Jehan Sadat, publicly advocated for 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.[39] However, some activists proposed a new feminist movement, Islamic feminism, which argues for women's equality within an Islamic framework.[40]

Late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries

The term post-feminism is used to describe a range of viewpoints reacting to feminism since the 1980s. While not being "anti-feminist", post-feminists believe that women have achieved second wave goals while being critical of third 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.[41] Other post-feminists say that feminism is no longer relevant to today's society.[42] Amelia Jones has written that the post-feminist texts which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s portrayed second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity and criticized it using generalizations.[43]

In the early 1990s in the USA, third-wave feminism began as a response to perceived failures of the second wave and to the backlash against initiatives and movements created by the second wave. Third-wave feminism seeks to challenge or avoid what it deems the second wave's essentialist definitions of femininity, which, they argue, over-emphasize the experiences of upper middle-class white women. Third-wave feminists often focus on "micro-politics" and challenge the second wave's paradigm as to what is, or is not, good for women, and tend to use a post-structuralist interpretation of gender and sexuality.[19][44][45][46] Feminist leaders rooted in the second wave, such as Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, Chela Sandoval, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and many other black feminists, sought to negotiate a space within feminist thought for consideration of race-related subjectivities.[45][47][48]

Third-wave feminism also contains internal debates between difference feminists, who believe that there are important differences between the sexes, and those who believe that there are no inherent differences between the sexes and contend that gender roles are due to social conditioning.[49]

Theoretical schools

Feminist theory is an 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,[50][51] art history,[52] psychoanalysis[53] and philosophy.[54][55] 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.[5][6]

The American literary critic and feminist Elaine Showalter describes the phased development of feminist theory. 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" including "the psychodynamics of female creativity; linguistics and the problem of a female language; the trajectory of the individual or collective female literary career and literary history". The last phase she calls "gender theory", in which the "ideological inscription and the literary effects of the sex/gender system" are explored".[56] This model has been criticized by the scholar Toril Moi who sees it as an essentialist and deterministic model for female subjectivity and for failing to account for the situation of women outside the West.[57]

Movements and ideologies

Several overlapping movements of feminist ideologies have developed over the years.

Sojourner Truth, a famous black feminist, delivered the speech Ain't I a Woman? arguing for black women's equality in 1851

Liberal feminism seeks individualistic equality of men and women through political and legal reform without altering the structure of society. Radical feminism considers the male-controlled capitalist hierarchy as the defining feature of women's oppression and the total uprooting and reconstruction of society as necessary.[36] Socialist feminism connects oppression of women to exploitation, oppression, and labor. Marxist feminists feel that overcoming class oppression overcomes gender oppression;[58] some socialist feminists disagree.[59] and has branched into such as anti-pornography feminism, opposed by sex-positive feminism. Anarcha-feminists believe that class struggle and anarchy against the state[60] require struggling against patriarchy, which comes from involuntary hierarchy. Separatist feminism does not support heterosexual relationships. Lesbian feminism is thus closely related. Other feminists criticize separatist feminism as sexist.[61]

Conservative feminism is conservative relative to the society in which it resides. Libertarian feminism conceives of people as self-owners and therefore as entitled to freedom from coercive interference.[62] Individualist feminism or ifeminism, opposing so-called gender feminism, draws on anarcho-capitalism.[63]

Ecofeminists see men's control of land as responsible for the oppression of women and destruction of the natural environment, but a criticism is that ecofeminism focuses too much on a mystical connection between women and nature.[64]

Cultural feminism attempts to revalidate undervalued "female nature" or "female essence";[65] its critics assert that it has led feminists to retreat from politics to lifestyle.[66]

During much of its history, feminist movements and theoretical developments were led predominantly by middle-class white women from Western Europe and North America.[47][67][68] However, at least since Sojourner Truth's 1851 speech to American feminists, women of other races have proposed alternative feminisms.[67] This trend accelerated in the 1960s with the civil rights movement in the United States and the collapse of 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.[68]

Womanism[69][70] emerged after early feminist movements were largely white and middle-class.[47] Black feminism argues that sexism, class oppression, and racism are inextricably bound together.[71][72][73] Chicana feminism focuses on Mexican American, Chicana, and Hispanic women in the United States. Multiracial or "women of colour" feminism is related.[74]

Standpoint feminists argue that feminism should examine how women's experience of inequality relates to that of racism, homophobia, classism, and colonization.[67][75] Postcolonial feminists argue that colonial oppression and Western feminism marginalized postcolonial women but did not turn them passive or voiceless.[7] Third-world feminism is closely related to postcolonial feminism.[68] These ideas also correspond with ideas in African feminism, motherism,[76] Stiwanism,[77] negofeminism,[78] femalism, transnational feminism, and Africana womanism.[79]

Postmodern feminists argue that sex and gender are socially constructed,[80] that it is impossible to generalize women's experiences across cultures and histories,[81] and that dualisms and traditional gender, feminism, and politics are too limiting.[82] Post-structural feminism uses various intellectual currents for feminist concerns.[83] Many post-structural feminists maintain that difference is one of the most powerful tools that women possess.[83][84]

Riot grrrl (or riot grrl) is an underground feminist punk movement that started in the 1990s and is often associated with third-wave feminism (it is sometimes seen as its starting point). It was grounded in the DIY philosophy of punk values. Riot grrls took an anti-corporate stance of self-sufficiency and self-reliance.[85] Riot grrrl's emphasis on universal female identity and separatism often appears more closely allied with second-wave feminism than with the third wave.[86] The movement encouraged and made "adolescent girls’ standpoints central," allowing them to express themselves fully.[87]

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.[88][89]

Societal impact

By 1970 in the U.S.A, four out of five adults had read or heard of women's liberation, although not all agreed with it.[90]

The feminist movement has effected change in Western society, including women's suffrage; in education; in gender neutrality in English; job pay more nearly equal to men's; the right to initiate divorce proceedings; the reproductive rights of women to make individual decisions on pregnancy (including access to contraceptives and abortion); and the right to enter into contracts and own property.[91][92] Feminists have struggled to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault,[36][93][94] emphasizing the grounds as women's rights, rather than as men's traditional interests in families' safety for reproductive purposes. On economic matters, feminists have advocated for workplace rights, including maternity leave, and against other forms of gender-specific discrimination against women.[91][92][95] They have achieved some protections and societal changes through sharing experiences, developing theory, and campaigning for rights.[16][93][96][97][98]

Civil rights

Participation in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
  Signed and ratified
  Acceded or succeeded
  Unrecognized state, abiding by treaty
  Only signed

From the 1960s on, the campaign for women's rights[99] was met with mixed results[100] in the U.S. and the U.K. Other countries of the EEC agreed to ensure that discriminatory laws would be phased out across the European Community.

In the U.S., the National Organization for Women (NOW) began in 1966 to seek women's equality, including through the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA),[101] which did not pass, although some states enacted their own. Reproductive rights in the U.S. centered on the court decision in Roe v. Wade enunciating a woman's right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term. Western women gained more reliable birth control, allowing family planning and careers. The movement started in the 1910s in the U.S. under Margaret Sanger and elsewhere under Marie Stopes and grew in the late 20th century.

The division of labor within households was affected by the increased entry of women into workplaces in the 20th century. Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild found that, in two-career couples, men and women, on average, spend about equal amounts of time working, but women still spend more time on housework,[102][103] although Cathy Young responded by arguing that women may prevent equal participation by men in housework and parenting.[104]

In international law, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international convention adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and described as an international bill of rights for women. It came into force in those nations ratifying it.[105]

In the final three decades of the 20th century, Western women knew a new freedom through birth control, which enabled women to plan their adult lives, often making way for both career and family. The movement had been started in the 1910s by US pioneering social reformer Margaret Sanger and in the UK and internationally by Marie Stopes.[106]


Gender-neutral language is a description of language usages which are aimed at minimizing assumptions regarding the biological sex of human referents. The advocacy of gender-neutral language reflects, at least, two different agendas: one aims to clarify the inclusion of both sexes or genders (gender-inclusive language); the other proposes that gender, as a category, is rarely worth marking in language (gender-neutral language). Gender-neutral language is sometimes described as non-sexist language by advocates and politically-correct language by opponents.[107]


Cmdr. Adrienne Simmons speaking at the 2008 ceremony for the first and only women's mosque in Khost City, a symbol of progress for growing women's rights in the Pashtun belt.

Feminist theology is a movement that reconsiders the traditions, practices, scriptures, and theologies of religions from a feminist perspective. Some of the goals of feminist theology include increasing the role of women among the clergy and religious authorities, reinterpreting male-dominated imagery and language about God, determining women's place in relation to career and motherhood, and studying images of women in the religion's sacred texts.[108]

Christian feminism is a branch of feminist theology which seeks to interpret and understand Christianity in light of the equality of women and men, and that this interpretation is necessary for a complete understanding of Christianity. While there is no standard set of beliefs among Christian feminists, most agree that God does not discriminate on the basis of biologically-determined characteristics such as sex, and are involved in issues such as the ordination of women, male dominance and the balance of parenting in Christian marriage, claims of moral deficiency and inferiority of abilities of women compared to men, and the overall treatment of women in the church.[109][110]

Islamic feminism is concerned with the role of women in Islam and aims for the full equality of all Muslims, regardless of gender, in public and private life. Islamic feminists advocate women's rights, gender equality, and social justice grounded in an Islamic framework. Although rooted in Islam, the movement's pioneers have also utilized secular and Western feminist discourses and recognize the role of Islamic feminism as part of an integrated global feminist movement.[111] Advocates of the movement seek to highlight the deeply rooted teachings of equality in the Quran and encourage a questioning of the patriarchal interpretation of Islamic teaching through the Quran, hadith (sayings of Muhammad), and sharia (law) towards the creation of a more equal and just society.[112]

Jewish feminism is a movement that seeks to improve the religious, legal, and social status of women within Judaism and to open up new opportunities for religious experience and leadership for Jewish women. Feminist movements, with varying approaches and successes, have opened up within all major branches of Judaism. The main issues for early Jewish feminists in these movements were the exclusion from the all-male prayer group or minyan, the exemption from positive time-bound mitzvot, and women's inability to function as witnesses and to initiate divorce.[113]

The Dianic Wicca or Wiccan feminism is a female focused, Goddess-centered Wiccan sect; also known as a feminist religion that teaches witchcraft as every woman’s right. It is also one sect of many practiced in Wicca.[114]

Secular or atheist feminists have engaged in feminist criticism of religion, arguing that many religions have oppressive rules towards women and misogynistic themes and elements in religious texts.[115][116][117]


Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination.[118] Most forms of feminism characterize patriarchy as an unjust social system that is oppressive to women. As the feminist and political theorist Carole Pateman writes: "The patriarchal construction of the difference between masculinity and femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection."[119] In feminist theory the concept of patriarchy often includes all the social mechanisms that reproduce and exert male dominance over women. Feminist theory typically characterizes patriarchy as a social construction, which can be overcome by revealing and critically analyzing its manifestations.[120] Some radical feminists have proposed that because patriarchy is too deeply rooted in society, separatism is the only viable solution.[121] Other feminists have criticized these radical feminist views as being anti-men, though some radical feminists reject this portrayal of their views.[122][123][124] Societal tension caused by second-wave feminism gave rise to backlash in the form of anti-feminist men's movements, such as Masculism, though today some see masculism as a complementary movement that does not oppose feminism.[125][126]

Men and masculinity

Feminist theory has explored the social construction of masculinity and its implications for the goal of gender equality. The social construct of masculinity[clarification needed] is seen by feminism as problematic because it associates males with aggression and competition, and reinforces patriarchal and unequal gender relations.[46][127] The patriarchal concept of masculinity is also seen as harmful to men by narrowing their life choices, limiting their sexuality, and blocking full emotional connections with women and other men.[125] Some feminists are engaged with men's issues activism, such as bringing attention to male rape and spousal battery and addressing negative social expectations for men.[128][129][130]

Male participation in feminism is encouraged by feminists and is seen as an important strategy for achieving full societal commitment to gender equality.[61][131][132] Many male feminists and pro-feminists are active in both women's rights activism, feminist theory, and masculinity studies. However, some argue that while male engagement with feminism is necessary, it is problematic due to the ingrained social influences of patriarchy in gender relations.[133] The consensus today in feminist and masculinity theories is that both genders can and should cooperate to achieve the larger goals of feminism.[125]


According to the Tate Collection, feminist art can "be defined as art by women artists made consciously in the light of developments in feminist art theory since about 1970."[134]


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".[135]


Octavia Butler, award winning feminist science fiction author.

The feminist movement produced both feminist fiction and non-fiction, and 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.[136] Much of the early period of feminist literary scholarship was given over to the rediscovery and reclamation of texts written by women. Commensurate with this growth in scholarly interest, various presses such as Virago Press and Pandora Press began reissuing long-out-of-print texts.[137]

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote one of the first works of feminist philosophy, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which called for equal education for women in 1792 and her daughter, Mary Shelley became an accomplished author best known for her 1818 novel Frankenstein. The Female Eunuch, by Australian feminist Germaine Greer, was first published in 1970, and became an international bestseller and an important text in the feminist movement.

Beginning in the 1960s, authors used the genre of science fiction to explore feminist themes.[138] Notable books in this genre include Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), Joanna Russ' The Female Man (1970). Octavia Butler's Kindred, and Margaret Atwood'sThe Handmaid's Tale.[139][140] Russ, Le Guin, and other authors also engaged in feminist criticism of science fiction in the 1960s and 70s.[141]


Women's music (or womyn's music or wimmin's music) is the music by women, for women, and about women.[142] The genre emerged as a musical expression of the second-wave feminist movement[143] as well as the labor, civil rights, and peace movements.[144] 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.[144] 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.[142]

Feminsim became a principal concern of musicologists in the 1980s.[145] 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 the traditional music history realm was now being asked.[145]

Through the 1980s and 1990s musicologists such as 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.[145]


Lesbianism and bisexuality were accepted as part of feminism by a significant proportion of feminists, while others considered sexuality irrelevant to the attainment of other goals. Sexuality, sexual representation, sadomasochism, the role of transwomen in the lesbian community, and other sexual issues arose within acrimonious feminist debates known as the feminist sex wars.

Opinions on the sex industry are diverse. They are generally either critical of it (seeing it as exploitative, a result of patriarchal social structures and reinforcing sexual and cultural attitudes that are complicit in rape and sexual harassment) or supportive of at least parts of it (arguing that some forms of it can be a medium of feminist expression and a means of women taking control of their sexuality).

Distinction between sex and gender

The distinction between sex and gender is generally that sex is biological (e.g., chromosomal or morphological) while gender is social or cultural (e.g., how societies structure relationships.)[146]


The "Feminist Sex Wars" is a term for the acrimonious debates within the feminist movement in the late 1970s through the 1980s around the issues of feminism, sexuality, sexual representation, pornography, sadomasochism, the role of transwomen in the lesbian community, and other sexual issues. The debate pitted anti-pornography feminism against sex-positive feminism, and parts of the feminist movement were deeply divided by these debates.[147][148][149][150][151]

Prostitution and trafficking

Feminists' views on prostitution vary, but many of these perspectives can be loosely arranged into an overarching standpoint that is generally either critical or supportive of prostitution and sex work.[152] Anti-prostitution feminists are strongly opposed to prostitution, as they see the practice as a form of violence against and exploitation of women, and a sign of male dominance over women. Feminists who hold such views on prostitution include Kathleen Barry, Melissa Farley,[153][154] Julie Bindel,[155][156] Sheila Jeffreys, Catharine MacKinnon[157] and Laura Lederer;[158] the European Women's Lobby has also condemned prostitution as "an intolerable form of male violence".[159]

Other feminists hold that prostitution and other forms of sex work can be valid choices for women and men who choose to engage in it. In this view, prostitution must be differentiated from forced prostitution, and feminists should support sex worker activism against abuses by both the sex industry and the legal system. The disagreement between these two feminist stances has proven particularly contentious, and may be comparable to the feminist sex wars of the late twentieth century.[160]

Relationship to political movements

In the U.S., feminism, when politically active, formerly aligned largely with the political right, e.g., through the National Woman's Party, from the 1910s to the 1960s, and presently aligns largely with the left, e.g., through the National Organization for Women, of the 1960s to the present, although in neither case has the alignment been consistent.


Since the early twentieth century some feminists have allied with socialism. In 1907 there was an International Conference of Socialist Women in Stuttgart where suffrage was described as a tool of class struggle. Clara Zetkin of the Social Democratic Party of Germany called for women's suffrage to build a "socialist order, the only one that allows for a radical solution to the women's question".[161][162][163][164]

In Britain, the women's movement was allied with the Labour party. In the U.S., Betty Friedan emerged from a radical background to take leadership. Radical Women is the oldest socialist feminist organization in the U.S. and is still active.[165] During the Spanish Civil War, Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria) led the Communist Party of Spain. Although she supported equal rights for women, she opposed women fighting on the front and clashed with the anarcha-feminist Mujeres Libres.[166]

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.[167]


Scholars have argued that Nazi Germany and the other fascist states of the 1930s and 1940s illustrates the disastrous consequences for society of a state ideology that, in glorifying women, becomes anti-feminist.[168] In Germany after the rise of Nazism in 1933, there was a rapid dissolution of the political rights and economic opportunities that feminists had fought for during the prewar period and to some extent during the 1920s. In Franco's Spain, the right wing Catholic conservatives undid the work of feminists during the Republic. Fascist society was hierarchical with an emphasis and idealization of virility, with women maintaining a largely subordinate position to men.[164]

Civil rights movement and anti-racism

The civil rights movement has influenced and informed the feminist movement and vice versa. Many Western feminists adapted the language and theories of black equality activism and drew parallels between women's rights and the rights of non-white people.[169]

Despite the connections between the women's and civil rights movements, some tension arose during the late 1960s and early 1970s as non-white women argued that feminism was predominantly white and middle class, and did not understand and was not concerned with race issues.[170] Similarly, some women argued that the civil rights movement had sexist elements and did not adequately address minority women's concerns.[169] These criticisms created new feminist social theories about the intersections of racism, classism, and sexism, and new feminisms, such as black feminism and Chicana feminism.[171]

Currently, many feminist organizations worldwide participate in anti-racism activism, in diverse areas such as immigration law in Europe, caste discrimination in India, and the discrimination of formerly enslaved African ethnic groups in Africa and the Middle East.[172]


Some feminists, such as Evelyn Fox Keller, criticize traditional scientific discourse as historically biased towards a masculine perspective,[95] including the idea of scientific objectivity. Primatologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy notes the prevalence of masculinely coined stereotypes and theories, such as of the non-sexual female, despite "the accumulation of abundant openly available evidence contradicting it".[173]

Many feminist scholars rely on qualitative scientific research methods that emphasize women's subjective and individual experiences, including treating research participants as authorities equal to the researcher. Objectivity is eschewed in favor of open self-reflexivity and the agenda of helping women. Also, part of the feminist research agenda is the uncovering of ways in which power inequities are created and/or reinforced in society and in scientific and academic institutions. A feminist approach to research often involves nontraditional forms of presentation.[174]

Biology of gender

Modern feminist science challenges the biological essentialist view of gender.[175][176] However, it is increasingly interested in the study of biological sex differences and their effect on human behavior. For example, Anne Fausto-Sterling's book, Myths of Gender, explores the assumptions embodied in scientific research that purports to support a biologically essentialist view of gender.[177] For example, in Delusions of Gender Cordelia Fine argues that there is currently no scientific evidence for innate biological differences between men and women's minds, and that cultural and societal beliefs contribute to commonly perceived sex differences.[178]

Evolutionary biology

Sarah Kember—drawing from numerous areas such as evolutionary biology, sociobiology, artificial intelligence, and cybernetics in development with a new evolutionism—discusses the biologization of technology. She notes how feminists and sociologists have become suspicious of evolutionary psychology, particularly in as much as sociobiology is subjected to complexity in order to strengthen sexual difference as immutable through pre-existing cultural value judgments about human nature and natural selection.[179] Where feminist theory is criticized for its "false beliefs about human nature", Kember then argues in conclusion that "feminism is in the interesting position of needing to do more biology and evolutionary theory in order not to simply oppose their renewed hegemony, but in order to understand the conditions that make this possible, and to have a say in the construction of new ideas and artefacts."[179]


Different groups of people have responded to feminism, and both men and women have been among its supporters and critics. Among American university students, for both men and women, support for feminist ideas is more common than self-identification as a feminist.[180][181][182] The US media tends to portray feminism negatively and feminists "are less often associated with day-to-day work/leisure activities of regular women."[183][184]


Pro-feminism is the support of feminism without implying that the supporter is a member of the feminist movement. The term is most often used in reference to men who are actively supportive of feminism. The activities of pro-feminist men's groups include anti-violence work with boys and young men in schools, offering sexual harassment workshops in workplaces, running community education campaigns, and counseling male perpetrators of violence. Pro-feminist men also are involved in men's health, activism against pornography including anti-pornography legislation, men's studies, and the development of gender equity curricula in schools. This work is sometimes in collaboration with feminists and women's services, such as domestic violence and rape crisis centers. Some activists of both genders will not refer to men as "feminists" at all and will refer to all men who support feminism as "pro-feminists".[185][186]


Anti-feminism is opposition to feminism in some or all of its forms.[187]

In the nineteenth century, anti-feminism was mainly focused on opposition to women's suffrage. Later, opponents of women's entry into institutions of higher learning argued that education was too great a physical burden on women. Other anti-feminists opposed women's entry into the labor force, or their right to join unions, to sit on juries, or to obtain birth control and control of their sexuality.[188]

Some people have opposed feminism on the grounds that they believe it is contrary to traditional values or religious beliefs. These anti-feminists argue, for example, that social acceptance of divorce and non-married women is wrong and harmful, and that men and women are fundamentally different and thus their different traditional roles in society should be maintained.[189][190][191] Other anti-feminists oppose women's entry into the workforce, political office, and the voting process, as well as the lessening of male authority in families.[192][193]

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 and the elevation of women's interests above men's, and criticize radical feminist positions as harmful to both men and women.[194] Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge argue that the term "anti-feminist" is used to silence academic debate about feminism.[195]

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Further reading

  • DuBois, Ellen Carol (1997). Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-06562-0. 
  • Flexner, Eleanor, Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States (The Belknap Press, 1996 (ISBN 9780674106539)).
  • Goodman, Robin Truth. Feminist Theory in Pursuit of the Public: Women and the "Re-Privatization" of Labor. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • "'In labor alone is happiness': women's work, social work, and feminist reform endeavors in Wilhelmine Germany—a transatlantic perspective". Journal of Women's History (Indiana University Press) 16 (1). March 2004. ISSN 1042-7961. 
  • Mathur, Piyush, The Archigenderic Territories: Mansfield Park and A Handful of Dust, in Women's Writing 5:1,71–81 ([2]).
  • Stansell, Christine, The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present (2010 (ISBN 978-0-679-64314-2528)), pages.
  • Stevens, Doris; O'Hare, Carol (1995). Jailed for Freedom: American Women Win the Vote. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press. ISBN 978-0-939165-25-2. 
  • Wheeler, Marjorie W. (1995). One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press. ISBN 978-0-939165-26-0. 

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